One Tree at a Time
"The earth was naked. For me the mission was to try to cover it with green." These words begin a new picture book about the woman who wrote them, Nobel laureate, environmentalist and human rights activist Wangari Maathai. Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa (Harcourt, $17, ages 3 to 8) tells the story of Maathai's efforts to reforest Kenya and empower Kenyan women. Award-winning writer and illustrator Jeanette Winter's clear text and bold paintings (right) make it easy to imagine the story of Maathai and the women of the Green Belt Movement she started.
These women's efforts in the face of development insensitive to the land, and as part of a population in need of food, firewood and water, are also brought to life in Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai, by Claire A. Nivola (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.95, ages 5 to 10). There's plenty to discover in the intricate pen-and-watercolor illustrations (right); the text is more detailed and will engage older children. Nivola's book is especially good at showing the hard work of the movement—replanting when seedlings died, digging deep holes to find water for the trees.
Both Winter and Nivola convey some of Maathai's struggle, including time she spent in prison, without making it too scary. And the publishers have both seen fit to print these books on 100 percent recycled paper. Children will be inspired by the story of how one woman and one action—planting a tree—raised awareness, started a movement and changed the physical and social landscape of a nation. With their simple narratives and riveting artwork, these books suggest the question, If she could do it, why not me?—Anna Lena Phillips