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Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya Hardcover – Illustrated, January 5, 2010
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"Snowman's Story" by Will Hillenbrand
Filled with charm and fun, this wordless picture book from a beloved illustrator lets kids tell their own version of the story. | Learn more
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—Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW
* “Nelson’s (We Are the Ship) breathtaking portraits of Maathai often have a beatific quality; bright African textiles represent fields, mountains, and Maathai’s beloved trees… Napoli (The Earth Shook) creates a vivid portrait of the community from which Maathai’s tree-planting mission grows.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“A beautiful introduction for children just learning about the Greenbelt Movement.”
—School Library Journal
“Luminous illustrations are the highlight of this third recent picture-book biography of Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmental activist who received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. In brief, poetic lines thathave a folktale tone, Napoli describes how “wise Wangari” helped Kenyan village women solve problems from hunger to dirty water with the same solution: “Plant a tree.” Most noteworthy is Nelson’s vibrant collage artwork, which features soaring portraits and lush landscapes in oil paint and printed fabrics.”
“Illustrator Kadir Nelson intensifies the text's tribute to East African culture, mixing oil paints and textiles in collages that capture the quest of women looking for answers as well as the beauty and vastness of Maathai's project . . Especially dazzling… Makes vibrantly clear how strong and resourceful Maathai and other African women have been in restoring trees and peace to their world.”
—The Washington Post
“This picture book glows from every page as Napoli and Nelson write and illustrate the inspiring story of ecologist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai…. A lovely, stirring picture book with a simple message for us all: in the midst of change, development, and upheaval, there is always a place for wisdom and peace.”
— Mark David Bradshaw, Watermark Books, Kansas
"Will inspire children of all ages.”
—Ellen Scott, The Bookworm, Omaha, Nebraska
"This is the true story of Wangari Muta Maathi, a Kenyan woman who helped to bring trees back to a sadly deforested country. Her grassroots efforts to help her people and the environment at the same time had a profound effect not only on Kenya, but on people all over the world who heard her story and who learned her lessons. With a lyrical text and stunning multimedia art, this picture book is a must for every reader, both young and not so young." -- Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Review
"Mama Miti is based on the amazing life of Wangari Maathi (2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient), who grew up in Nyeri, Kenya, and turned her love of nature and trees into grassroots movement to combat deforestation. The illustrations by Nelson capture the beauty of the Motherland with vibrant colors and flattering images. " -- Ebony Magazine
- Lexile measure : AD610L
- Grade level : Preschool - 3
- Item Weight : 1.12 pounds
- Hardcover : 40 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1416935053
- ISBN-13 : 978-1416935056
- Dimensions : 9 x 0.4 x 12 inches
- Reading level : 4 - 8 years
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books; Illustrated edition (January 5, 2010)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #80,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I feel that the story and its repeating phrases will be of interest to young children. It is perfect for a read-aloud.
As an adult reader I didn't feel the story was entirely clear to explain how planting the trees made Kenya more peaceful (there was a gap of content there), so I'm not sure that children aged 4-8 will understand that either. However I enjoyed the rest of it, and liked the good messages the book conveys.
I was enthralled by the story of living in harmony with nature, knowing the value and use of trees, and not JUST living in a sustainable way but of actually rejuvenating a land that had been abused, having been stripped of trees by man. The picture book has a message of pro-environmentalism, and is uplifting in tone and leaves the reader feeling hopeful. I am grateful the book has a positive tone not an oppressive one like some other books have that tell young kids that `the Earth is doomed'.
I can imagine this being used by school teachers and nature educators. It seems perfectly suited for inclusion in academic studies or pleasure reading about `green living' or `sustainable agriculture' or for general environmental content, or in a botany unit.
The fact that this is about Africa (Kenya) and features a powerful African woman means it will be appreciated by anyone seeking to use children's picture books featuring the topic of geography, Africa, or positive African-American role models. (Please read my review through to the end for more on this.)
Although it is not mentioned in the text of the book, Maathai was the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize this book so this can also be used in biography studies based on those winners which some schools and homeschools do. It can be used in earning the Cub Scout Bear rank (the requirement to read a book about a person who helped the environment).
The illustrations are fantastic. I could tell right away that the collages were composed of fabrics from Africa and I loved that! This is mixed-media, as illustrator Kadir Nelson used oil paints to paint the faces, hands and other body parts.
I'm struggling with my opinion of the book now that I've done more research after my curiosity was piqued by reading this book. After the second read-through I read the two pages of information at the back of the book written for adults. It tells more about Maathai, the Green Belt Movement and of her having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. It was in this section that I started to learn of the "deception by omission" of this book. I went on to read more on the Internet including direct quotes from Maathai and watching videos of her speaking about her life and work.
I understand this is a picture book for kids aged 4-8 and I am aware that complicated stories and biographies must be simplified and brought down to a certain level to be age-appropriate. However at present teachers, authors and publishers seem to have no issue with scaring kids about humans destroying the Earth and giving a message to take action to stop or fix the environmental problems that the adults before them created.
I would think then, that kids could handle the omitted facts that it is not common for girls in Kenya to go to primary school and college. Maathai defied the odds and both those things including earning a bachelor and master degree in America with scholarships. She studied for her PhD first in Germany and finished in Africa, being the first African woman to get a PhD. How much of her science degrees were to credit for teaching her the botanical information she used with the Green Belt Movement, I do not know (versus the story's depiction of this wisdom being passed down from elders in the village). It seems to me that all kids could stand to hear an inspiring story about formal education and college degrees being good and useful in the real world.
Maathai's experience in America witnessing free speech in action in Vietnam War protests and seeing the `common people' protesting and trying to make change is what she credits as the source of her inspiration to go on to create a grassroots movement in Kenya. The fact that ideas and freedoms in America (not something happening in Kenya at that time) played such a key role in who Maathai became as a person, and how it affected her life work is absent from the book. (What a shame.)
The issue of the negativity she faced and the discrediting the African men in the government and the community did just because this was a grassroots movement comprised of women is unbelievable. That she stood up to this to make real progress is commendable. Again, I don't know how much of this part of her story would be right for a children's picture book but my point is that Wangari Maathai's story is not all nicey-nice nor was it easy as Napoli's story implies.
In the end this book makes a good story pushing a couple of good environmental messages (which some may label as propaganda). My larger concern is that this book romanticizes what are actually the oppressive traditional African values that Maathai and other women struggled against.
As to the rating, I'm torn. If I didn't know the more complete story I'd rate this 5 stars for the writing and 5 stars for the illustration. However I'm bringing it down to 3 stars = It's Okay due to the fictionalization of this story for the intention of pushing certain messages to children while leaving out other positive messages.
Postscript: Lest you think I hate the book, I don't. I liked the book enough to have already purchased a copy to give as a gift to someone seeking books about botany and the environment.