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Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa Hardcover – September 21, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Kindergarten-Grade 4—This delightful picture-book biography of the environmentalist has engaging illustrations and accessible, succinct prose. When Wangari Maathai was growing up in Kenya, the land was covered with trees. But on returning to her homeland from America, where she was educated on scholarship, she discovered a hot, dry, barren land, stripped of the trees she loved as a child. Starting in her own backyard, Maathai planted trees and encouraged other women to do the same. More than 30 million trees have since been planted by the members of her Green Belt Movement. Maathai was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004 in recognition of her work. The acrylic illustrations have a warm folk-art influence. The pictures are both literal and symbolic, and framed in complementary lines of color. An author's note and a quote from Maathai are included. This book would be a superb choice for read-alouds or assignments.—Melissa Christy Buron, Epps Island Elementary, Houston, TX
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From Booklist

Like Claire A. Nivola’s Planting the Trees of Kenya (2008), this powerful picture-book biography introduces Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. As in Nivola’s title, Winter follows her charismatic subject from her rural Kenyan childhood to her adult life as the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has profoundly improved her country’s health and economy. Winter distills Maathai’s inspirational story into spare words and images. As in her other similarly formatted picture books, such as The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq (2005), Winter’s acrylic paintings employ rich, opaque hues and elemental shapes that illustrate specific details while conveying a broader sense of her subject’s remarkable influence. An author’s note fills in biographical facts, but children may still have questions about specific events, such as the violent protest battles that leave Maathai bloodied. Paired with Nivola’s slightly more comprehensive approach, this title offers a welcome introduction to Maathai’s awe-inspiring work and to the subject of activism in general. Grades 1-3. --Gillian Engberg
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Lexile Measure: AD730L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (September 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0152065458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0152065454
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.4 x 10.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"The earth was naked. For me the mission was to try to cover it with green." - Wangari Maathai

Growing up in the shadow of Mount Kenya in Africa, Wangari is surrounded by an umbrella of green trees. The trees protect the birds, provide firewood to the women of the village and help keep the soil rich for the sweet potatoes, sugarcane and maize Wangari helps to harvest.

Wangari travels to America for school, but when she returns six years later, the trees are gone. No crops grow, the birds are gone and the women have to travel far distances to find firewood. On World Environment Day in 1977, Wangari plants nine seedlings in her backyard and begins the Green Belt Movement which, over the next 27 years, plants thirty million trees across Africa.

Wangari's Trees of Peace: a true story from Africa is the story of one woman's effort to return green to Africa. Told in Jeanette Winter's simple language and blocky, colorful illustrations, Wangari's Trees of Peace is wonderful means to introduce 3-to-7-year- olds to environmentalism, the interconnected nature of ecosystems and political activitism. It also introduces some difficult subjects that may make some children and parents uncomfortable: prejudice ("Women can't do this"), violence ("Wangari blocks their way, so they hit her with clubs") and imprisonment ("They call her a troublemaker and put her in jail").

While Winter's tale simplifies Wangari's story to a basic level, it carries within it an important message, that one person can make a difference. Wangari's simple act of planting a tree translates to an important environmental movement and Wangari receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Children are innate idealists and it is never too early to foster their belief that they can achieve anything.
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Format: Hardcover
Wangari's story is important, and she is an amazing woman. I always enjoy Jeanette Winter's spare and poetic storytelling.

But here, I find her storytelling flawed. I got this book for my 8 year old when her class was studying Kenya. It was a good fit of topic and tone, except the narrative was incomplete. One page Wangari is getting beaten by the police, then she's arrested and then. . . what?

On the next page "Wangari is not alone. . . " The women are planting trees, but there is no explanation for how long Wangari was jailed, how she got out, how did she get the seeds to the women when she was jailed, what happened to HER? Yes the trees are important, but how (as mentioned in the Author's Note) did she get from jail to being a member of Parliament? The last close-up of Wangari in the book is her face bleeding from the police club. Yes, that did happen and it is important, but it left my daughter with the logical idea that the beating was the last thing that ever happened to Wangari. (The tiny image of her on the last page could, really, be anyone. And there is no explanation for how she got out of jail to be standing on the mountain in that last image.)

My child was wrapped up in the story and felt cheated by the fact that Wangari's story was left incomplete. Yes, the trees are important, but the story of the person who made it happen is just as important, especially to the young children to whom this book is targeted.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this for my 8-year-old niece. She and her mother read it together and really loved it. This is a great story, clearly told. For all our progress on the gender front, girls still need positive female role models, and Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Prize Winner is a terrific one. The story values education but also stresses the importance of putting education to use. Also, the story helps children understand sustainability. Finally, the story stresses how we all need to take part in forging solutions. One person can't fix enormous problems by herself.
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Wangari Maathai is an amazing woman - she won a scholarship to attend college in the U.S., became a professor of biology in Kenya, she enabled Kenyan woman to become environmentalists by enticing them with money, and she stood up to the government to elicit needed change to better the lives of her people. The story is powerful and still accessible, written in plain language appropriate for the 4-7 crowd.

That said - word of caution. I wanted to take this to my daughter's school, but there are two pages that make it inappropriate. The book discusses how she was beaten with clubs by police and thrown in jail. Blood is shown coming from her cheekbone. This is a difficult message to give to a 4 year old, conflicts with other messages about police we give them, and will render this book unusable in most classroom environments.

So, I am recommending the book for home use with discussion and sadly not recommending it for school use unless it has been shared beforehand with the parental types.
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This was a summer reading assignment for my 8 year old son and I was delighted to hear about this incredible woman. The illustrations were very vibrant and kid friendly (it kept his attention, yeah!). After reading this with him I immediately Googled Wangari ad was amazed to hear her efforts to plant trees in her country and how difficult a journey it was, but how with perservance and faith her campaign grew from her little village for the world to learn just how incredible a leader she become.
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