Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Winter, Jeanette. Wangari's Trees of Peace. Orlando: Harcourt, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-15-206545-4. $17.00 US.

Awards: ALA Notable Children's Book, Winner of the Bank Street College of Education Flora Strieglitz Strauss Award for Nonfiction, a CCBC Choice, and a Parents' Choice Recommended Title.

See also Jeanette Winter's Biblio-Burro.

Wangari Maathai earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts to bring about a greener Africa. This book is about Wangari's life and how she changes the face of Kenya and improves the lives of many Africans. Wangari, born just below the slopes of Mt. Kenya, spends her days playing and working beneath the trees surrounding her home. When Wangari is older, she wins a scholarship to America. In America she gets a bachelor's and master's degree in biology and returns to Kenya. When she returns to Kenya, she is shocked and saddened by the deforestation that has occurred. Where there were once trees, there is now barren and dry ground. As more and more trees are cut, the land continues to erode, crops fail, and women have to walk farther and farther to get the firewood they need. Wangari is overwhelmed by the thought of all the trees that have been cut down and never replaced to make room for cities, but she decides something must be done. She starts by planting nine seedlings in her backyard. As she watches the trees grow, she is further inspired: if she can plant a nursery and get other women to do the same, she can make a bigger change.

Wangari successfully convinces other Kenyan women to plant their own seedlings as part of her Green Belt Movement. Despite being laughed at and told they can't succeed, the women continue to plant their small forests. For each tree that survives for three months, Wangari pays each woman a little bit of money. Changes start to occur, and women from other villages decide they want to be part of the movement. Wangari soon realizes that it is not just enough to replace trees that are cut down. She attempts to educate the government about the importance of trees. When that doesn't work, she protest and gets in the way of the loggers. Despite being beaten and thrown in jail, Wangari doesn't give up. While Wangari is held in jail, her dream and movement continue to spread.

One after another, women join the Green Belt movement until more than 30 million trees cover Kenya. Not only are there trees in Kenya, other African nations hear about Wangari and the women who believed that they could make a difference no matter what other people said. As trees have returned, soil has improved, gardens are once more productive, and women no longer have to travel miles and miles to get firewood.

In Wangari's Trees of Peace, Jeanette Winter's provides yet another inspirational true story (see review of Biblio-Burro). While one person or one tree might not seem to make that much difference, this book is a reminder of the importance of uniting with other people to create change and an excellent early introduction to ecology and the role everyone can play as responsible members of society. It is also a great book to read as Arbor Day approaches, or to be used to kick off a garden project at any time of the year. In keeping with the theme of the book, Wangari's Trees of Peace is printed on 100% recycled paper with 50% post consumer waste.

Stephanie Ashley

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