Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

Overview

Through artful prose and beautiful illustrations, Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson tell the true story of Wangari Muta Maathai, known as “Mama Miti,” who in 1977 founded the Green Belt Movement, an African grassroots organization that has empowered many people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation. Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya, and in 2004 she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari ...

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Overview

Through artful prose and beautiful illustrations, Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson tell the true story of Wangari Muta Maathai, known as “Mama Miti,” who in 1977 founded the Green Belt Movement, an African grassroots organization that has empowered many people to mobilize and combat deforestation, soil erosion, and environmental degradation. Today more than 30 million trees have been planted throughout Mama Miti’s native Kenya, and in 2004 she became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Muta Maathai has changed Kenya tree by tree—and with each page turned, children will realize their own ability to positively impact the future.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* “Nelson’s pictures, a jaw-dropping union of African textiles collaged with oil paintings, brilliantly capture the villagers’ clothing and the greening landscape…. This is, in a word, stunning.”

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.”

Booklist

“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

From The Critics
* “Nelson’s pictures, a jaw-dropping union of African textiles collaged with oil paintings, brilliantly capture the villagers’ clothing and the greening landscape…. This is, in a word, stunning.”

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.”

Booklist

“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

Abby McGanney Nolan
When Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, her Green Belt Movement had planted 30 million trees in Africa, starting in her native Kenya. Her big-picture approach has also led to a healthy crop of children's books, including this new one, whose big pictures are especially dazzling.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
While Nobel Medalist Wangari Maathai has been the subject of two earlier picture biographies (Jeanette Winter's Wangari's Trees of Peace and Claire Nivola's Planting the Trees of Kenya), this story is structured more like a folktale, portraying Maathai as healer and botanist. “These are strong hands,” she tells a woman who does not have enough food to feed her family. “Here are seedlings of the mubiru muiru tree.... Plant as many as you can. Eat the berries.” 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. Maathai knows that some trees make good firewood, others form hedges to keep livestock safe, while the roots of others clean dirty water. After every encounter, a Kikuyu expression is repeated: “Thayu nyumba—Peace, my people.” Mama Miti, as Maathai comes to be known (it means “mother of trees”), is rewarded not with fame or power but with the satisfaction of seeing Kenya restored. Napoli (The Earth Shook) creates a vivid portrait of the community from which Maathai's tree-planting mission grows. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, is an inspiration to all, but particularly to those who believe that caring individuals can change the world. Born near Mt. Kenya, Wangari worked in the city but never forgot her roots. To a woman who needs food, Wangari gives seedlings of a tree. The woman shares the berries and seeds with her neighbors. Wangari then gives a poor woman tree seedlings that will produce the firewood she needs. Soon women come from all over Kenya for her help and advice. To each she gives seedlings to plant for their problem. Soon all over Kenya trees are back, thirty million of them. "Wangari changed a country, tree by tree." The moving cadence of Napoli's prose, punctuated by the repeated Kikuya and English, "Peace, my people," is matched with the impressive fabric collages and oils Nelson uses to illuminate the nation's verdant landscapes as well as the patterned clothing of the women. His strong, naturalistic portraits show strength of character along with the will to make a difference. The large format reinforces the compelling, visual story. An Afterword, author's and illustrator's notes, and a glossary all add information. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 3–4—This idealistic account focuses on Wangari's wisdom in advising women to plant different kinds of trees to solve their particular economic problems. "Here are seedlings of the mukinduri. This tree makes good firewood." "Plant a tree. A mukawa. Its thorns will keep out predators." Napoli inserts a Kikuyu phrase and its translation after each bit of Wangari's advice. "Thayu nyumba"—"Peace, my people." The story seems to suggest that the trees were a rather quick solution to the people's problems of hunger and poverty in Kenya's devastated landscape. "Soon cool, clear waters teemed with black, wriggling tadpoles…. All over the countryside the trees that had disappeared came back." Nelson depicts the various women and the greening of the landscape in bold collages of textile prints joined with strong painted portraits. The poetic, abbreviated story has little biographical detail, emphasizing the planting of millions of trees and the resulting prosperity and peace for the country and its people. The preface describing the ill effects of earlier drought and the broad sweep of text provide less concrete information and explanation than Claire A. Nivola's Planting the Trees of Kenya (Farrar) and Jeanette Winter's Wangari's Trees of Peace (Harcourt, both 2008). The information is too vague for primary grade children, and probably too skimpy for older grades. Still, the book could serve as a beautiful introduction for children just learning about the Greenbelt Movement. Concluding materials include an afterword for adults, a source note, a Kikuyu glossary, a list of Web sites most useful for adults, and a brief note from the illustrator.—Margaret Bush, SimmonsCollege, Boston
Kirkus Reviews
Napoli adopts a folkloric narrative technique to showcase the life work of Wangari Maathai, whose seminal role in Kenya's reforestation earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. When, one after the other, women journey to Maathai to seek counsel about scarce food, disappearing firewood and ailing animals, she tells them, "Plant a tree . . . .Thayu nyumba-peace, my people." Specific tree species and their utility are mentioned in the text and reiterated in a glossary. Nelson's pictures, a jaw-dropping union of African textiles collaged with oil paintings, brilliantly capture the villagers' clothing and the greening landscape. The richly modulated oils portray the dignified, intent gazes of Maathai and other Kenyans, and the illustrator's signature use of perspective suggests the everyday heroism of his subjects. In addition to incorporating the fabric collages (and some whimsy in his animal depictions), the artist newly focuses on landscape, with many double-page spreads depicting undulating fields, distant mountains and a white-hot sky. Deserving of a special place with Claire Nivola's Planting the Trees of Kenya (2008), this is, in a word, stunning. (afterword, glossary, author's and illustrator's notes) (Picture book. 4-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416935056
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
  • Publication date: 1/5/2010
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 171,046
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 12.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Donna Jo Napoli is the acclaimed and award-winning author of many novels, both fantasies and contemporary stories. She won the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water in 1997. Her novel Zel was named an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon, and a School Library Journal Best Book, and a number of her novels have been selected as ALA Best Books. She is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband. Visit her at DonnaJoNapoli.com.

Kadir Nelson is the widely acclaimed illustrator of many books for children, including Thunder Rose, written by Jerdine Nolen, which received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award; Ellington Was Not a Street, written by Ntozake Shange, which received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; and Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life, written by Jerdine Nolen, which won the 2005 Society of Illustrators Gold Medal. He is also the illustrator of Deloris Jordan and Roslyn M. Jordan’s Salt in His Shoes and Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee's Please, Baby, Please and Please, Puppy, Please. Kadir Nelson lives with his family in San Diego, California.

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