It’s Book Sharing Monday from Smiling Like Sunshine! We read a lot of books in this family and I love hearing from other parents when they come across a book that their kids liked. So, I’m going to be adding weekly posts about books that my kids recommend. Feel free to share any you’ve come across that might be a nice complement to the one I’m reviewing
by Jen Cullerton Johnson (Author), Sonia Lynn Sadler (Illustrator)
This gorgeously illustrated book tells the story of Wangari Maathai and how she created peace through her connection to the environment and her love of people. It begins when she is a little girl and her mother tells her about the mugumo tree. Her mother explains how the mugumo is a home to many creatures and how it relates to the memories of their ancestors. Wangari loves the mugumo and promises never to cut it down.
Wangari wants to go to school. But, girls rarely go to school in Kenya. Her brother begins teaching her at home until the two of them convince their parents to send her to school. When Wangari grows up, she goes to college in the US before returning to Kenya as an activist for the environment and for her home country. She watches as native trees are clear cut to make room for coffee plantations. She sees how it is destroying the land, the traditions, and the people of Kenya.
She begins a movement to plant trees. She travels from town to village, teaching others about how to plant trees and rebuild the ecosystem for the benefit of people and the environment. She is put in prison for a time, but upon her release she travels the world to share her passions for peace and speaking about the harm the deforestation is bringing to the Kenyan people. Eventually, Kenyans listen to her message and she returns to her homeland as minister of the environment. At the end of the book, Wangari receives the Noble Peace Prize.
My oldest son picked up this book from the library because he liked the cover. We had no idea what it was about. So, this was a wonderful surprise. The message is simple and inspiring. My sons were mad that the grown ups wouldn’t let girls learn just because they were girls. They keep coming back to this point over and over because my answer that some people think some boys are better at some things and some girls are better at other things doesn’t make sense to them. They understood the message of the book that anyone can do anything if given the chance.
They love the idea of planting trees and get downright angry at the deforestation. My 3yo said, “Don’t they know it’s stupid to cut down all the trees? They can’t breathe.” So, it’s natural to them that she is, as my 5yo said, “a good guy who gets a reward.” The harsh issue of being imprisoned is mentioned, but not in a way that broaches subjects I wasn’t prepared to talk about. I have already begun the dialogue with them that sometimes people make mistakes and put people in prison until they understand better. They know that prison is a place to keep bad guys until they become good again (or not) and that sometimes good guys are mistaken for bad guys and vice versa.
The subtitle of this book is, “Planting a Path to Peace” and it truly does show how Wangari did this. The message of empowerment and love are overwhelming in this book. It makes you feel good and I’m happy to read this every time we pull it off the shelf. The fact that this is based on a true story is something my kids really like. They ask me every time if Wangari really did those things or if they are made up. The artwork is brilliantly colorful, with bold lines. If you purchase this book, I suggest getting the library binding or hard cover version to enjoy the drawings.
Activities to create with this book:
- Plant a tree (especially a fig tree like mugumo.) Or at least some seedlings. Let the kids start a garden inside or out and discuss how growing their own food contributes to their health, to their family unit, and to the environment.
- Go on a nature walk and have your kids collect leaves from the various trees. Identify the leaves and glue them into a nature journal. Identify which, if any are native trees.
- Identify on the map where Kenya is and where you live. Discuss the differences in climate. Draw pictures of what animals and plants live in your area and what animals and plants might live in Kenya (or if you’re in Kenya, then pick the US, where Wangari went to school) Talk about how different places can be, but we’re all people with families who care for one another and the earth.
- Write a letter together about what the kids think about planting trees and what they like about trees. Mail or email it to the Billion Trees Campaign or to someone who represents you in your own government.
- Pull out some butcher block paper or poster board and, using the bright colors in the book as inspiration, create a mural together of the mugumo tree and all the animals and people that enjoy living nearby it.
- Cut figs open and examine them. They’re quite fascinating to look at, smell, touch, and eat. Record observations. Figs are also great for stamping.
- All Children’s Book Reviews on TouchstoneZ (touchstonez.com)
- Remembering Wangari Maathai: People Should Be “Active Participants” in Environmental Restoration (treehugger.com)
- Remembering Nobel Prize Winner Wangari Maathai (npr.org)
- Wangari Maathai, 1941-2011 (feministphilosophers.wordpress.com)