Friday, October 19, 2012

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai
Author/Illustrator: Claire A. Nivola
Publisher/Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/ 2008
Genre/Audience: Biography/Grades K-3 (personally, I would use this through middle school)
Themes: Kenya, Green Belt Movement, Conservation, Tree Planting

Opening: “As Wangari Maathai tells it, when she was growing up on a farm in the hills of central Kenya, the earth was clothed in its dress of green."

Synopsis: From Booklist - *Starred Review* Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her environmental and human rights achievements. Founder of the Green Belt Movement, she has encouraged people to repair their economy, land, and health with simple, environmentally friendly acts, such as planting more trees. This beautiful picture-book biography echoes the potent simplicity of Maathai’s message with direct, spare prose and bright, delicate watercolors. Tracking forward from Maathai’s childhood in the rich landscape of Kenya’s highlands, the words and pictures clearly show how the activist’s deep connection with nature as a youth inspired her to develop sustainable practices as an adult. Nivola writes about potentially complex, abstract relationships, such as those between ecological preservation and human health, with clear language that shows connections that children will easily grasp. The story of how each human and tree can make a difference will inspire young people, who will want to linger over the wide, double-page landscapes picturing people restoring stripped land to green, thriving communities and forests. An author’s note offers more about Maathai’s inspiring story. Point teachers and parents seeking more information to Maathai’s autobiography, Unbowed (2006), which was named a Booklist Adult Editor’s Choice. Grades K-3. --Gillian Engberg
Why I Love This Book:
Inspiring, both for its conservation and activist themes, children feel empowered by the difference the simple act of planting a tree can make.  Reforesting a country is a daunting challenge for one, but when acting together, many people can make real change happen.  Children need this positive message as they seek to make a difference in their world.

This book would lend itself to many units of study: Africa, ecology, women.
A lesson plan:

Learn more about Wangari Maathai and The Greenbelt Movement at

Arbor Day Foundation: "We inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees."

For more links to Perfect Picture Books, a collection of bloggers who contribute at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site, click here.


  1. Laura, I 've read a number of picture books on Dr. Wangari and her work. But, have never seen this one. I reviewed one last year the week she died. She certainly changed the face of her nation and her work continues. Great pick.

  2. I had heard tell of this story, so I am happy someone made it into what looks like a beautiful PB - thanks!

  3. What a wonderful, inspiring book, Laura. This is exactly the kind of book I LOVE adding to our list, so thank you! I love your description of the text and art - it sounds like just a lovely book. I will definitely have to make my library get this one! :)

    1. Thanks for the compliment, but the synopsis is quoted from Booklist. I thought the reviewer said it all! I'm glad you're going to make a trip to the library for this. It is worth it.

  4. What a wonderful-sounding book. I agree with you that it could be used through the middle grades as well, just judging from your description and the subject matter. What a great way to make this sort of information and this sort of role model accessible to kids! Thank you!

  5. How interesting that we have two conservation books this week! This looks like a wonderful one to share with children, as it can also help them with geography. Thanks Laura.

  6. What a great review for a great book. You are so right...."Children need this positive message as they seek to make a difference in their world."