We are excited to join Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. Right now we are having a “Buffet of Asian Literature: Makan! Let’s Eat! Kain Tayo!” theme until end of June. We are featuring either Asian-themed titles or food-related themes in books.
This is the second picturebook biography (PBB) that I’ve read about Mama Miti and this one made me marvel at Wangari Maathai’s quiet strength, her unfaltering resolve, and her firm hands that dig into the earth to nurture light and love.
One of the hallmarks of a really good PBB is its inclusion of a detailed afterword as well as authors’/illustrators’ note and the references that were used in the entire writing process (both text and illustrations). All that can be found here as well as a Kikuyu glossary of terms presented in alphabetical order. In the Afterword, it was noted that Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 and was the first woman in Central or Eastern Africa to earn a PhD and to become the head of the veterinary medicine faculty.
What struck me most about the picturebook though was that Mama Miti seemed to know exactly what seed to give each person who comes to her for help. Rather than provide them with a quick-fix that is merely palliative in nature, she helps them out by giving them plants to grow – the exact one that is needed to feed not just the entire family but their animals as well.
She knows what plant to cure ailing cows and cattles, which tree will keep out the predators, which tree can produce timber that provides building poles and shelter, which trees provide wide branches that will eventually provide warmth, which seedling can produce good firewood. She reminds me of a wonderful librarian who knows the perfect book that a person needs at a specific point in their life – and it does seem like she can save the entire world by planting a tree.
What makes this perfect for our current reading theme on food can be seen in this quote about a poor woman who came from the western valley to see Mama Miti. She said:
“I have too little food to feed my family,” said the poor woman. “There is no longer a job for me in the timber mill. And I have no other skills. What can I do?”
Wangari took the woman’s hands and turned them over. She took the children’s hands, one by one. “These are strong hands. Here are seedlings of the mubiru muiru tree. Plant them. Plant as many as you can. Eat the berries.” Thayu Nyumba – Peace, my people.
Gradually, with patience, perseverance and unwavering faith in her people, she rallied together the village women to plant a sea of trees which resulted in more than thirty million trees planted in Kenya and other countries of Africa. As Donna Jo Napoli noted:
Wangari changed a country, tree by tree. She taught her people the ancient wisdom of peace with nature. And now she is teaching the rest of the world. She is known these days as Mama Miti – the mother of trees.
A green belt of peace started with one good woman offering something we can all do: “Plant a tree.” Thayu nyumba – Peace my people.
Kadir Nelson’s illustrations, as per usual, are absolutely exquisite. While there is an earthiness that was captured by the rich browns and greens, there was also a radiant sheen in the faces of the people that they positively glow. For teachers who wish to make use of this in the classroom, here is a downloadable .doc file created by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Seconday Education that interweaves this picturebook (among others) with an entire classroom unit on geography: land and people.
Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. A Paula Wiseman book: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Book borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.
Reading Challenge Update: 90 (25)
Nonfiction PictureBook Challenge: 6 of 25
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