Saturday, February 14, 2015

Books about Wangari Maathai

Last year Mary Ann Cappiello and I wrote about how to use nonfiction picture books to discuss the career of Nobel Prize winner and political activist Wangari Maathai. We wanted children to see how her life’s work is an outstanding example of a “global citizenship,” a person caring for the rights and well-being of everyone.  You can access this article on the School Library Journal website at
We created a teaching unit that combined Common Core Standards and Social Studies Standards (C3).
A new book about Wangari Maathai written by Franck Prévot and illustrated by Aurélia Fronty makes an excellent addition to this inquiry teaching unit and helps us further integrate language arts and social studies. As a number of reviewers have pointed out, this book emphasizes Maathai’s stance on political issues—women’s rights, democracy, and British colonialism. The book also provides us opportunities to discuss both the content and craft of the book. 

Here are some interesting content topics to discuss:
·      The impact of British colonialism on the land and people of Kenya
·      How Wangari stood up against Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, who planned real estate projects that would threaten forests and wildlife species
·      Wangari’s outreach to world leaders and local Kenyan farmers
·      Her persistence over time, despite several imprisonments
            Here are some interesting craft topics to discuss:
·      The use of italic font to comment on the information in the book. Here’s how the book begins: “It’s almost as if Wangari Maathai is still alive, since the trees she planted still grow.”
·      The use of color to reinforce ideas. Green is used liberally on pages that emphasize planting trees. Yellow is used on pages that inspire hope. For example, when Wangari takes on a more active political role.
·      Extensive back matter includes photographs of Wangari, a timeline of events in her life, a map of Kenya today, quotations from Wangari, and a bibliography.

Combine this new book with the four others about Wangari Maathai for some interesting discussions, writing, and illustrating:

Books about Wangari Maathai:
Johnson, J. C. (2010). Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace. Ill. by S. L. Sadler. New York: Lee & Low.
Napoli, D. J. (2010). Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya. Ill. By K. Nelson. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Nivola, C. A. (2008). Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Winter, J. (2008). Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa. Orlando: Harcourt.

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