Title: Wangari’s Trees of Peace
Author: Jeanette Winter
Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; First Edition (September 21, 2008)
Audience:Ages 4-8 (preschool – grade 3)
Summary: Wangari Maathai was born in 1940 in Ihithe, a small village in the verdant, fertile land of Kenya. Each day she marveled at the umbrella of green trees that surrounded her village in the shadow of Mount Kenya as she walked alongside her mother to gather firewood for cooking. She talked to the birds in the trees and helped harvest the sweet potatoes, sugarcane, and maize from the rich soil. Wangari was brilliant in school and was awarded a scholarship to attend college in America. When she returned to her homeland of Kenya as a young woman, she was devastated to see that all the trees had been cut down and the land was barren. Crops were gone and women had to walk great distances to gather firewood for their survival. That’s when Wangari decided that she could make a difference – one seedling at a time. Soon Wangari began paying other women to plant and tend tree seedlings in their community to improve the soil and provide income for their families to buy food and other necessities. What began as one young woman’s single effort to care for the earth quickly grew into the Green Belt Movement which is still actively working today throughout Kenya and around the world. By 2004, thirty million trees had been planted and the lives of many women and their families were changed in marvelous ways. When Wangari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for the difference she had made in the lives of millions, she planted a Nandi flame tree at the base of Mount Kenya and said, “We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder.”
Literary elements at work in the story: Written in simple language and illustrated in beautiful acrylic illustrations, this book tells the story of how one young girl became an instrument of peace and justice through a very simple act. As the story chronicles the life of Wangari (including her imprisonment for being “a troublemaker” when she stood up to the government), it does so with few words which tell a much bigger story. Perfect for young children, this book invites you to learn more about this amazing woman and the author’s note at the end gives you some of that “fuller story.” What is missing from the author’s note and on the book jacket are the links to the amazing work being done by the Green Belt Movement today. A simple web search will lead you to their website which includes YouTube interviews with Wangari, links to lesson plans for teachers, and a host of ways children and adults can become instruments of peace and reconciliation with God’s amazing world.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story: Wangari Maathai is a simple girl living in a simple village in Kenya. Working alongside her mother, she is happy and her life is full of joy. She’s smart in school and wins a scholarship to America, but her heart remains with her homeland and her efforts to help the poorer women in her village never leaves her focus. Her story is one of social justice filled with a perseverance that comes from deep in her soul. Serving as an inspiration to women in Kenya (and people around the world), Wangari stands out as a woman to be respected and admired by all for her willing spirit and her core values of patience, persistence, and commitment to helping others.
Theological Conversation Partners: In the beginning, God created…. heavens, earth, light, darkness, plants, animals, and humanity…and it was “supremely good” (Genesis 1:1-31 CEB). A perfect world, in harmony with itself and created to be in perfect harmony with God, the Creator. The Psalmist affirms this perfect creation declaring, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Psalm 24:1) and goes on to speak of the delicate balance in all of life that was created (Psalm 104). So what is our role in the “keeping of creation?” On day six of creation, Adam and Eve were given a huge gift AND responsibility by God – to take charge of the earth and care for all that is on it. So were Adam and Eve the first environmentalists? One could argue that they were! But sin entered the world shortly after and all of creation was thrown into a state of imperfection that was not reconciled until the coming of Jesus Christ. As the Head of all creation, Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to restore us once again to God’s perfect creation. Jesus spoke of the peace that Wangari longed for when she began her “little project” of planting seedlings. “People are fighting over water, over food…we plant the seeds of peace.” she said as a young woman starting out. Wangari’s story is a lesson in values – patience, persistence, and commitment. As a follower of Christ, we, too, can become instruments of God’s reconciliation by planting peace “one seed at a time.”
Faith Talk Questions:
- Wangari saw a need and worked to create a solution that began small and grew. It took patience, persistence, and commitment. How can these three values serve as an inspiration in your life?
- Identify a need you see in your community? How can you use the values of Wangari to create a plan that will address this need?
- Wangari began her work alone but soon got others involved in solving the problem of deforestation in her village by asking them to join her in planting seedlings. How can you engage others in helping find solutions to the needs you see in your own community?
- Wangari was concerned with protecting and caring for the earth that God created. How do you work to protect and care for God’s earth?
- Wangari ultimately won a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to care for the earth and bring peace and well-being to a land torn apart by poverty and war, proving that a small idea started by a young girl can grow into a great thing. How can Wangari’s story serve as an inspiration for you to begin small with your own efforts to make a difference in the world?
This review is written by regular contributor Krista Lovell.
Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.