After celebrating two strong fictional females in recent posts, I’d like to focus on a visually striking biography by Jen Cullerton Johnson today. Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace quivers with sensual details and a sense of hope and respect for all living things. We see young Wangari Maathai and her mother eating sweet figs, just as the monkeys and an elephant are doing. The Kikuyu people of Kenya, we learn, believe their ancestors rest in the tree’s shade, so Wangari promises never to cut down the tree.
While few girls in her village learn to read, Wangari’s parents respond to their daughter’s desire to learn, and arrange for her to go to the local school. At age 11, however, she can advance no more. To continue, she must move to the big city of Nairobi. From there, she goes the U.S. to major in biology.
When Wangari returns to her beloved home, she finds a world out of balance. Because the government has sold much land to big foreign companies, the forest habitat has dwindled, and native cedar and acacia trees have vanished. The people of her village have abandoned their custom of not cutting down the mugumo (spreading fig trees). Erosion has caused soil to stream into the rivers. Crops are drying out, and people are hungry. Wangari’s seed of an idea will bring the community together and restore the ecology of the land. Lush oil and scratchboard illustrations by Sonia Lynn Sadler show the belts of green saplings planted by the women.
After being arrested by corrupt police officers, Wangari gets out and takes her case to the world. The woman called Mama Miti, mother of trees, helped get 30 million trees planted, making for cleaner rivers, abundant fruit, and healthy crops. She won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, the first African to do so. Seeds of Change, aimed at upper-elementary students, is a vibrant story to include in units on ecology, peacemakers, Kenya, or outstanding women. A brief biographical note and sources are included.
And don’t miss the fabulous 2014 KidLit celebration of Women’s History Month!