The book begins with a scene of Wangari’s mother showing young Wangari the mugumo, the wild fig tree, and explaining its importance to both the environment and her culture.
Her brother tells her of the things he learns at school, and Wangari decides she would like to go too. Although it is unusual for a girl to receive an education, Wangari does go to school. In fact she goes all the way to study in the United States and becomes a scientist.
When Wangari returns to Kenya, she find many things have changed. She finds the trees have all been cut down and the resulting environmental damage means that people can no longer grow food for themselves. In a move that is in one hand simple, and in the other incredibly insightful, she encourages the women to re-plant the trees.
Her tree-planting movement grew and flourished as did the trees themselves, but not completely without hardship. Wangari had to overcome harsh political resistance and was even briefly imprisoned. She was released, however, and in 2004 Wangari became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
You will not believe this is Jen Cullerton Johnson’s first picture book. She has done a masterful job of incorporating multiple layers of meaning. She adds important concrete details, such as the feel of the rough bark of the tree, the sounds of the birds, and the things Wangari’s brother taught her from his school. Children can relate to these things. Mothers reading the book can relate to the mothers being able to feed their children. People interested in environmental issues will be encouraged by the message that simple things initiated by a handful of people can make a positive difference in our world. People of many ages and backgrounds will find something that resonates in this wonderful book.
Sonia Lynn Sadler’s illustrations are bright, bold and beautiful. I was not surprised to read that she is inspired by quilts, you can see the influence of warm, colorful, geometric quilt designs on almost every page.
Together the text and illustrations make a fabulous package, sure to sow some Seeds of Change of its own.
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Lee & Low Books (June 30, 2010)
Book supplied by publisher.