cover image Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

Donna Jo Napoli, , illus. by Kadir Nelson. . S&S/Wiseman, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-1-4169-3505-6

While Nobel Medalist Wangari Maathai has been the subject of two earlier picture biographies (Jeanette Winter's Wangari's Trees of Peace and Claire Nivola's Planting the Trees of Kenya ), this story is structured more like a folktale, portraying Maathai as healer and botanist. “These are strong hands,” she tells a woman who does not have enough food to feed her family. “Here are seedlings of the mubiru muiru tree.... Plant as many as you can. Eat the berries.” Nelson's (We Are the Ship ) breathtaking portraits of Maathai often have a beatific quality; bright African textiles represent fields, mountains, and Maathai's beloved trees. Maathai knows that some trees make good firewood, others form hedges to keep livestock safe, while the roots of others clean dirty water. After every encounter, a Kikuyu expression is repeated: “Thayu nyumba—Peace, my people.” Mama Miti, as Maathai comes to be known (it means “mother of trees”), is rewarded not with fame or power but with the satisfaction of seeing Kenya restored. Napoli (The Earth Shook ) creates a vivid portrait of the community from which Maathai's tree-planting mission grows. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)