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MAMA MITI by Donna Jo Napoli Kirkus Star


Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Age Range: 4 - 8

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4169-3505-6
Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Napoli adopts a folkloric narrative technique to showcase the life work of Wangari Maathai, whose seminal role in Kenya’s reforestation earned her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. When, one after the other, women journey to Maathai to seek counsel about scarce food, disappearing firewood and ailing animals, she tells them, “Plant a tree….Thayu nyumba—peace, my people.” Specific tree species and their utility are mentioned in the text and reiterated in a glossary. Nelson’s pictures, a jaw-dropping union of African textiles collaged with oil paintings, brilliantly capture the villagers’ clothing and the greening landscape. The richly modulated oils portray the dignified, intent gazes of Maathai and other Kenyans, and the illustrator’s signature use of perspective suggests the everyday heroism of his subjects. In addition to incorporating the fabric collages (and some whimsy in his animal depictions), the artist newly focuses on landscape, with many double-page spreads depicting undulating fields, distant mountains and a white-hot sky. Deserving of a special place with Claire Nivola’s Planting the Trees of Kenya (2008), this is, in a word, stunning.  (Picture book. 4-8)