Wangari Maathai’s biographical details, including, of course, her creation of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, are explicitly linked to feminist and human rights issues during her lifetime in this picture book.
After an introduction to Wangari Maathai as a woman who “carried out her important work with important people”—and an immediate, affirming reference to “village women” as important people—the text moves into a present-tense description of the life and times of Wangari, “she who belongs to the leopard.” Every double-page spread features striking, stylized artwork in lush colors, enhancing a thoughtful text. Predominant Kenyan attitudes toward women are boldly laid out: “Who is this woman who confronts them [Kenya’s governing males] with a confident voice in a country where women are supposed to listen and lower their eyes in men’s presence?” Similarly, the United States is indicted for its treatment of blacks during Wangari’s years of education there, and President Daniel arap Moi is exposed as both an anti-environmentalist and a man “who orders police to shoot at crowds of demonstrators.” The effects of British colonialism and tribal differences are also economically folded in. The biography officially concludes with Maathai’s Nobel Peace Prize and is followed by an abundance of further information.
This slim but emphatic biography stands out among others about Wangari Maathai with its well-crafted treatment of political issues. (Picture book/biography. 7-12)