Dr. Wangari Maathai Plants a Forest (2020)

Book review by Marina Davis

This chapter book is a brief biography of Kenyan environmental activist Dr. Wangari Maathai (1 April 1940 – 25 September 2011). The book’s level is recommended for ages 6-9 and includes colorful illustrations throughout.

The book chronicles her life from early childhood in 1947 to her fight against President Moi to preserve Nairobi’s Uhuru Park in the ’90s. The story starts with young Wangari exploring and learning respect for the nature around her through her love of a mugumo tree. Then, it briefly touches on her life in her rural village of Ihithe in Kenya. It brushes on her education and her growing interest in the environment through mentorship by a teacher who helps her get admitted to a U.S. university. While there, she experienced prejudice for the first time, which is then compared to the segregation that was commonplace in her native Kenya.

Her eventual homecoming is marred by negative environmental changes caused by deforestation to make room for coffee and tea fields. This prompts her to find a solution, teaching women to plant trees and to care for the environment. She faced heavy pushback for both her activism and her education. She became the first East African woman to receive a Ph.D. and she founded The Green Belt movement, which is still combating climate change and conserving biodiversity today. This book is a great tool to teach kids about caring for the environment, advocating for themselves and others, and persevering against powerful opposition. The book includes an afterword, activities, and brief explanations of The Green Belt Movement and The Wangari Maathai Foundation that can be used for further conversation.

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