Monday, March 16, 2015

Non-fiction Monday: Wangari Maathai: the woman who planted millions of trees by Franck Prévot

Wangari Maathai: the woman who planted millions of trees by Franck Prévot. Illustrated by Aurélia Fronty. 45 p. Charlesbridge, January, 2015. 9781580896269. (Finished copy courtesy of publisher for review.)

Back in 2008, a very lovely picture book biography of Wangari Maathai was published. It was a perfect blend of succinct yet beautiful writing and pleasing, folk-style illustration. That book? Wangari's Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter. So, do we need yet another? Absolutely! 

This one is for slightly older readers. Where Winter's book is perfect for younger readers, Prévot's book supplies more detail, enabling upper elementary and middle grade researchers to glean hard, biographical facts and enjoy gorgeously lush illustrations while doing so. 

There's a bit more text, more detail, including the feminist aspects and historical context. Girls didn't typically get educated at the time but Wangari not only attended school in Kenya, she traveled to the United States to further her education. Forming the Green Belt Movement meant standing up to the government, earning her threats and imprisonment. 

The back matter includes black and white photographs, a detailed timeline, a map and note about Kenya today, a page discussing the sad state of Kenya's forests today and, finally, a page containing source notes and books and websites for further reading. 

The art, oh the art! It is luscious. I want to swim in the palette! Where Winter's art is soft and creamy, Aurélia Fronty's art is bold, edgy and evocative; it just begs the eye to linger. I really loved the black & white photos added at the end. Wangari's presence just jumps off of the page with her brilliant smile and intelligent eyes. The photo of student protesters being arrested effectively hammers home the danger those activists faced in standing up for their beliefs. 

This is a must-purchase book. Perfect for so many curriculum areas from the study of environmentalism to Kenya; from women's history to black history. The book happened to be on my desk when a fifth grade teacher was in the library. She picked it up and proclaimed it a perfect read aloud as her class happened to be researching African countries. I hope that she will be the first of many checkouts of this brilliant biography.

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