J-Lynn's Reviews > Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli
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A beautiful story describing the Green Belt Movement started in Kenya by Wangari Muta Maathai who was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize (2004) for working to revitalize a deforested Kenya.

While the movement was a grassroots movement organized by this woman politician, this picture book tells the story as if Wangari is a town elder who gives advice to women who travel from all over the country for her help. It captures the spirit of the African culture--specifically the Kenyan notion of harambee (swahili) which means pulling together for the common good--as this one woman encourages her people to reengage with the land and respect the symbiotic nature of trees. She becomes known as "Mama Miti" or "mother of the trees."

In the back of the book, there is an afterowrd, extensive note from the author, glossary, and a note from the illustrator which discuss the true life of Wangari and the creation of this book.

The illustrations are by Kadir Nelson but are his first exploration into mixed collage. He paints the faces and some of the background with oil paints, layering the clothing and panorama with printed fabrics all on gessoed board. He said he wanted "to use these materials because African culture is rich with textiles and color, and I felt it essential that the artwork reflect an aesthetic of both East Africa and my own work." He succeeds. The pictures capture the epic beauty of Africa and the rich colors of the Kenyan people. I hope he gets rewarded for these bold illustrations come awards season.
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