Mama Miti tells the story of Wangari Muta Maathai, who died on September 25, 2011. She was a Nobel Peace Laureate – the first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize. In awarding Maathai the Nobel peace prize in 2004, the Nobel committee said that her “unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression – nationally and internationally.”
Maathai was the first woman in east and central Africa to obtain a PhD. She was also the first woman professor the University of Nairobi, where she taught veterinary medicine and eventually became head of the faculty.
While serving on the National Council of Women of Kenya, she became dedicated to helping with the struggles of women in rural Kenya. Noticing how the rapid environmental degradation was affecting women’s lives, she encouraged them to plant trees to ensure future supplies of firewood and to protect water sources and crops. To that end, she founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which led to the planting of more than thirty million trees.
Maathai’s agenda widened as she joined efforts to stop powerful politicians grabbing land, especially forests. This brought her into conflict with the authorities, and she was beaten and arrested numerous times. Her bravery and defiance made her a hero in Kenya.
Napoli’s book was written in 2010, before Maathai’s passing. It focuses on the way “Wangari changed a country, tree by tree. She taught her people the ancient wisdom of peace with nature….She is known these days as Mama Miti – the mother of trees.”
Napoli’s prose is spare but musical, and conveys the struggles of women to survive in a harsh environment. But it is the amazing oil and fabric collage illustrations of Kadir Nelson that make this book exceptional. Bright and beautiful, each one could grace anyone’s wall at home.
An Afterword gives the facts of Maathai’s life, a list of further resources, and a glossary of African words and phrases used in the text.
Evaluation: This is a book that will inspire all ages. Highly recommended.
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Divison, 2010