« Search again     |     Back to AfricaAccessReview.org
Mama Miti : Wangari Maathai and the trees of Kenya
Napoli, Donna Jo; Nelson, Kadir (illus.) Mama Miti : Wangari Maathai and the trees of Kenya . New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Reade, 2010. $16.99, ISBN 9781416935056 / 1416935053.

Note: Wangari Maathai, known as Mama Miti, mother of trees, shares her wisdom with other women by advising them to plant trees native to Kenya to solve their many problems.

In an almost poetic sequence, the author tells the story of Mama Miti (mother of trees) embodied in the real life story of the 2004 Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai. The inspiration to turn the barren earth into a fertile life-giving environment, and the desire to see the people and their animals have enough to eat is chronicled through Wangari's life changing tree- planting movement. In beautiful prose that is mixed with poetic verses, the author chronicles the problems of the local people. They do not have enough food, firewood or water. The domestic animals are dying and the wild animals are hurting from the lack of prey. For each problem that the people voice, Wangari's solution comes in the form of three powerful words-plant a tree. Different types of trees are a solution to different types of problems: food for the animals, food for the people, source of firewood, shelter, clean streams and beauty.

The author identifies each tree by its native Kikuyu (G)kiyi) name "mubiru muiri," "mukinduri," "muheregendi," "mutakwa wa athi," "mukawa," "muluhakuwa," "murigono," "muhuti","muigoya," "muringa," "mukuyu," and explains its purpose and benefits for the people and the animals. While this flavors the writing, it is also confusing to the reader because there are no translations given in the text and the reader has to keep flipping to the back of the book for the description. Since this is such a great resource for children as well as adults, it would have enriched the readers so much more if there were translations for the names of the trees to English. This would also help readers identify these trees in their local habitat. Perhaps in a future edition, English translations should be included in the text. This being said, the glossary at the back offers the scientific names of the trees in English and from those names readers could make a link to local tree names. What I loved most about this book are the illustrations. They are eye catching, captivating and well done. They bring to life the context and the culture of Kenya in an amazing way. The spirit of the Kenyan mothers is captured in their brightly colored textiles that contrast their beautiful black toned skin and hair-dos. As an indigenous Kenyan from Wangari's homeland I can truly say the illustrations depict a well researched project.

In summary, this book is an interesting and easy read and teachers as well as parents will find it great for story or library time. I think it would be an exciting project if readers tried to find out where in their farms, forests, or natural reserves these kinds of trees are found and what their names are in other local languages. Wouldn't it be wonderful if communities all over the world identified the trees that would bring back life to their homes and environment? I recommend this book for classroom reading with additional teacher guided activities that can help students understand more about the trees around them and their importance to the environment. It is a great read with great lessons about how our lives, our activities and our lifestyles are connected to the environment.

For many people around the world, a good environment is a catalyst for abundance in food, good health and consequently, peace. Wangari is teaching us to understand the link between peace and the environment. I therefore end with the refrain that occurs several times in the book: Thayu Nyumba- Peace my people.

Published in Africa Access Review (May 15, 2011)

Copyright 2011 Africa Access

Rating: R Grade: E / M Type: Book

Reviewed by: Jane Irungu, University of Oregon

Subject: East Africa / Kenya / Biography/ Wangari Maathaai / Conservationist/ Green Belt Movement