Title: Seeds of Change
Author: Jen Cullerton Johnson
Illustrator: Sonia Lynn Sadler
Publisher: Lee & Low Books
Concepts: human resources, natural resources, scarcity, environmental activism, economics of gender
Review: As the oldest daughter in her Kikuyu family, Wangari Maathai did not attend school as a young child. Rather, traditional customs dictated that she help her parents with the farm work and child care. Although she enjoyed her outdoor work and delighted in the majesty of the sacred fig tree, Wangari wanted desperately to follow in her brother’s tracks and gain a formal education.
Recognizing their daughter’s talents and her willingness to learn, Wangari’s parents decided to send her to school. Wangari did so well, especially in the sciences, that she attended college and graduate school in the United States. She came back to Kenya to work as a university instructor, but much had changed. Logging and plantation farming had caused extensive deforestation, soil erosion, dirty water, malnutrition, and greater work burdens for women. Wangari’s simple but powerful idea to start planting trees grew into a national movement that led to over 30 million new trees planted, and in 2004 she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Rich in its biographical narrative, this picture book gets high marks for its valuable lesson about the importance of educating girls and protecting the environment. Parents and teachers can use this story about the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize to introduce children to basic economic concepts such as scarcity, natural resources, and human resources. Vivid, colorful images rendered in scratchboard and oil work extremely well to highlight Wangari Maathia’s background and contributions in environmental activism.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children