Seeds of Change

By Publishers Weekly

With at least three other picture books out about Nobel Prize–winner Wangari Maathai—Planting the Trees of Kenya (2008), Wangari’s Trees of Peace (2008), and Mama Miti (2010)—another volume about the Kenyan activist might seem to crowd a full shelf. This one, though, provides older children with a more thorough investigation of Maathai’s life. Debut author Johnson includes an account of Maathai’s training for a doctorate in biology and the obstacles she faced, sets her tree-planting initiative in the context of her political career, and identifies her adversaries as “Foreign business people, greedy for more land for their coffee plantations and trees for timber.” The highly stylized figures in Sadler’s (Ma Dear’s Old Green House) scratchboard spreads are outlined in white, lending them a stained-glass feel. Trees, leaves, and water are simplified into elemental shapes, giving the whole the appearance of a tropically colored quilt. Throughout the book runs the image of the Kikuyu people’s sacred mugumo tree as the source of Maathai’s tree-planting project, an idea “as small as a seed but as tall as a tree that reaches for the sky.”