Tree by Tree

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace
By Jen Cullerton Johnson
Illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler
(Lee & Low Books, New York, 2010, $18.95)

Too many people perceive an inherent conflict between protecting the environment and helping other human beings. To Wangari Maathai, the two goals are entwined. When the biologist saw how deforestation was eroding Kenya’s soil and preventing people from growing the crops they needed to survive, she knew she needed to act. She visited the country’s most devastated regions, planting trees and encouraging other women to join her. Eventually, the land revived, and in 2004, Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work. She was both the first women African women and the first environmentalist to win the award.

In Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace, Jen Cullerton Johnson and Sonia Lynn Sadler tell Wangari Maathai’s story.  An ethnic Kikuyu, Maathai learned about the interdependence of plants, animals, and people from her mother. Johnson and Sadler’s book reflects this relationship between people and the rest of nature. “Wangari listened as still as a tree, but her mind swirled with curiosity like the currents in a stream,” Johnson writes of the young Maathai. When the girl attends school – which was rare for Kenyan girls in the forties and fifties – Sadler has letters and math problems flit over the land. Throughout the book, the women’s brightly colored, vividly patterned dresses blossom like flowers against the pages’ green backdrop.

Without being didactic, Seeds of Change should plant a seed in many hearts: the idea that simple acts can alter the world for the better. Like Maathai herself, Johnson and Sadler show that spreading an important message and creating something beautiful are one and the same.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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