Theme: Environment

All the water in the world

Author: Lyon Ella George & Katherine Tillotson(2011).

Description: A poetic, informative, and thought-provoking picture book looks at water from a global/environmental perspective but never loses sight of the personal for children: “It wobbles in blue pools. It fills your cup up.” George Ella Lyon’s lyrical narrative begins with the water cycle: rain to river to ocean to clouds to rain again. Some places have a wealth of rain and water, while others have little or none. “Living things dream of water …. This wet wonder / means grow / means life will flow / through tigers / through trees. / Through you and through me.” Katherine Tillotson matches Lyon’s lively and lyrical prose with lovely illustrations showing water abstractly—swirls and swaths of blue–and also a very real presence—or absence—in scenes from life on earth: a rain-washed neighborhood of houses, a dry savanna village, a lush tropical forest, and the cycle of life that water makes possible.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Mama Miti

Author: Napoli Jo Donna (2010); Kadir, Nelson (illus.)

Description: A heartfelt tribute to Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, who founded Kenya’s Green Belt Movement to combat deforestation, condenses years of activism into a lyrical narrative focusing on Wangari’s impact on both the lives of women and the Kenyan environment. Author Donna Jo Napoli imagines a series of scenes in which women from across Kenya come to Wangari to share their troubles—too little food, too little firewood, dirty water. “Plant a tree,” Wangari tells each one. She suggests a different tree for each trouble—the mukawa thorns will keep predators from chickens; the mukuyu will filter water to clean streams. And she always concludes each encounter with “thaya nyumba—Peace my people.” Kadir Nelson’s lush illustrations, done with oil paint and printed fabrics, show a greening country and the grace and beauty of those who are bringing it back to life. An afterword and author’s note provide brief, factual information about Maathai as well as sources for this account of her work.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

One plastic bag: Isatou Ceesay and the recycling women of The Gambia

Author: Paul, Miranda (2015); Zunon, Elizabeth (illus.)
Description: Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use.  But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed?  In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went their way.  One plastic bag became two.  Then ten. Then a hundred.  The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads.  Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease.  Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell.  Some were buried, but they strangled gradens.  They killed livestock that tried to eat them.  Something had to change.  Isatou Ceesay was that change.  She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community.  This inspirational true story shows how one person’s actions really can make a difference in our world. © Author

Planting the Trees of Kenya

Author: Claire Nivola (2008).
Description: As a child in the highlands of Kenya, Wangari Maathai did not know that she would grow up to be the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She only knew that she cared for the emerald-covered earth where fig trees, olive trees, crotons, and flame trees grew as far as the eye could see. Wangari left Kenya as a young woman to study biology in the United States. When she returned home, only five years later, she barely recognized the landscape she loved. Small farms that had once dotted the hillsides had expanded; large plantations had been established. As far as Wangari could see, dusty brown earth and tree stumps littered the land. The economy and landscape had changed drastically, and not for the better—Kenya was suffering. Wangari decided to plant trees. She urged women and children to plant trees as well, and taught them how. Claire A. Nivola, with delicate, detailed paintings and thoughtful prose, conveys the challenges Wangari Maathai faced in the development of the Kenyan Green Belt Movement. Since Wangari began her work thirty years ago, more than thirty million trees have been planted in her country.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Seeds of change: Planting a path to peace

Author: Johnson, Jen Cullerton (2013); Sonia Lynn Sadler (illus.)
Description: The picture book is based on Wangari Maathai’s life story as a scientist and as the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The book begins by describing Wangari as a young girl in Kenya to her life after completing education in Kenya and moving to the United States for higher education. Also it tells of her activism after she returns home from the United States, where she becomes passionate about tree planting that leads to the formation of the Green Belt Movement. © Africa Access

The Boy who Harnessed the Wind

Author: Kamkwamba, W., & Mealer, Bryan. (2012); Zunon, Elizabeth (illus.)

Description: In 2001, a drought hit the country of Malawi in sub-Saharan African. “Without water, the sun rose angry each morning and scorched the fields, turning the maize into dust. Without food, Malawi began to starve.” William Kamkwamba was fourteen at the time, living in the village of Wimbe. Fascinated by machines, William was inspired by a diagram of a windmill in a library book to scavenge parts from the junkyard: “a broken bicycle, rusted bottle caps, and plastic pipe, even a small generator that powered a headlight on a bike.” He made them into a windmill, mounted it on a tower, and turned on a light with the wind. William and coauthor Bryan Mealer recount his efforts in this rich, expressive telling that concludes, “Light could not fill empty bellies, but another windmill could soak the dry ground, creating food where once there was none …” An essay at story’s end provides additional information on how William built another windmill in 2007 that he used to power a pump that watered his family’s garden year-round. Elizabeth Zunon’s oil paint and cut-paper illustrations are a distinctive and appealing accompaniment to an inspiring account.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

The mangrove tree

Author & Illustrator: Roth, L. Susan; & Trumbore, Cindy (2011)

Description:  “These are the trees, / Mangrove trees, / That were planted by the sea. / These are the seedlings / That grew into trees, / Mangrove trees, / That were planted by the sea.” A cumulative narrative is one dimension of this picture book that tells how a project planting mangrove trees in the village of Hargigo, Eritrea, resulted in vibrant resource renewal. A more detailed narrative on the facing page of each spread describes how the trees were planted and their positive impact on the ecology and economy. They improve air quality. They provide food for animals and habitat for sea creatures, which in turn means food for the people to eat and sell. © Africa Access

Year of No Rain

Author: Alice Mead (2003)
Type: Young-adult novel
Description: Stephen, a young Dinka, lives in a village in Sudan with his mother and his elder sister, Naomi. His father has vanished, gone off to the war. Stephen’s concerns are those of any older child in such a village: his family, the cows he tends and on which the village depends, and his sister’s impending marriage. The echoes of the distant war build, until suddenly the village is raided by soldiers looking for food. Stephen and two other boys escape to the forest; his sister Naomi hides. The next day, Stephen and the other boys return to find the village destroyed, Stephen’s mother dead, and Naomi vanished.
The book ends on a hopeful but realistic note as the children start to try to re-establish life among the ruins. © Africa Access

Unbowed: A Memoir

Author: Wangari Maathai (2007)
Type: Autobiography
Description: In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country. Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come. © Africa Access