Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli


I came across this gem during a search for books illustrated by Kadir Nelson. I was planning a study of his work as my Black History Month theme this year. As usual, Nelson’s illustrations are absolutely amazing. But the story of “Mama Miti” is also a wonderful tale of the work of Wangari Muta Maathai.

Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai received parts of her education in the US and Germany. As the book states, “she never forgot her roots.” She is Kenyan and started the “Green Belt Movement,” a national grassroots organization fighting the deforestation of Kenya in 1976. Her work calling for a peaceful co-existence between Kenyans and nature landed her in prison in 1991. She was elected to Kenyan’s parliament in 2002 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

“Mama Miti” means the mother of trees. The story Napoli weaves in this beautiful tale is a lovely tale of peace and prosperity through the simple act of planting trees. The story also includes some Kikuyu words and phrases, which are fun to teach to elementary and middle school students. Although I found this book during Black History Month, it fits in well with Women’s History AND Earth Day activities. The lessons of “thayu nyumba” (peace, my people) and “harambee” ( pulling together for the common good) are appropriate any day, and everyday.

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