Sadly, Wangari Maathai, died at age 71. She was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and was responsible for the Green Belt Movement in Kenya which planted millions of trees. Happily, there are several great children’s picture books about her inspirational story. What a great way to celebrate the life of this incredible woman. Here are my three favorites with links to my reviews:
Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kaddir Nelson
Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire A. Nivola
Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
This debut graphic novel tells the story of Anya, a first generation American who has worked hard to fit in at school by losing her Russian accent and blending in with the other students. But she can’t quite manage to be normal. Falling down a well doesn’t help, and discovering a ghost in the bottom of the well isn’t a good start either. But as she befriends the ghost, her life starts to become easier. She gets help with tests, manages to connect with a cute boy she has been watching from afar, and gets clothing and makeup tips too. Everything seems to be looking up, until Anya begins to figure out what is truly happening.
Told in black-white-and-gray illustrations, this graphic novel has a deep appeal. Anya is a girl that readers will immediately relate to. She has insecurities about her body, her school, and herself. The strength of the novel comes in her character which rings very true and is written with a solid humanity. The inclusion of the ghost lends a more fantasy tone to the book, offering an appealing foil to this very real protagonist.
The illustrations are clear and often very funny. Emotions come through nicely and characters are depicted in ways that expand their character beyond the words on the page. Anya is shown as a normal girl with curves, which makes her very relatable. It doesn’t hurt that she is also sarcastic.
The storyline is strong, developing into a scary story that is hauntingly appealing. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
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Butterfly Tree by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Leslie Wu
A girl is playing at the beach in early September when she sees something odd in the air. At first it looks like black pepper raining down, then it turns into a shimmering orange cloud. Jilly runs to get her mother because she is scared of what it might be. Her mother heads toward the beach and then to the neighboring woods. As they walk, Jilly tries to figure out what the cloud might be. As they enter the dim, cool woods she tries to spot orange things. She sees an oriole and a kite, and then a tree that is completely orange. It’s not until her dog rushes at the tree chasing a squirrel and the monarchs fly into the air that she realizes that the orange are monarch butterflies on their migration.
Markle has written this book in very evocative language, describing what Jilly is seeing with details. The book is in verse, so the language is just right, creating a sense of mystery and wonder that readers are sure to feel clearly as they read. The imagery here is clear and well drawn, comparing the butterflies to clouds and jewels. Markle also draws the setting very clearly, showing the touch of sand on feet, the chill of the woods after the beach, and the play of light and dark in the woods.
Wu’s illustrations add to the beauty here. Her pictures range from hazy, long-distance looks at the shore to the soft close-ups of the girl and her mother. Everything is soft and filled with rich colors of fall. The author’s note at the end of the book has information on Markle’s own experience with migrating monarchs as well as other resources for more information.
This is a perfect book to share in the autumn, but children will enjoy it year round. The stellar writing and rich illustrations create a book that is impressive and enjoyable. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.