Seeds of Change

"It's the little things citizens do. That's what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees." Wangari Maathai

Seeds of Change: Planting the Path to Peace

The Biography of Nobel Prize Winner, Wangari Maathai

“A wonderful picture book….Johnson doesn’t waste a line or word, everything leads to another fact. The author gives a reader (of any age) a great sense of who Wangari Maathai is, a woman who loves her country and believes in the power of trees to save.

—The Happy Nappy Bookseller


Harabee! Let’s Work Together!

Wangari’s simple message of working together echos in her strength of character. She saved her country of Kenya by teaching women and children how to plant trees.  As a young girl in Kenya, Wangari was taught to respect nature. She grew up loving the land, plants, and animals that surrounded her—from the giant mugumo trees her people, the Kikuyu, revered to the tiny tadpoles that swam in the river.

Although most Kenyan girls were not educated, Wangari, curious and hardworking, was allowed to go to school. There, her mind sprouted like a seed. She excelled at science and went on to study in the United States. After returning home, Wangari blazed a trail across Kenya, using her knowledge and compassion to promote the rights of her countrywomen and to help save the land, one tree at a time.??Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace brings to life the empowering story of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman, and environmentalist, to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Engaging narrative and vibrant images paint a robust portrait of this inspiring champion of the land and of women’s rights.

As a writer, educator, and urban environmentalist, her story inspired Jen to help deepen the connection between people and nature. Jen’s children’s book, Seeds of Change: The Wangari Maathai Story published by Lee & Low gives a percentage of the book sales to help environmental non-profit organizations. Each school visit, writer’s workshop, or author’s reading,  we plant one tree in solidarity with Wangari Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement.
If you are interested in having Jen come to your school, seminar, writing workshop, or book group to read Seeds of Change and help facilitate an environmental awareness, please email her.


“This debut picture biography, idealized and inspiring, draws on Wangari Maathai’s autobiographical writing to present an overview of the activist’s life from childhood to the present. Johnson sows her narrative with botanical metaphors: “Her mind was like a seed rooted in rich soil, ready to grow.” The mugumo tree symbolizes Kenya’s transition from agrarian bounty to environmental precipice: It yields figs for humans and animals yet bows to destruction as multinational corporations raze forests to profit from coffee plantations. Richer than other treatments of Maathai for children and more grounded in her work’s implicit feminism, this details her education in Nairobi and the United States, her imprisonment for activism and her scientific and environmental work, resulting in the planting of 30,000,000 trees and economic empowerment for Kenyan women. Sadler’s beautiful scratchboard illustrations incise white contoured line into saturated landscapes of lush green leaf patterns, brilliant-hued textiles and undulating, stylized hills. Maathai always wears a colorful headscarf or fabric bow, and the community spirit she resuscitates is joyfully celebrated on every spread. Vibrant and accomplished.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

“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.” ~Publishers Weekly

“This entry on Wangari Maathai takes a slightly more comprehensive look at her life than several other recent books. . . . Vivid colors sparkle from within the thick white outlines in the batik-style illustrations that fill the pages.” ~ School Library Journal

“Rich in its biographical narrative, this picture book gets high marks for its valuable lesson about the importance of educating girls and protecting the environment. Parents and teachers can use this story about the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize to introduce children to basic economic concepts such as scarcity, natural resources, and human resources. Vivid, colorful images rendered in scratchboard and oil work extremely well to highlight Wangari Maathia’s background and contributions in environmental activism. ” ~ Rutgers Project on Economics and Children

“A terrific and beautiful biography picture book. . . . Interesting and inspirational, and the illustrations are marvelous. Both kids and adults will love this book. ” ~ Margo Dill’s Read These Books and Use Them!

More reviews here
Seeds of Change

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