Planting the Trees of Kenya: the Story of Wangari Maathai


Planting the Trees of Kenya: the Story of Wangari Maathai. 

Claire A Nivola; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008 

Grade Level: 3-5

ISBN & Cost: 978-0374399184; $16.95


Jacket Illustrations by Claire A. Vovola. Planting the Trees of Kenya © 2008 by Claire A. Nivola. Used with the permission of Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.



Wangari Maathai grew up in a Kenya that was lush with trees and farm crops. But while she was away at a college in Kansas, Kenya was stripped of its natural beauty by the formation of commercial plantations. When she returned to her homeland, she formed the Green Belt Movement, a group of women who worked to get everyone, including children and soldiers, to plant trees—and hope—throughout the country.


General Review: 

This picture biography of Kenyan activist and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai will encourage children to see the power a simple idea can hold if it is followed through with work and determination. The idea of planting trees in a land that has been deforested is a simple one, but the latter half of the book explains how Maathai and other Kenyan women were determined to build a better Kenya. They \, and through the process of forming the Green Belt Movement, they not only made Kenya green again, they gave Kenyans better lives through an emphasis on empowerment and education.


Themes: Tree planters (Persons) -- Kenya -- Biography. ; Women conservationists -- Kenya -- Biography. ; Women politicians -- Kenya -- Biography. ; Maathai, Wangari. ; Green Belt Movement (Society:Kenya ) ; Nobel prizes – Biography.


Author information: 

Something About the Author , vol. 140.


Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)

  1. Planting trees in a land where they have all been cut down is a simple idea. Explain how such a simple idea lead to a big change in the lives of Kenyans, for example, in terms of education and opportunity.
  2. Wangari Maathai traveled far from home to attend college—nearly halfway around the world. Would you like to travel that far to go to school? Why or why not? Where in the world might you like to go? Why?
  3. Maathai told Kenyan soldiers, “You should hold the gun in your right hand and a tree seedling in your left. That's when you become a good soldier.” What did she mean by this? How can a soldier be good by planting trees?


Also, the Reading Rockets website suggests a detailed discussion strategy called “question the author” to use with this book:




  1. Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Research the criteria the Nobel committee uses to choose Peace Prize winners. Discuss why Maathai deserved to win the prize. Ask small groups to each come up with a world leader who they think might qualify for the Peace Prize and list the reasons why. Hold a mock committee discussion to choose a winner from among the list. (Standard 9, Benchmark 1)
  2. Read another picture biography of Maathai, such as Jeanette Winter's Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story From Africa . Make a list of facts about Maathai's life from Planting the Trees of Kenya and another list of facts from the second biography. Compare and contrast the two lists. (Standard 1, Benchmark 4)
  3. Plant trees! Have students use the Arbor Day Foundation website ( ) or another tree information site to identify which trees are best suited to your climate. Ask a local tree nursery to donate a suitable tree of the students' choice, and plant on school grounds or at a nearby park. Or for $10, you can become an Arbor Day Foundation member and receive 10 trees to plant. (Standard 14, Benchmark 3)
  4. Maathai attended Mount Saint Scholastica College (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, KS. Have students research the types of majors and courses Benedictine offers and imagine that Maathai is just now going to attend college. Which majors and classes would they recommend for her to prepare her for her life as an environmentalist and activist? (Standard 4, Benchmark 1)


Similar Books for Further Reading

My Name is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela (a bilingual biography) by Monica Brown and John Parra

Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story From Africa by Jeanette Winter