Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

Author: Jeanette Winter
Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
Grade Level: 3rd grade

Buy it here!

Summary: This is a true story about a girl named Wangari who lives in Mount Kenya, Africa. Where she lives is surrounded by beautiful green tress that birds found homes in. Wangari grows up carrying firewood and harvesting crops with her mother. She grows up and gets a scholarship to go to college in the United States. After she returns home six years later, it is empty. The tress are gone, the birds are gone and women have to travel very far to gather firewood. There are tall buildings where the trees used to be and Wanguri begins to cry.
She decides to plant nine seeds on World Environment Day (1977). This begins the Green Belt Movement. Kenyan men thought she was a "fool" and she was beaten and taken to jail when she blocked them from trying to cut down her trees. The word was spread and people all over Kenya heard about what Wangari did. Before she knew it, women everywhere were planting seeds. Over the next 27 years, thirty million trees are planted throughout Africa. Kenya looks like it once did before Wangari left.

Element 5: This book represents Element 5 in many ways. Wangari is able to raise environmental awareness through her political activism. Her planting of the seeds starts a movement that helped change the face of that nation. She stood up to the men that tried to cut her trees down and word quickly spread. Sometimes just standing up for what you believe in is a way to raise awareness.  It shows that determination in raising awareness is also sometimes essential. This book is a great way to show students how one person can make such a huge difference.

Activity: As an activity after reading this book, you can have students work in groups to come up with a problem similar to Wangari's one where they live or in the surrounding area. You may have to help students come up with ideas- pollution, clean drinking water, etc. Ask students how these problems begin or if people in their community may add to the problem (even without noticing!) Ask students to come up with a plan to change what they feel is a problem and how they can make a difference in making that change happen. Ask the students to think about how a solution can just be asking one to stop certain behaviors that are affecting the environment (for example, littering).

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