Wangari's Trees of Peace

By Jeanette Winter

General Infomation

"Wangari's Trees of Peace" is a true story of events that took place in Africa. It was written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter and published by Harcourt Books in 2008. This read aloud is designed for first graders.

About the Book

"Wangari's Trees of Peace" is a picture book that tells the true story of how one woman worked to make a positive impact on her community, and all of Africa. This woman is named Wangari Maathai. The book tells of how she grew up in a beautiful village in Kenya that is full of trees. Because Wangari preforms excellently in school, she is awarded a scholarship to attend college in America. When she returns to Kenya after college, she is devastated to find the trees that she loved cut down. This leads to many problems for the people living nearby, who now face threats of erosion, lack of firewood, and poor soil conditions. Wangari makes it her mission to bring trees back to Africa. First she plants trees in her own back yard, but eventually, she encourages others to do the same. Because of Wangari's efforts, Africa is saved from becoming a barren wasteland, and the trees return.

"We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own."- Wangari Maathai


As I researched the author of the story, I discovered that Jeanette Winter always dreamed of being an artist. It wasn't until she got to college however, that she realized that what she would do was make books for children. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and it was there that her love for telling stories through illustrations really grew. I believe that this love is obvious when one looks at her work. While researching Kenya, I discovered that three-quarters of the country is made up of inland planes. Mount Kenya, which is mentioned in the story, is Kenya's highest point. It is 17,058 feet tall. Corn, also known as maize, is a key part of a person's diet in Kenya, because it can be ground into flour. Meat is expensive and hard to come by, so it is no wonder that in "Wangari's Trees of Peace" maintaining the environment's well-being is very important. There is also a lot of poverty in Kenya.


I believe that one of the main strengths of this book is its presentation of authentic characters and how it presents the culture of Kenya accurately. Because it tells a true story, readers get a clear insight into what Kenya was like in the 1970s. The story stays true to the events that happened and the people who were involved. Not only does the book do this well, but it also encourages reflection and analysis. Wangari's actions act as a positive example for readers, showing them that it is good to stand up for what you believe in and that one person can make a difference. Finally, the book has an appealing format, which is made obvious by the brightly colored pages and illustrations that help to draw readers into the world of the story.


-Read the title of the story to the students and show them the cover of the book. Ask students, "Based on this illustration, what do you predict that the story may be about?"

- Tell students that this is a true story about a real person and a real place. Show students where Kenya is on a map. Show students a picture of Mount Kenya and of Wangari.

- Introduce the two vocabulary words to the students and show them to the students on cards: "scholarship" and "earnings". Tell the students that these will be the vocabulary words we will be going over with this story. Tell them to be looking for these words while the story is being read to them and to raise their hand when they hear one of the words.

- Begin reading the story.

- Stop at the word "scholarship" and ask students what they think this word might mean? Tell students that the definition of scholarship is- money that is given to someone to help pay for them to go to college. Tell students that people can win scholarships for doing many different things. Ask students, "What is a reason that someone may be given a scholarship?"

- Continue reading. After reading, "Wangari returns to her Kenya home and sees a change," ask students, "What changes do you notice in the way Wangari's village looks?" Point out that the trees are gone and so are the animals.

- Continue reading. After reading, "She starts by planting nine seedlings," ask the students, "What is Wangari doing to try to solve her problem?"

- Continue reading. Stop at the word "earnings". Ask students, "Can anyone tell me what the word earnings means?" Point out that it comes from the root word earn. Tell students that the definition is- money that someone is given for doing a job. Ask students, "What is something else someone might do to get earnings?"

- Continue reading until the end of the story. Ask students, "What are some ways that Wangari helped her country?" Ask students, "What can we do to make a difference in our country, like Wangari did?"

- Tell students that they will now create word posters in groups to show that they understand what the vocab words for the story mean. Pass out a blank piece of white paper to each group and assign them one of the two vocab words to draw a picture for. Once they have chosen, tell them they will need to draw a picture to show what that word means.

- Once all of the students have finished drawing, collect their papers and tell students that now we will be separating the papers into two categories- the posters that go with "scholarship" and the posters that go with "earnings". Hold up posters one at a time and have students vote for which word they believe the poster goes with.


- This book was selected because I thought that it was appropriate for the students' level of development, and I believed that it covered a topic that is still very applicable today. I hoped that the students would find the story to be inspirational and demonstrate how one person can make a difference. I thought it matched the students funds of knowledge fairly well, because the students had read a book before that was very similar in topic. The only thing that was a struggle was the difficulty of some of the words in the story.

- I thought that the students were very engaged in what I was reading and seemed eager to know more and participate. Many of my questions generated great responses from the students, and they enjoyed getting to share their thoughts. I was also pleased with how the students responded to my visuals. They really seemed to like getting to see pictures of how Africa really looks and what Wangari really looked like.

- The main thing that I would do differently next time has to do with the vocabulary that I selected. The two main problems with the words that I chose were that they were a little too difficult for the first graders, and they were too similar to one another. Because both of my vocab words had to do with money, the students seemed to have trouble distinguishing one word from the other. I also thought that students would have prior knowledge of the words, but this did not seem to be the case. This created some confusion when it was time to do our vocabulary activity.

- This assignment has helped me in a lot of different areas. Firstly, it has helped me to gain a better understanding of the culture of Africa. I've learned a lot about how people there live that I wouldn't have otherwise known. It has also taught me a lot about the students in my classroom and what kinds of activities they like, as well as what they already know and do not know. It also has given me an idea of what to expect when I teach my future lessons.