Friday, March 27, 2015

The Mother of Trees Wangari Maathai

March 27 - Today's post contributed by Valarie Budayr

The Mother of Trees Wangari Maathai
By Valarie Budayr

“ It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.”

She was called Mama Miti ,which means Mama Trees, by many people in Kenya Africa. I first heard of Wangari Maathai when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace. She was the first African woman to win this honor.

photo credit
After learning more about her, I became inspired by her quest to re-forest Kenya with her Green Belt movement, how she inspired others and launched a grass-roots movement which spanned de-forestation and land conservation, gender issues, education, and politics.

There is a wonderful children’s book recently published called Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prevot and Illustrated by Aurelia Fronty.

Wangari Maathai was remarkable on many levels. Born in 1940, the eldest of six children, it was thought that she would be the second mother in her family and help raise the other children. When Wangari was 8 years old she moved with her mother and two brothers from the farm in the Kenyan countryside to a village which had a school so her brothers could attend. Her brother asked why Wangari didn’t go to school ? This question prompted Wangari’s mother to let her go to school. Wangari had a full education and in 1960 when British colonialism ended, President Kennedy of the United States invited many young Kenyans to study at Universities in America.

Wangari Maathai studied at Mount St. Scholastica College in Aitchison, Kansas where she received a bachelors degree in Biology. She then went onto graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh where she earned a Masters degree in Biology. After finishing her degrees in the US she returned to Kenya where she worked as a research assistant in zoology. Through travel to Germany and then back again to Nairobi and amid much political strife, Wangari received her Ph.d in Veterinary anatomy from Nairobi University. The first woman to do so.

photo credit Martin Rowe
Throughout her studies she traveled extensively throughout Kenya. The trees and wildlife she had known as a child were simply vanishing due to de-forestation caused first by the British colonists and then by the Kenyans themselves. She found that wild animals had fled the chain saws, women couldn’t feed their children because farms had been made into plantations for rich people, and the rivers were muddy due to the top soil eroding into the river because there were no tree roots to hold it back. She was shocked.

From this point on Wangari knew how to make use of her education. She would tell leaders and her fellow Kenyans about the importance of trees. “A tree is a treasure that provides shade, fruit, pure air, and nesting places for birds. “ Change happened very slowly. In 1977 she created the Green Belt Movement. Traveling from village to village, speaking on behalf of trees, animals, and children, she encouraged villagers to think about their future. Teaching women to plant tree nurseries in each village, she provided women with a financial bonus for each tree that grew. One tree turned into thousands, thousands of newly planted trees turned into millions. To date over 30 million trees have been planted in Kenya creating forests for the future.

As her Green Belt Movement continued to grow she had another problem facing her. The Government made their money by cutting down trees and forests and here was Wangari Maathai planting trees. There was a conflict between Wangari, her Green Belt Movement, and the Kenyan Government. In her quest not to let one more tree be cut down, Wangari rallies her friends to fight the bulldozers which cut down trees for large real estate projects.

photo credit Martin Rowe
She fought the Kenyan government for 24 years. Like the trees she now wanted democracy to grow in Kenya. She knew that if her people worked together to create new laws for Kenya, her country would become stronger.

She ran for office many times opposing President Daniel Arap Moi. In a last ditch effort President Moi tried to divide the people in order to remain president. He knew that if that tribes would start fighting each other they wouldn’t have time to look at how he was governing. Wangari and the Green Belt Movement were onto President Moi and foiled his plans. Wangari suggested to each tribe that they offer trees from their nurseries to neighboring tribes as symbols of peace. Tree by tree, peace and friendships were cultivated between the tribes of Kenya.

Eventually in 2002 President Moi was defeated. Wangari Maathai won her bid for office in parliament and spent her last years creating a fair nation for women, men, children and trees.

photo credit

To this day the Green Belt Movement is planting trees and protects the 2nd largest tropical forest in the world.

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees is a beautiful tribute to a life well lived. Filled with colorful and vibrant painted illustrations. This book will become a cherished addition to your library as well as an inspiration to make a difference.

Valarie Budayr is publisher at Audrey Press, founder of the award winning website Jump into a Book, and co founder of Multi-Cultural Children’s Book Day: Read Your World.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Alice Waters and the Youngest Foodies

March 21 - Today's post contributed by The Fourth Musketeer

Alice Waters and the Youngest Foodies

I grew up in the 1960's and 1970's, when Jello mold, Kentucky Fried chicken, and a glass of Tab were considered a perfectly acceptable meal to feed your kids. TV cooking shows consisted largely of Julia Child's refined French cooking. In today's brave new world of 24 hour cooking shows on Food Network, there's even a reality cooking show competition just for kids, The Kids Baking Championship. Reality cooking shows abound on many other channels, even the august Public Broadcasting System. Our kids are more food savvy than ever, and boys as well as girls watch cooking shows these days.

Throughout history, of course, it's been women who've been most intimately associated with cooking and preparing food at home, but men who have been the great restaurant chefs. One important figure who has smashed this barrier is Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley, California restaurant known for using local, organic ingredients and pioneering "California cuisine." Alice is not only a chef, but also an activist, and in 2014 she was recognized as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people. Described as a "revolutionary who wants to change the world through food" by writer and food critic Ruth Reichl.  Waters also holds the distinction of being the first woman to win the prestigious James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef Award. 

Alice Waters

Author Jacqueline Briggs Martin (author of the Caldecott-winning Snowflake Bentley and many other favorite titles) traces the life of Alice Waters in Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious (Readers to Eaters Press, 2014), a thoroughly engaging picture book for young people ages 5 and up. The author starts our journey by telling us that "Chef Alice Waters wants every kid in the country to come with her on the trip to Delicious." All kids should know the "taste of good food" and "have a delicious lunch--every day." Briggs Martin highlights Alice's relationship with food, from her days as a child when she used fruits and vegetables to create a costume for a contest, to her studies in France, where she learned the importance of fresh, local ingredients, to her establishment of a Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California,in 1971.  We learn that good food starts not in the kitchen but in the field, with good farmers. Soon Alice dreams of teaching children how to grow their own food, starting with just one school but expanding around the country. Children learn the importance of delicious food made from fresh ingredients they grow themselves.  Her efforts grew into The Edible Schoolyard, whose mission is to build and share an edible education curriculum for students in grades K-12. The book features an Afterword by Alice Waters, an author's note, bibliography, and suggestions of resources for further reading on growing and cooking your own food.

The whimsical illustrations are by textile designer and artist Hayelin Choi.  In her first picture book, she offers illustrations that perfectly complement the joyous feeling of the text, with smiling children from different ethnicities sharing the delight of good food. The artist also offers diverse perspectives, including some two page spreads set up in a square like a school yard, with pictures that children can follow around the edges.

This is a book profiles an important figure in American women's history; the book is sure to be of interest to young foodies, and may inspire some to become involved with growing their own food as well or starting Edible Schoolyard programs in their community. 

Margo Tanenbaum is a children's librarian in the Los Angeles area. She is a co-curator of Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month and also blogs about children's books at The Fourth Musketeer

Monday, March 23, 2015

Louisa May Alcott Goes to War

March 23 - Today's post contributed by Michaela MacColl

A note from KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month: Michaela MacColl has generously offered two copies of her upcoming book, The Revelation of Louisa May. The entry form is below her post.  Enjoy the post and good luck!

Louisa May Alcott Goes to War
Louisa May Alcott, c. 1862

Louisa May Alcott’s most famous work by far was Little Women.  Her endearing story of four March sisters and their beloved mother, Marmee, trying to grow up and make ends meet during the Civil War was an instant success. The book spawned several sequels and has never been out of print. For Louisa, who wished as a child that she could become rich with her pen, Little Women was the book that fulfilled her dreams.  Before Little Women, she had written gothic stories under a pseudonym so as not to embarrass her family. Her first literary success came from a short collection (only four stories) called Hospital Sketches, published in 1863.  The Sketches were based on letters she sent home from a Union Army hospital in Georgetown during the civil war.

From an 1872 edition of "Hospital Sketches"

Fans of Little Women will recall that Mr. March is absent for most of the book because he is a chaplain in the Union Army.  Fierce abolitionists, the Alcott family supported emancipation, but Louisa’s father was also a pacifist. He would not be going to war, nor would his four daughters. Perhaps Louisa felt that the burden of showing the family’s support fell to her. At first she said, "as I can't fight, I will content myself with working with those who can." But Florence Nightengale had paved the way during the Crimean War for women to be useful in the hospitals. On her 30th birthday, Louisa wrote in her journal, "Thirty years old. Decide to go to Washington as a nurse if I could find a place."

Her career as a nurse was only six weeks before she succumbed to typhoid fever and had to return home. During that time she saw horrific injuries from the Battle of Fredericksburg. She wrote home about the young soldiers she met, washed, tended to their wounds and all to often mourned. She learned “the wisdom of bottling up one’s tears for leisure moments.”  Further, she observed, “A hospital is a rough school, its lessons are both stern and salutary.”

Once home, her family encouraged her to publish her letters as literary sketches. To her surprise, the book was an instant critical and commercial success. The nation was hungry for a woman’s perspective on the War. Her stories were about terrible and gruesome things, but leavened with humanity, wit and empathy.  When the troops returned to her hometown of Concord, Louisa and the other women prepared a feast for them. Little did they know that the troops had prepared a surprise for her! Sixty young veterans marched to her house, and the men raised their caps and saluted Louisa.  Later, Louisa mused about the success of her little sketches, "I find I've done a good thing without knowing it."

In my novel The Revelation of Louisa May we see a 17 year old Louisa trying to juggle her family responsibilities, her writing and a fugitive slave. The Alcotts were part of the Underground Railroad. Incidentally, Louisa also solves a murder.  That girl would grow up to serve in the Civil War in any way she could.  When she showed people a glimpse of the terrible hospitals and the dignity of the patients and doctors, she served her country well. Louisa wrote “Strong convictions precede great actions.” She was right.

You can find Michaela at, follow her on Facebook at AuthorMichaelaMacColl or tweet to her @MichaelaMacColl.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Women Whose Names We Don't Know, by Kate Schatz

March 20 - Today's post contributed by Kate Schatz

The Women Whose Names We Don’t Know
By Kate Schatz

My children’s book Rad American Women A-Z is an A-Z book of, well, rad women from American history. For each letter of the alphabet I profile a diverse, fascinating American woman who faced adversity and made a difference. Short bios are accompanied by bright, bold papercuts from artist Miriam Klein Stahl. Some of the women are well-known, some are more obscure, and they represent several centuries, various cultural backgrounds, and a broad swath of careers and accomplishments. A is for Angela Davis, B is for Billie Jean King, C is for Carol Burnett, and on and on...That is, until you get to X.

X is a tough letter in the English language. It’s the third least commonly used letter (behind Q and Z), and most dictionaries include only about 120 words that begin with X. Anyone who’s read a children’s ABC book knows that the entry for X is usually….a stretch. It’s good news for the xenops, the xolo, and uh, xanthan gum, and often people cheat a bit (eXit! Xtra! Xmas!) But for this book, I didn’t want to force it or fudge. So when a friend suggested that X stand for “the women whose names we don’t know”, it felt like a possible solution.

As I embarked on my lengthy research process, learning more and more about women’s history and the incredible stories of the women who’ve endured and accomplished so much, this ‘X’ idea increasingly resonated. I consider myself well-versed in women’s history—I’m a feminist writer! I was a Women’s Studies major! I read books about women’s history for fun!—but the more I read and researched, the more I realized how much I don’t know. How many names and stories haven’t made it into even the most progressive revisionist history books, and how many names and stories we just won’t ever know. I regularly stumbled upon a woman I’d never heard of, and found myself thinking “She’s amazing! How have I not heard of her?!” It also made me think about ‘greatness’ and how we select our hero/in/es. While it’s essential that we celebrate specific individuals—exactly what I do with this book—one can’t escape from the realization that none of these women worked alone. That even the most trailblazing groundbreakers had friends, lovers, mothers, mentors, and other contemporaries who aren’t always part of the stories. Some of that is just the nature of the scope of history—we literally can’t capture and tell every story—but it’s still a significant factor. How do we define and determine greatness and heroism? What kinds of feats and deeds do we celebrate, and what goes unheralded?

So X is for the women whose names we don’t know. The idea of a friend became the entry. Miriam came up with the idea to create silhouettes of women engaged in myriad tasks, and I sat down to write an entry for it. The first few drafts were sad. Like, really sad. And pretty angry. I wrote and I cried as I thought about all that women have been denied—education, property, personal decisions, their own children—and how these denials have especially impacted women of color and other marginalized individuals. Once I’d worked through the negative emotions, though, I began to see hope in the phrase as well. I thought about my own daughter, her friends, and the high school students that I work with almost every day. I thought about all the young women whose names we don’t know because they have yet to invent their big invention or embark on their great journey. The women who will shape our futures aren’t famous yet—because they’re 5, or 15, or 50. We don’t know their names now, but we will, and that is what X is for.

X is for the women
whose names we don’t know.
It’s for the women we haven’t learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read.

X is for the women whose voices weren’t heard.

For the women who aren’t in the history books, or the Halls of Fame, or on the postage stamps and coins.

For the women who didn’t get credit for their ideas and inventions.

Who couldn’t own property or sign their own names.

The women who weren’t taught to read or write but managed to communicate anyway. Who weren’t allowed to work but still supported their families, or who worked all day but weren’t paid as much as the men.
X is for the radical histories that didn’t get recorded.
X is for our mothers, our matriarchs, our ancestors.
The nurses and neighbors and aunties and teachers.
The women who made huge changes and the women who made dinner.
X is for the hands that built and shared and wrote and fought.
The bodies that birthed and worked and strained.
The feet that walked, ran, jumped, and balanced.
The minds that dreamed and desired, the hearts that loved.
X is also for all that’s happening now and all that is still to come.
X is for the women in homes and offices and fields and labs and classrooms,
who invent and transform and build and create.

It’s for you and for me, the girls and boys and men and women and everyone in between helping to make the world safe, compassionate, and healthy.
X is for all we don’t know about the past, but X is also for the future.
X marks the spot where we stand today.
What will you do to make the world rad?

Now this page is the favorite of my daughter Ivy, as well as Miriam’s 8-yr old daughter Hazel. Hazel reads it over and over, while Ivy, who’s still learning to read, studies each silhouette image, selecting which ones are “mama” and which ones are “her.” She usually selects them all for herself—the scientist, the gardener, the construction worker, even the skateboarder. She hasn’t been on a skateboard yet, and is still mastering the bike with no training wheels. And that’s why I love it when she chooses that one—because the future is enormous, and so is her potential.

Kate Schatz is the author of Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History . . . and Our Future! published by City Lights/Sister Spit. She's also the author of Rid of Me: A Story, which is definitely not a kid's book. She directs the Department of Literary Arts at a public arts high school in Oakland, and lives on an island.