Monday, May 9, 2011

Picture Book: Seeds of Change (by Jen Cullerson Johnson)

Summary of Seeds of Change:  
As a young girl in a Kenyan village, Wangari learns the value of the mugumo tree from her mother.  The tree not only provides food and shelter for people, but also for animals and other creatures.  Her people also believe that the spirits of their ancestors rest in the trees’ shade.  The mugumo tree is an essential part of life.  Wangari carries this lesson and a love for her people with her as she grows up. 

Most girls in her culture are not educated or sent to school.  Wangari’s family is able to send her though.   Enthusiastically, she pursues her studies.  After finishing elementary school, she is sent to the capital city to continue her education, and eventually, she earns a scholarship to study in the United States and to learn from other women scientists who inspire and challenge her.  In America, she discovers the spirit of possibility and freedom. 

When she returns to Kenya, she accepts a teaching position at the University of Nairobi where she works for equal rights and respect for women.  Wangari watches sadly as foreign companies buy and destroy her native land.  Native trees and the creatures that live in them vanish. The land erodes without the trees, and crops are difficult to cultivate.  Despite many obstacles, Wangari helps her people in general and women specifically by spearheading a tree planting project that saves the land and feeds the people.   Eventually, she is able to meet world leaders, teachers, farmers, and students to share her vision of positive change.  Her persistence, patience, and commitment helped her win the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. 

I picked up Seeds of Change from a new book display at the library.   I began by causually skimming through it, but I became engrossed in the narrative.  I was inspired by Wangari’s commitment to her studies and to her people.  I respect her work to help women in her culture have more opportunities for freedom and possibility as well as the chance to care for their families.  First time author Jen Cullerton Johnson recreates Wangari’s life story in an engaging narrative. Illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler beautifully illustrates it with bright colors and an authentic African flare.

 Children may benefit from this book in several ways.  First, it offers a glimpse into a culture very different from their own.  They can learn more about Kenya or African culture through research and further reading.   Second, there are so few positive “heroes” today.   Wangari, though, is an inspirational figure that girls and boys can admire.   She epitomizes commitment, loyalty, diligence, and perseverance.   Third, Wangari demonstrates how one person can make a difference in their community.  Students can brainstorm ways to volunteer or to problem solve community issues.  Finally, children can learn about the importance of trees to environmental health.  Families and classes can plant one or more trees in a backyard, a schoolyard, or community area.  I recommend Seeds of Change for ages 7 and up. 

This post is link with the Non-Fiction Monday roundup.  Check out other non-fiction posts and/or join-in at Self-Employed.  


  1. I just love it when picture book authors use real-life stories! The cover has such a wonderful pieced quilt quality to it, too! Really adds to the atmosphere. Thanks for the review.

  2. Such a great book that teaches young readers about another culture. Another great way for students and teachers to learn about other cultures is at the Habitat for Humanity website. They offer lesson plans, worksheets, assesments, and online courses teaching about housing issues around the world. If you would like more information please go here:

  3. @ Habitat Thanks for the suggestion.


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