Bookbed reviews: ‘Dr. Wangari Maathai Plants a Forest’ by Rebel Girls

by KB Meniado


From the world of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls comes the historical novel based on the life of Dr. Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist from Kenya.

Wangari lives in a magical place in rural Kenya where the soil is rich for planting, the trees abundant, and the nearby pond full of mysterious creatures. She drinks from cool, clean streams and plays beneath her favorite fig tree under her mother’s watchful gaze.

Then Wangari grows up and goes away to school, and things start changing at home. Farmers chop down the trees. Landslides bury the stream. The pond dries up. The soil becomes overworked, dry, and unusable for planting. And people go hungry. Dr. Wangari Maathai has a simple solution to all of these problems: plant trees. Get a copy / Read reviews: Goodreads


Before this book, I knew very little of Kenya and didn’t even know who Dr. Wangari Maathai was. So reading it felt like I was eight again, and in the most wonderful ways. The illustration of a woman planting a seedling on its cover transported me back to my school days when we were taken out to tree-planting activities, and it made me nostalgic yet excited to jump into the story.

Dr. Wangari is an environmentalist, activist, and feminist all in one pot. What she and the Green Belt Movement had done for Kenya sends a powerful message to reader of any age. How her story is written is genuine and sincere, and the language flows beautifully, letting the important messages shine the most. Her story reminded me about what it means to see possibilities in little things, and how to take care of the natural resources that give us life in the most simple, sustainable way.

I thought it was also clever how the story highlights her triumphs—earning her degrees as a Kenyan woman, becoming a lawmaker, empowering her community—by also pushing forward her struggles—lack of project funds, problematic marriage life, political headbutts.

Top it all of, the illustrations by Eugenia Mello were lovely and eye-catching. They were placed in ways that give them their own ~moment, not at all disruptive to the flow of the story. Well done.


Beautiful story, beautiful art, beautiful book overall. Dr. Wangari Maathai Plants a Forest reinforces the power of curiosity and the strength in human connection. Strongly recommended for readers of any age, but especially to the middle grade readers whom this book is for. ☁️

The reviewer received a copy through Net Galley. Excerpts and quotes may not reflect final version. Dr. Wangari Maathai Plants a Forest comes out February 25. Read our Review Policy here.


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