14:14 PB ELEMENT Blog Review: CHARACTER & CONFLICT – Looking at Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter
(Post #7 of the 14:14 Picture Book Element Blog Review Challenge, conducted by Christie Wild, February 14-28, 2014)
“The earth was naked. For me the mission was to try to cover it with green.” A quote from the title character, Wangari Maathai, serves as a forward to this delightful true story of a brave woman in Africa who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Jeanette Winter uses several strong elements in this story. Wangari’s tale is related from childhood, and progresses to her adult life, and pivots at the point of conflict when she returns from America to find her homeland, Kenya, vastly changed.
That interplay of character and conflict form the crux for this story. Wangari’s childhood in the lush forests of her home is pictured in stark contrast to a barren land she returns to as an adult, after her education in America.
Story tense is important here. The present tense that’s used for the story presents the conflict as real and immediate to the character. This tends to lend the urgency of the problem to the reader, as well.
Point of view is important also. Her heartfelt responses are italicized. “Will all of Kenya become a desert? she wonders as her tears fall.” Wangari’s observations and worries are stated first hand.
At this point her thoughts prompt a reaction to the dilemma, and she starts a movement fueled by determination, courage, and patience. Her character demonstrates leadership as women all over Kenya help take up the cause, even when she faces the conflict by being beaten and imprisoned for protesting deforestation.
“But Wangari is not alone.
Talk of the trees spreads over all of Africa,
like ripples in Lake Victoria.”
Readers will feel and sense Wangari’s courage in the face of trials as she succeeds, with the following of other African women, in reforesting Africa. Often biographies don’t emphasize the importance of support from friends and allies in the work our heroes do, but this book shows that character has an effect outside oneself, and that is a beautiful aspect of the story of this brave woman.
I want my characters to be strong in my stories, and the only way to demonstrate that to the reader is to provide some conflict. I am prompted to examine them all to be sure I have written them that way.
How do your characters behave to show their strengths, their values, their talents? I hope you will share in any comments.