100 books like Unbowed

By Wangari Maathai,

Here are 100 books that Unbowed fans have personally recommended if you like Unbowed. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Not so Black and White

From my list on insights into Kenya.

Why am I passionate about this?

EM Forster said, "Only Connect." That has inspired my life and work. The Oxford Times published my Oxtopian castaway series, and those life stories were turned into three books. The castaways, with links to Oxford, were from five continents. One of those castaways was Kenyan-born Nancy Mudenyo Hunt. Nancy founded the Nasio Trust, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged young people in West Kenya and Oxfordshire. With friends, I’m currently fundraising to build the first community library in West Kenya. Nancy asked if we could write a book together, and we did. We wrote a novel inspired by her life.

Sylvia's book list on insights into Kenya

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

Barack Obama’s father was part of the story of Kenya’s road to freedom, and yet his son, Barrack, hardly knew him. His father met Barack’s mother while on a scholarship to the USA but abandoned her and his son when he returned to Kenya in 1964 and became a senior economist in the Kenyan Ministry of Finance.

We researched his life when writing our book. My co-author, Nancy Mudenyo Hunt, is also of Luo ancestry. Her father attended Obama’s funeral. This memoir is a testimony to the struggle of children of mixed heritage to decide on their identity. I find it sad that the young Obama is identified by the father who left him and not by his mother who cherished him.

By Barack Obama,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Dreams from My Father as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • ONE OF ESSENCE’S 50 MOST IMPACTFUL BLACK BOOKS OF THE PAST 50 YEARS

In this iconic memoir of his early days, Barack Obama “guides us straight to the intersection of the most serious questions of identity, class, and race” (The Washington Post Book World).
 
“Quite extraordinary.”—Toni Morrison 
 
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more…


Book cover of Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Not so Black and White

From my list on insights into Kenya.

Why am I passionate about this?

EM Forster said, "Only Connect." That has inspired my life and work. The Oxford Times published my Oxtopian castaway series, and those life stories were turned into three books. The castaways, with links to Oxford, were from five continents. One of those castaways was Kenyan-born Nancy Mudenyo Hunt. Nancy founded the Nasio Trust, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged young people in West Kenya and Oxfordshire. With friends, I’m currently fundraising to build the first community library in West Kenya. Nancy asked if we could write a book together, and we did. We wrote a novel inspired by her life.

Sylvia's book list on insights into Kenya

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

I appreciate books that help me understand the world and how we got here. Professor of History at Harvard, Caroline Elkins, spent seven years researching Britain’s Gulag. The UK is justly proud of standing up to Hitler’s fascism, but we need to look dispassionately at the history of the British Empire. Kenyan soldiers fought alongside British armed forces in WW2, but their reward was not medals.

The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the fifties was a massive armed rebellion by the Kikuyu people, demanding the return of their land and freedom. The response of Britain's colonial government was to detain nearly the entire Kikuyu population of one-and-a-half-million - to hold them in camps or confine them in villages ringed with barbed wire - to treat and portray them, including ex-British soldiers, as sub-human savages.  

By Caroline Elkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Britain's Gulag as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Only a few years after Britain defeated fascism came the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya - a mass armed rebellion by the Kikuyu people, demanding the return of their land and freedom. The draconian response of Britain's colonial government was to detain nearly the entire Kikuyu population of 1.5 million and to portray them as sub-human savages. Detainees in their thousands - possibly a hundred thousand or more - died from exhaustion, disease, starvation and systemic physical brutality. For decades these events remained untold.

Caroline Elkins conducted years of research to piece together this story, unearthing reams of documents and…


Book cover of Cosmic Cats

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Not so Black and White

From my list on insights into Kenya.

Why am I passionate about this?

EM Forster said, "Only Connect." That has inspired my life and work. The Oxford Times published my Oxtopian castaway series, and those life stories were turned into three books. The castaways, with links to Oxford, were from five continents. One of those castaways was Kenyan-born Nancy Mudenyo Hunt. Nancy founded the Nasio Trust, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged young people in West Kenya and Oxfordshire. With friends, I’m currently fundraising to build the first community library in West Kenya. Nancy asked if we could write a book together, and we did. We wrote a novel inspired by her life.

Sylvia's book list on insights into Kenya

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

Feel the force of fifty children’s voices and celebrate how art and story-telling unite young people who live continents apart. At age seven, I discovered libraries and a love of reading and writing, but the idea that a working-class girl from Luton could become an author was as crazy as eating the straw boater with which my birthplace was associated.

Middle-class parents can afford to buy books for their children. Lack of access to books for children without them is a handicap for upward mobility. That is why the Nasio Trust wants to build the first community library in West Kenya, and Cosmic Cats will be the first book in the library to show the children that they belong there. In our imaginations, we are all equal. BBC South recorded the launch, bringing together the two schools.

By Various,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cosmic Cats as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

Feel the force of fifty children's voices. Recognise the bravery of turning an empty page into a living story and celebrate how art and story-telling brings together young people who live continents apart.


Cosmic Cats connects Mumias Township Primary School (Kenya) and St Swithuns CE Primary School (England).


Book cover of The White Masai

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Not so Black and White

From my list on insights into Kenya.

Why am I passionate about this?

EM Forster said, "Only Connect." That has inspired my life and work. The Oxford Times published my Oxtopian castaway series, and those life stories were turned into three books. The castaways, with links to Oxford, were from five continents. One of those castaways was Kenyan-born Nancy Mudenyo Hunt. Nancy founded the Nasio Trust, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged young people in West Kenya and Oxfordshire. With friends, I’m currently fundraising to build the first community library in West Kenya. Nancy asked if we could write a book together, and we did. We wrote a novel inspired by her life.

Sylvia's book list on insights into Kenya

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

On a trip through Africa, Nancy stumbled upon this captivating book by Corinne Hofmann in a Tanzanian airport shop. Intrigued, she bought it and couldn’t put it down! It's an autobiographical story of Hofmann's life in Kenya, where she fell in love with and married a Maasai warrior.

This book resonated deeply with Nancy and me because we are both in mixed relationships. Nancy once followed a Maasai friend to their village, a land unlike any other. Living in a traditional hut and being the only educated person, especially a girl, was inspiring. Those were truly unforgettable moments. The right to education is one many African girls have to fight for. 

By Corinne Hofmann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The White Masai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The runaway international bestseller is now an American must-read for lovers of adventure, travel writing, and romance. Corinne Hofmann tells how she falls in love with an African warrior while on holiday in Kenya. After overcoming severe obstacles, she moves into a tiny hut with him and his mother, and spends four years in his Kenyan village. Slowly but surely, the dream starts to crumble, and she hatches a plan to return home with her daughter, a baby born of the seemingly indestructible love between a white European woman and a Masai. Compulsively readable, The White Masai is at once…


Book cover of Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai

Mary Shaw Author Of Basil's Unkie Herb

From my list on I wish I could have read to my children.

Why am I passionate about this?

I really am passionate about children and education. Reading to children is such a joy especially when they snuggle in and get absorbed in the story. Education is the only way to achieve some sort of equity in our world. The world I knew as a child is no more and that is a good thing. Cruel biases and intolerance hurt so many. Today there is more freedom and the potential to live true to yourself whatever that may be. I like books that show the diversity of our humanity, that can be read to children to broaden their understanding, acceptance, and tolerance of family which may be very different from their own.

Mary's book list on I wish I could have read to my children

Mary Shaw Why did Mary love this book?

I really like this book because it is a story about a strong woman, a science student, someone who studied at university. The message “if you are part of the problem, you can be part of the solution” and the message of education, and environmental responsibility resonates with me. The illustrations are gentle pastoral scenes and the fact that it was the women who saved Kenya from hunger and devastation makes this a must-read. My favourite scene is when Wangari is telling soldiers to have a gun in one hand and a seed in the other. The true story that just one person beginning with a small act of planting some seeds made a big difference is definitely worth a read.

By Claire A. Nivola,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Planting the Trees of Kenya as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.


Book cover of Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

Christine Ieronimo Author Of A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the World

From my list on stories from Africa with strong protagonists.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am passionate about writing books for children that create windows to the world, teaching empathy. Children that are empathic grow up to be kind and compassionate adults. I write because I long for a world that is more accepting and compassionate.  

Christine's book list on stories from Africa with strong protagonists

Christine Ieronimo Why did Christine love this book?

Wangari is from Kenya and grew up among many trees. When she is older and returns home, she notices that the trees have all been cut down. She decides to replant her own trees which starts a movement with many to reforest the land. She has many obstacles to overcome but, in the end, prevails. This is a story that shows determination in the face of many challenges to make a difference. I, of course, love that it also introduces children to a very different and very beautiful part of the world. This is another story that can connect us all. Jeanette Winter’s text and beautiful illustrations complement each other perfectly. 

By Jeanette Winter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wangari's Trees of Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

As a young girl growing up in Kenya, Wangari was surrounded by trees. But years later when she returns home, she is shocked to see whole forests being cut down, and she knows that soon all the trees will be destroyed. So Wangari decides to do something - and starts by planting nine seedlings in her own backyard. And as they grow, so do her plans . . .

This true story of Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a shining example of how one woman's passion, vision, and determination inspired great change.

Includes an…


Book cover of Planting Peace: The Story of Wangari Maathai

Laura Resau Author Of Tree of Dreams

From my list on inspiring kids to protect our environment.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a lover of nature and travel, I’ve long been interested in how communities worldwide protect their environments. While living and traveling in Latin America, I learned how Indigenous knowledge and practices make our planet healthier for everyone. Several of my ten children’s books deal with these issues, including my novel Tree of Dreams, inspired by my time in the Amazon rain forest with a Huaorani community whose home was threatened by oil operations. This led me to collaborate with the Kichwa leader, Patricia Gualinga, on the picture book, Stand as Tall as the Trees: How an Amazonian Community Protected the Rain Forest, available in English and Spanish in July, 2023.

Laura's book list on inspiring kids to protect our environment

Laura Resau Why did Laura love this book?

Wow! Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai is an incredible inspiration for everyone. I loved learning about her ground-breaking work through this vibrant picture book biography. She left her village in Kenya and earned a Masters degree in the United States, which gave her a different perspective on the environmental devastation occurring in her home. Trees had been cut to make way for monocropping cash crops, resulting in dusty land and a lack of food. To solve the problem, she organized women to plant trees, uniting communities that had previously fought, and starting the Green Belt Movement—which eventually spread around Africa and the world. Despite political persecution, she protected human and environmental rights through peaceful protest, always promoting the value of working together. 

By Gwendolyn Hooks, Margaux Carpentier (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Planting Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 7, 8, 9, and 10.

What is this book about?

This is the inspiring story of Wangari Maathai, women's rights activist and one of the first environmental warriors. Overcoming great obstacles, Wangari began the Green Belt Movement in Kenya in the 1960s, which focused on planting trees, environmental conservation and women's rights. She inspired thousands across Africa to plant 30 million trees in 30 years, saving many from hunger and poverty. Her remarkable story of courage and determination shows how just one person can change the world.

The story shows children how desertification works: how land is eroded and degraded when trees aren't there to hold the soil in place…


Book cover of Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace

Sigrid Schmalzer Author Of Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong's Work for Sustainable Farming

From my list on inspirational scientists for children.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a historian of science who specializes in modern China. My professional life revolves around teaching history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and writing for academic audiences. But my not-so-secret dream has always been to write for children. I've been a regular visitor to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, where I've gorged on illustrated books for children. Encouraged by a chance meeting with a publisher’s representative attending an event at the Carle, I decided to distill my academic book, Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Scientific Farming in Socialist China, into a children’s story. I’m proud that my fans now include elementary-school students. (And at least one professional historian admitted he read the kids’ version first!)

Sigrid's book list on inspirational scientists for children

Sigrid Schmalzer Why did Sigrid love this book?

The story of environmental activist Wangari Maathai has been told many times, including in several children’s books. I chose this book not only for its spectacular scratchboard illustrations of the Kenyan countryside but also because of its thoughtful attention to Maathai’s passion for science and her path-breaking journey as an African woman scientist. Having overcome gender barriers in the pursuit of her education, Maathai went on to become the kind of scientist who stands up against injustice and for the land and its people.

Her mobilization of village women to plant trees all across Kenya, along with her bold political activism for freedom and democracy, won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. This book’s depiction of a scientist who moves between villages and university laboratories, valuing the work of rural people as much as that of city elites, reminded me of the ideal I tried to convey in Moth…

By Jen Cullerton Johnson, Sonia Lynn Sadler (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seeds of Change as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

As a young girl in Kenya, Wangari was taught to respect nature. She grew up loving the land, plants, and animals that surrounded her -from the giant mugumo trees her people, the Kikuyu, revered to the tiny tadpoles that swam in the river. Although most Kenyan girls were not educated, Wangari, curious and hardworking, was allowed to go to school. There, her mind sprouted like a seed. She excelled at science and went on to study in the United States. After returning home, Wangari blazed a trail across Kenya, using her knowledge and compassion to promote the rights of her…


Book cover of Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees

Deshan Tennekoon Author Of Mary Anning's Grewsome Beasts

From my list on kids’ reads about women in science.

Why am I passionate about this?

Writing for children is the most gloriously tricky thing in the world, and I love doing it. With fiction, am I telling a story worth telling to someone who’s new to the planet and new to our way of life? With non-fiction, am I distilling complexity into a shape they can grasp quickly? Am I showing them how wonderful and strange our world is, and can I make ‘em laugh while learning? I’ve written 18 books for kids, many commissioned by Think Equal for their global SEL program and used in the national curricula of 20 countries.

Deshan's book list on kids’ reads about women in science

Deshan Tennekoon Why did Deshan love this book?

I found Kenyan biologist and environmental activist Wangari Maathai’s story inspiring, heartbreaking, and ultimately, triumphant.

Prévot’s text may require you to read this one closely with your kids – and be ready for conversations about authoritarianism and political rights. At the same time, Maathai’s successes and accomplishments are astonishing: the book’s title is an understatement – the Green Belt Movement which she founded has planted about 50 million trees now.

Fronty’s illustrations are beautiful, easy to get lost in, and make this book sing. This is a visually striking work with an important story to tell about science, perseverance, and the true value of a tree.

By Franck Prévot, Aurélia Fronty,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wangari Maathai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

“Trees are living symbols of peace and hope.” –Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace laureate

Wangari Maathai changed the way the world thinks about nature, ecology, freedom, and democracy, inspiring radical efforts that continue to this day.This simply told story begins with Green Belt Movement founder Wangari Maathai’s childhood at the foot of Mount Kenya where, as the oldest child in her family, her responsibility was to stay home and help her mother. When the chance to go to school presented itself, she seized it with both hands. She traveled to the US to study, where she saw that even in the…


Book cover of Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story

Evadeen Brickwood Author Of The Rhino Whisperer

From my list on Southern Africa with wild life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I moved from Germany to Botswana when I was a fledgling translator, and then on to South Africa 2 years later. I fell in love with this part of Africa that had a hand in making me the person I am today. Since I used to travel a lot, not all of my books are set in Southern Africa, but I have a passion for sharing my African stories with the world, and in a few of my novels, I include African wildlife in the storyline. Being a translator, I also translate books into German/English, and four of my own books - so far - are also available in German.

Evadeen's book list on Southern Africa with wild life

Evadeen Brickwood Why did Evadeen love this book?

Daphne Sheldrick has written this memoir to give us an insight into her life, saving and raising young elephants and numerous other wild animals with her husband in the Tsavo National Park in Kenya. Her book is hugely inspiring and, although Kenya is strictly speaking not in Southern Africa. South African and East African wildlife are very similar and her description of an orphan sanctuary inspired me to write about such a sanctuary in my own book.

By Daphne Jenkins Sheldrick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Love, Life, and Elephants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Daphne Sheldrick, whose family arrived in Africa from Scotland in the 1820s, is the first person ever to have successfully hand-reared newborn elephants. Her deep empathy and understanding, her years of observing Kenya's rich variety of wildlife, and her pioneering work in perfecting the right husbandry and milk formula have saved countless elephants, rhinos, and other baby animals from certain death.

In this heartwarming and poignant memoir, Daphne shares her amazing relationships with a host of orphans, including her first love, Bushy, a liquid-eyed antelope; Rickey-Tickey-Tavey, the little dwarf mongoose; Gregory Peck, the busy buffalo weaver bird; Huppety, the mischievous…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Kenya, nature conservation, and politicians?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Kenya, nature conservation, and politicians.

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