Zonia’s Rain Forest
Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
“The forest needs help! / We all must answer.”
Zonia is a little girl of the Asháninka People, the largest Indigenous group inhabiting the Peruvian Amazon. Her home village lies deep in the rain forest, making the Amazon Zonia’s front yard, backyard, school, and playground. “Every morning the rain forest calls to Zonia. / Every morning, Zonia answers.” Led by a blue butterfly (Morpho peleides), Zonia visits her many animal friends and makes new ones. “I live next door,” she says. One day, as she is heading home, Zonia comes across “something she has not seen before”: a vast swath of logged and burned-out forest. She collects a few twigs and runs home anguished that “The forest needs help!” “It is speaking to you,” says Zonia’s mom. “Then I will answer,” Zonia replies, “as I always do.” In the last opening, Zonia’s face is warrior-painted with red achiote to signal her commitment to stand up for the forest. As the blue butterfly flies toward the reader, we hear Zonia’s call to arms: “We all must answer.” The book is visually told in Juana Martinez-Neal’s signature crayon-style, with a range of nature’s greens and browns contrasting with Zonia’s and her mom’s dynamic oranges that creates a truly immersive experience. Zonia’s Rain Forest ends with an Asháninka translation of Zonia’s story, notes on the Asháninka people, on the Amazon and the threats it is facing, as well as with a gallery of Zonia’s animal friends and a list of resources the author drew on.
Created by a Peruvian-born author and illustrator, Zonia’s Rain Forest invites the reader to share an Indigenous protagonist’s experience of the rich biodiversity of the Amazon and her first glimpse of the threats to the survival of its inhabitants and ecosystems. Biodiversity loss is both entangled with and one of the drivers of climate change that must be reversed if we hope to transition to an ecological civilization (see Rights of Nature). This book offers a concrete entry point for younger readers to consider the impacts of biodiversity loss on a specific example: what if someone took away your home, your friends, your world? The threat to the Amazon—containing half of the Earth’s remaining forests—is shown here as especially impacting its Indigenous communities (see climate justice, slow violence), but the message is that we all must answer the forest’s cry and stand with Zonia (see Indigenous-led climate action/movement). Zonia’s kinship with animals and her activist defense of the forest communicate the message that threats to biodiversity anywhere are threats to biodiversity everywhere (see conservation, Earth stewardship). While we are never shown who cut the trees or why, the book affirms that deforestation must be stopped. And that we owe our support to Indigenous coalitions that resist ecocide on the ground. ©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)
Audience: Little People (4-7)
Topics: Activism, Animals, Biodiversity, Biosphere, Climate Justice, Conservation, Deforestation, Earth stewardship, Ecocide, Ecological civilization, Environmental Injustice, Forests, Indigenous-led climate action, Kinship with Animals, Logging, Nature, Nearby Nature, Rights of Nature, Slow Violence, Youth Climate Activism