In author-illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal's latest book, Zonia's Rain Forest (available in Spanish as La selva de Zonia), a playfully fierce Asháninka child, Zonia, explores her home in the Amazon rainforest. This book was beautifully crafted on handmade banana bark paper, made by women from another indigenous group living in the Amazon. Verdant greens and cheerful, vibrant yellows and blues color in an Earthy backdrop, and Zonia simply glows. She darts through the forest in search of her animal friends and lies on the forest floor, covered in butterflies.
Bursting with exuberant dauntlessness, she greets each of her friends, from Jaguar to the Blue Morpho butterfly on her daily rendezvous with her bustling forest home. Two sparkling brown eyes peek out beneath her long, dark hair, beckoning readers into the magical word of the Amazon rainforest. Deeply tuned in to the voice of the forest, Zonia is shocked to discover the atrocities of deforestation and flees home to her Mama. In her mothers arms, she decides that she must stand up for her beloved home.
The powerful self-determination of such a small child speaks for itself, casting away the guilt-laden environmentalism that we often hark back to in the United States. In traditional red face paint made from achiote, she stands tall by a tree and gazes into the distance, a spirited protector of this sacred rainforest. The Asháninka are one of hundreds of indigenous groups still inhabiting this part of the Amazon.
Books like this one confront readers with the harsh and haunting reality of the modern world's impact on these lands, and the people that live in and rely on them for their livelihood. Zonia serves as a reminder, a "we are still here", and a symbol of the steadfast resistance of those who fight for the ancestral lands which have belonged to the people, animals, and plants of this region for millennia. The back matter of the book includes a translation into the Asháninka language, as well as information about the history of the Asháninka, the threats to the Amazonian rainforest, and facts about the animals in the story. Learn more about the Asháninka people and their reforestation efforts here.