14 Cows for America
by Carmen Deedy, illus. by Thomas Gonzalez
This beautiful, uplifting picture book, with its breathtaking paintings of the Kenyan landscape, is a wonderful way to talk with your child about what happened on September 11, 2001. It is not so much about the events of that day on the lower edge of Manhattan, but rather the generous and loving response to the tragedy from a community half a world away. As Americans, we are accustomed to helping other countries in need, but this is a story of a small village in Kenya that wanted to help the people of the U.S. heal from the scars of September 11. Kimeli Naiyomah, who collaborated with author Carmen Deedy on this story, was studying to be a doctor in the U.S. on 9/11. He returns to his Maasai village to tell his people the story of what happened that day (“Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun”), and asks his elders if he can give his only cow to America: “To the Maasai, the cow is life.” Kimeli inspired his fellow villagers to contribute 13 additional cows of their own. Deedy, a gifted oral storyteller herself, creates a narrative with the pacing of spoken poetry. Majestic illustrations transport us to this faraway land while the portraits of the Maasai people remind us of how close we are in our humanity. This is a healing story for a difficult anniversary to observe.