Saturday, October 3, 2009

14 Cows for America

Deedy, Carmen Agra. 2009. 14 Cows for America. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Atlanta: Peachtree. (In collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah)

On September 11, 2001, Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, a college student from the Massai tribe in Kenya, was in New York City, studying to become a doctor. The following spring, he returned to his small village,

“He has brought with him one story. It has burned a hole in his heart,”

This is his story. It is not a story of the terroristic attacks upon the United States, but rather, a story of the compassion of the Massai people for the victims. The Massai, former warriors, now proud and peaceful cattle herders, believe that “the cow is life.” “Without the herd, the tribe might starve.”

After the tribal members and elders contemplate fires that can melt iron, buildings that can touch the sky, and three thousand lost souls, they respond with a gift for the U.S. Ambassador - the gift of life, fourteen cows for America.

The endpapers list Thomas Gonzalez’s medium as “pastel, colored pencil, and airbrush on 100% rag archival paper.” Its effect is stunning. The majesty of Kenya and the pride of the Massai people are evident in the rich, colorful illustrations.

A “Note from Kimeli Nayiyomah” follows, offering the story in greater detail for older readers. He notes that, in the gift of the Massai to America, “a connection between the two cultures had been made. We felt we had taken some of America’s pain into our Massai hearts.”

14 Cows for America is a touching story of compassion. The combination of Carmen Agra Deedy’s simple yet powerful words, the vibrant illustrations of Thomas Gonzalez, and the moving story of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, is a book that defies superlatives.

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