14 Cows For America by Carmen Agra Deedy

Cover of 14 Cows for America

Captain’s Log:

Module 11

Port of Call: Deedy, C.A. (2009). 14 cows for america. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers.

First Lines: The remote village waits for a story to be told. News travels slowly to this corner of Kenya.

As Kimeli nears his village he watches a herd of bull giraffes cross the open grassland. He smiles.

He has been away a long time.

Summary: Kimeli is returning to his people in Kenya with a story from his life in New York City during the September 11 attacks. His story touches the people in his village who choose to make a gift to help those in America deal with the pain of the attack. The gift is 14 cows, a great treasure to the Maasai, given from one people to another in goodness and generosity of spirit.

First Impressions: The emotional impact of this story for me was unexpected. This is a simple, but beautifully illustrated story about a kindhearted people who have great empathy for others. Definitely a touching book.

Suggestions for use: Use this book to talk about relationships between cultures that are very different, or in a unit about September 11 and its effect on the world. This can be a great book for getting kids to think about people in other countries, and to find a mutual sharing of emotions and regard.

Illustration from 14 Cows for America

School Library Journal:

/* Starred Review */ Gr 2–5— Kimeli Naiyomah returned home to his Maasai village from New York City with news of 9/11 terrorist attacks. His story prompted the villagers to give a heartfelt gift to help America heal. Deedy and Gonzalez bring Naiyomah’s story to life with pithy prose and vibrant illustrations. Each block of text consists of a few short, elegant sentences: “A child asks if he has brought any stories. Kimeli nods. He has brought with him one story. It has burned a hole in his heart.” The suspenseful pace is especially striking when surrounded by Gonzalez’s exquisite colored pencil and pastel illustrations. The colors of Kenya explode off the page: rich blues, flaming oranges, fire-engine reds, and chocolate browns. Full-page spreads depict the Maasai people and their land so realistically as to be nearly lifelike. Gonzalez manages to break the fourth wall and draw readers in as real-time observers. The book’s only flaw is the less-than-concrete ending: “…there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort” is an important message, but not a particularly satisfying one for children. Fortunately, their questions will be answered by Naiyomah’s endnote, and it provides a fitting conclusion to this breathtaking chronicle.

Dash, R. (2009). 14 cows for america. School Library Journal, 55(8), 89.

Publishers Weekly:

A native of Kenya, Naiyomah was in New York City on September 11, 2001. In his and Deedy’s (Martina the Beautiful Cockroach ) lyrical account, he returns to his homeland and tells the members of his Maasai tribe a story that had “burned a hole in his heart.” The narrative avoids specifics and refers to the events of 9/11 obliquely as the villagers listen to him with “growing disbelief”: “Buildings so tall they can touch the sky? Fires so hot they can melt iron? Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?” Until they read Naiyomah’s concluding note, children may not fully comprehend either his story or the villagers’ subsequent actions: the tribe elders bless 14 cows, revered in Maasai culture, and symbolically offer them to the American people to help them heal. Featuring luminous images of the Maasai in vivid native dress and sweeping African landscapes, Gonzalez’s pastel, colored pencil and airbrush paintings appear almost three-dimensional in their realism. A moving tale of compassion and generosity. Ages 6–10.

Staff. (2009). 14 cows for america. Publishers Weekly, 256(31), 45.