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.

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

Captain’s Log: Module 2

Port of Call: Taylor, S. (1951). All of a Kind family. New York, NY: Follett Publishing Company.

First Lines:

“That slowpoke Sarah!” Henny cried. “She’s making us late!”

Mama’s girls were going to the library, and Henny was impatient.

“If it was Charlotte, I could understand,” said Ella, who was the eldest and very serious. “I’d know Charlotte was off dreaming in some corner. But what can be keeping Sarah?”

Summary: This is a story about a young Jewish family living in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. Each chapter tells about a different adventure or even that happens in the lives of these five little girls, but there is also an overarching continuity that moves the story line through the book. In one chapter, the girls go to the beach to escape the summer heat and one gets separated from her family in the crowd. Another story talks about the girls’ trip to the library and the friendship they strike up with the new librarian there.

A family, father, mother, and five young girls are walking down a street in New York City, 1912.

Cover of All-of-a-Kind Family

My favorite chapters were the ones about the Jewish traditions the family celebrates in their homes. I do no know very much about these holidays and customs, so I thought they were a fascinating insight to that religious culture. We meet characters from outside the family too, Papa’s friends, particularly a young man named Charlie who brings the girls gifts frequently.

This was a very sweet book, and its 1950’s writing style lends the book a laid-back, homey feel of a century past. I was reminded of the Bobbsey Twins books I read as a child and enjoyed very much. For being a bit dated, it was never hard to read, and I think it was a very easy book to get wrapped up in.

First Impressions: I was not drawn in by the cover, but thought the setting looked historical and so I would give it a try. The first chapter didn’t really have much action, but was interesting enough that I decided to keep reading. Truthfully, I don’t think this book really hits its stride until chapter 3 or so. I think it’s because the first two chapters seem to have been written solely to introduce certain characters, but the real story doesn’t start rolling til later.

Suggestions for use: I would use this book to teach about an older era in American history, especially if children are interested in life at the beginning of the 1900’s or early New York City. It’s also a more ‘traditional’ story that might appeal to young girls who like Little House on the Prairie and other period books. Finally, this would be a story that could teach about Jewish holidays and traditions to both Jewish and non-Jewish children alike.

Reviews: (audiobook version)

School Library Journal:

“Gr 3-6-Five young sisters experience life in New York’s Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century in this reading of Sydney Taylor’s story (Follett, 1951). The close-knit group encounters everyday realities such as boring chores, missing library books, and trips to the Rivington Street market, as well as those details which bring the early 1900’s to life–scarlet fever, peddlers, and bathing at Coney Island. Woven into the story are the traditions and holidays of the Jewish religion. The girls celebrate the Sabbath with Hebrew prayers, and dress up for Purim so they can deliver baskets to friends and relatives. Suzanne Toren delivers flawless narration, using different accents to distinguish between characters of various cultures and backgrounds. Her intonations and pacing ably reflect the actions and emotions of the characters and fully convey the warmth and humor of the story. This excellent audiobook will find an eager audience in schools and public libraries which need materials reflecting the Jewish culture or serve children who enjoy family stories such as Little Women and Little House on the Prairie.” -Paula L. Setser, Deep Springs Elementary School, Lexington, KY

Setser, P. (2001) School Library Journal review of All-of-a-Kind Family. Retrieved September 6, 2010 from http://www.amazon.com/All-Kind-Family-Sydney-Taylor/dp/0385732953.

The Providence Journal:

“Here’s a book in which nothing much happens, over the course of four hours… and which absolutely charmed my kids on a recent family car trip.

It’s the story of a family on the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the 20th century. There are five daughters, plus Mama and Papa, and their adventures are simple — they go to Coney Island on a hot day, or to the library or to the market. They dust the house and get sick.

But the market they go to is alive with sounds and smells of a different time, and when scarlet fever strikes there’s no simple trip to the doctor’s for a few antibiotics —the doctor comes to them and places the house under quarantine for weeks. There’s a plot involving two family friends and their problems with love, but it’s the least believable and sappiest part of the story. Much better are the moments when the family celebrates Jewish holidays, each described with loving care as it was celebrated a century ago.

Taylor wrote the book in 1951, based on her childhood memories and it was out of print for some years before being issued last year. The time between her experiences and the recounting of them undoubtedly colored the stories with sentimentality.

But this is a gentle tale of a very different time, and there’s value to that. Toren, a theater and TV actress, reads with an attention to accent that helps create characters from the daughters and those who surround them.” – Retrieved September 6, 2010 from http://search.barnesandnoble.com/All-of-A-Kind-Family/Sydney-Taylor/e/9780440400592