Thursday, July 15, 2010

14 Cows for America

Beautifully illustrated and sensitively written by Carmen Agra Deedy, Thomas Gonzalez, and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, 14 Cows for America tells the story of an African village who donates 14 cows to America to help heal the nation brought to pain by the attack of September 11.

The story opens with the narrators return to his home village after a long absence in which he lived in New York City. In a tradition of his community, they gather to hear his story and he tells of the horrific attacks. The villagers are stunned to learn that even a country as mighty as America, can be wounded.

The American embassy is contacted, and the ambassador is dispatched for what he thinks is a routine visit. Upon arriving, he is stunned to learn that the villagers, in an area of the world considered poor and deprived, have resolved to sacrifice 14 of their cows to America. These cows will live in the community, but never be slaughtered for meat, for the duration of their natural life. The ritual is meant to bring peace to a community.

The story is sensitively handled, especially regarding the terrifying nature of the attacks which many young children, the audience for this book, may have little knowledge of. The illustrations are lovely and convey the message of the story without overwhelming the story.

Despite the fact that this book has been nominated for several awards, I wish it were written more lyricly. There is so much potential in the telling of this story, that is lost in somewhat wooden prose. The larger message of generosity and compassion between the poorest and the wealthiest is compelling, but I can’t help think that if the topic were not 9/11 and Africa, this story would not be getting the play it has.

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