A bestseller about how an African village reacted to terrorism in America
14 Cows for America. By Carmen Agra Deedy in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah. Peachtree, 38 pp., $17.95. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Ages: See discussion below.
By Janice Harayda
A few years ago, 60 Minutes did a story on a Ugandan girl whose family paid for her education by selling milk produced by a goat it had received from the American charity Heifer International. Fourteen Cows for America offers an unusual inversion of the premise that the rest of the world needs our help.
Carmen Agra Deedy tells the true story of group of Maasai in Kenya who decided to give some of their precious cows to America after hearing about the attacks of Sept. 11 from a villager who had studied at Stanford University. Her text works reasonably well until the last pages, which moralize and leave impression that the Kenyans sent their cows to the U.S. (when an afterword for adults makes clear that they remain in Africa, cared for by a tribal elder).
Thomas Gonzalez used pastels and colored pencils to give much of 14 Cows for America a reddish, post-apocalyptic haze – his cover would suit a tale of nuclear winter, or a children’s version of On the Beach. That mood fits the events of Sept. 11 but also suggests why this bestseller would work better in the classroom than in other settings. Fourteen Cows for America deals with the aftermath of tragedy that is still hard for many adults to fathom. This book could confuse children — especially younger ones — who read it without a solid context for its story. It might fit well into a school or Sunday school unit, but other picture books would make better holiday gifts for children who will be reading or read to at home.
Ages: School Library Journal recommends 14 Cows for America for grades 2-5 (ages 7–10) in its review of the book. In a separate review on the SLJ blog Fuse #8, librarian Elizabeth Bird says it’s for ages 4–8 (preschool-grade 3).
Best Line: The title.
Worst line: “More than three thousand souls are lost.” This line refers to the death toll on Sept. 11, which was fewer than 3,000 people, including the hijackers, for all three sites.
Published: September 2009
Children’s book reviews appear on One-Minute Book Reviews on Saturdays. Jan Harayda sometimes comments on children’s books during the week on Twitter (@janiceharayda) www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.