Sunday, August 29, 2010
14 Cows for America, written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Peachtree, 2009. $23.95 ages 5 and up
"Once they were feared warriors. Now they live peaceably as nomadic cattle herders. They treat their cows as kindly as they do their children.
They sing to them.
They give them names.
They shelter the young ones in their homes.
Without the herd, the tribe might starve.
To the Maasai, the cow is life."
“Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”
This is the story of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, told in collaboration.
The September 11 tragedy affected the people of the world...it showed us our vulnerability, our compassion for the plight of others, and had an impact that reached beyond our shores to the rest of the world. This story takes us to a remote village in Africa where the Maasai people live in peace and tend their cattle. Kimeli has been away in America studying. His villagers want to hear his stories, and so he tells the story of the Twin Towers and their destruction.
Once told, Kimeli patiently waits for their reaction. He knows they are 'easily moved to kindness when they hear of suffering or injustice.' In their world the cow is life. Kimeli offers his one cow to the people of the United States, wanting to help in some significant way. Members of his tribe follow his lead. An American diplomat makes his way to visit with the Maasai and to accept their gift of 14 cows, given in a sacred ceremony.
In this lovely telling, the author is able to convey the deep respect and concern that people half a world away feel for the plight of the Americans. The languge is uncomplicated and straightforward. It is a story for all. Thomas Gonzalez has created hauntingly beautiful images to convey the power and generosity of the Maasai, the warmth of their village and the maginificence of their gift. Some of the illustrations stand out for me. Kimeli's return is observed in a close-up of his American-made runners, his khakis and a walking stick as he crosses the grassland,
the beauty of his people as they welcome him with open arms into the fold once more, and the joy and celebration of the sacred dance when the cows are given in honor of the American people. Each fully conveys the strength of this story.
Kimeli sums up the gift eloquently:
“These sacred, healing cows can never be slaughtered. They remain in our care in Kenya under the guidance of the revered elder Mzee Ole-Yiampoi. The original fourteen have calved and the herd now numbers over thirty-five. They continue to be a symbol of hope from the Maasai to their brothers and sisters in America. The Maasai wish is that every time Americans hear this simple story of fourteen cows, they will find a measure of comfort and peace.”
A website provides further information for those looking for more at www.14cowsforamerica.com.