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Saturday, September 7, 2013

My Name is Blessing, written by Eric Walters and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. Tundra, 2013. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"He could think clearly. He was one of the top students in the entire school. "And I know you have a greater spirit. I can sense it." She paused. "It is so sad that other children can only have ten fingers when you have a larger heart, a bigger brain, and greater spirit." His smile grew from the inside."

Eric Walters tells a simple story that is dear to his heart and to the hearts of anyone who cares about the world's children. Mr. Walters and his family founded Creation of Hope for Kenyan orphans. This is the harsh, yet hopeful story of just one of them.

He is named Mithuni, and he lives with his grandmother. We learn quickly that Grace is caring for nine grandchildren. Mithuni is the youngest; and he is last of the children to be served from the porridge pot each day...perhaps only once. Even at his young age, he has a wish:

"There was only one thing that would have made it better. He wished that his Nayana had saved some for herself. Most often, she only ate the burnt parts from the bottom of the pot."

It takes mere moments for readers to learn that life for this Kenyan family is very difficult. There is never enough food, and Mithuni is often the object of derision because of an abnormality at birth. He has no fingers on his left hand, and only two on his right. In his language, his name means 'suffering'. Grace does not notice his hands, and is quick to let him know that his heart is the most important part of him.

As he plays soccer at school one day, he notices that his grandmother is watching. He is concerned that she has walked so far to see him. He senses that there might be trouble. As they walk along, she tries to prepare her grandson for what is to come:

"She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I am too old to do what I want to do. So now I must do what I have to do." She let out a deep sigh. "You and I must go on an even longer walk. I only hope you can forgive me."

Grace is desolate over her need to leave her youngest grandson at a nearby orphanage; but, she knows it is in his best interest. You will be delighted to read the rest of the story, and to meet Baraka...

Eugenie Fernandes gives life to the story's characters, and to the Kenyan setting. The love and concern that Grace has for her family is evident on every page. Her joy in family assures as good a life as she can provide...she is proud, but realistic about Mithuni's future and her own.

An author's note, accompanied by clear and telling photographs, allows us to meet the boy and his grandmother, and to know how being part of the Creation of Hope family has changed their present and their future.

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