Saturday, August 1, 2009

Wall Street Journal

A lovely review from the Wall Street Journal today:

Of all the expressions of consolation sent to a grieving America after 9/11, perhaps none was as poignant as the gift of 14 cows from Maasai tribesmen in a remote corner of Kenya. How the offering came about is the subject of this moving and dramatically illustrated picture book for children ages 6-12. It is based on the experiences of a young medical student named Kimeli, who was studying in America at the time of the attacks and brought news of them back to his native ­village the following spring. In the opening pages of “14 Cows for America” we see Kimeli striding across the grassland in his red Stanford University jacket. There is rejoicing at his return, but the youth comes with a story that “has burned a hole in his heart.” As the tribe gathers under an acacia tree, Kimeli describes the horror that struck so far away: “With growing disbelief, men, women, and children listen. Buildings so tall they can touch the sky? Fires so hot they can melt iron?” As Kimeli talks, illustrator Thomas Gonzalez depicts his narrative as a kind of swirling fire overhead. After the young man finishes, there is silence—and resolve. The Maasai, author Carmen Agra Deedy tells us, “are fierce when provoked, but easily moved to kindness when they hear of suffering or injustice.” The villagers request a visit from the American ambassador, who duly comes and is stunned to be met by hundreds of Maasai “in full tribal splendor,” with scarlet tunics and majestic beaded collars—and their unexpected gift. (The ­“sacred and healing” cows, we learn, remain in the Kenyans’ care; the original herd of 14 has since grown to 35.) The final pages show the grave face of a young tribesman. Reflected in his pupil we see the book’s only image of the burning Twin Towers; beside him we read (possibly through tears) the concluding words: “Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small that they cannot offer mighty comfort.”

—Meghan Cox Gurdon

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