Saturday, September 11, 2010

REVIEW: 14 Cows for America

Deedy, C.A.  (2009).  14 Cows for America.  Atlanta, GA:  Peachtree Publishers.


This picturebook hit the streets last year and became very popular as the go-to narrative to discuss the events of September 11, 2001.  And for good reason.

Appetizer:  Based in truth, When Kimeli arrives home to his Maasai tribe in Kenya from his trip to the United States (where he's studying to become a doctor) he must share the story of September 11th, 2001 with the members of his tribe.

One of the many strengths of this picturebook is the fact that it shares the story of September 11th with the expectation that children Kimeli speaks to, and by extension the reader, doesn't have knowledge of 9/11.  It shows how people on the other side of the world reacted to hearing about the tragedy.  A reader can gain other lessons from the text, making 14 Cows for America a wonderful introductory text to the events without seeming to scary.  Instead the book focuses on kindness and community.  It's up to the teacher whether or not they want to have a more extensive discussion of 9/11.

Okay, I absolutely love that this book addresses the art of oral storytelling.  The way the children sit to listen to to Kimeli's story of September 11th parallels the way a read aloud would look here in countless early elementary classrooms.  That tends to be a technique that we lose focus of as educators fixate on literacy.

Another of the strengths of this story is the fact that 14 Cows for America shows the way that others have offered assistance to the U.S.  So often Americans are bombarded with images of how we need to help others.  But I like that this picturebook show that sometimes the U.S. needs help too and that other nations and people are in positions to help us.

The illustrations are done in colored pencils.  The style is interesting.  The images are realistic, but there's often a softness to the edges, making the faces of people seem blurred (as though they could be anyone perhaps?).

Dinner Conversation:

"The remote village waits for a story to be told.  News travels slowly to this corner of Kenya."

"Once they were feared warriors.  Now they live peaceably as nomadic cattle herders.  They treat their cows as kindly as they do their children."

"He must return to the faraway country where he is learning to be a doctor.
He thinks of New York then.
He remembers September."

"Building so tall they can touch the sky?
Fires so hot they can melt iron?
Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?"

To Go with the Meal:

This is a good book to trigger a lesson on September 11th.  Since the book only alludes to it, a teacher will have to provide more details and facts about the events of that day.  Another route to go would be to discuss the history of Kenya and the way that the Maasai tribe has evolved with time.  A teacher could direct students to research the culture of the Maasai and other African tribes.  Or a teacher could focus on how cultures and people are connected across great distances.

Lots of options!

To try to encourage American readers to relate to the experiences of the Maasai people, a teacher could begin by having students consider how they treat their pets, giving them names and talking to them.  A teacher would then encourage students to compare that to how the Maasai treat their cows.  To try to think of what the Maasai tribe sacrificed by the *ahem* (trying to be vague here) choices they made to help others, a teacher could propose the idea of how it would feel for students to give up their pet or favorite toy to assist others. (A teacher should also emphasize the fact that the Maasai people gave up a portion of their livelihood to help as well)

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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