14 Cows for America
written by Carmen Agra Deedy, in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah
illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
published by Peachtree Publishing, 2009
Audience (reading level): 7 and up (2.2 Flesch Kincaid)
Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah had come to the United States to study and further his education. He was in Manhattan the day a beautiful autumn sky dissolved into billowing clouds of burning jet fuel, molten steel, and the souls of nearly 3,000 people. September 11, 2001.
Eight years ago. Today. When a colleague handed me this book at Book Expo America, what grabbed my attention first were the illustrations. I couldn’t stop thumbing through it. They are just beautiful. Still, I knew as we got closer to this National Day of Remembrance, my mood would become more thoughtful. It does every year. So I waited until this week to read 14 Cows for America.
In the spring of 2002, Kimeli returned to Kenya with a heavy heart. He had news to share, but he wanted to speak with the elders first. As a boy, Kimeli had hoped one day to buy a cow – the symbol of life and strength for the Maasai, his people. He fulfilled his dream and asked the elders to bless the cow so that he could make it a special gift to the Americans. Upon hearing the story, 13 others offered their precious cows. The cows were presented to the US Ambassador to Kenya and his wife in a formal ceremony of celebration and the blessing of the cows. In the past several years, this group of sacred, healing cows has become a herd of more than 35.
There is a part of me that is very glad I waited until now to read 14 Cows for America. Its themes of compassion and hope are exactly what we need today as we reflect on what has happened and where we are going. Kimeli’s is an inspiring story, not just for his personal courage but also in the way he showed that compassion and sacrifice build a most incredible bridge of hope. Having read the story several times now, I keep flipping back to the last page
Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.
This is a sentiment we need every day … for the elderly neighbor who can no longer cut their grass, the child who doesn’t have enough to eat, or the friend who is overwhelmed by bad news. A hug, a kind word, a bit of your time.
One of the things I like about the book is that you don’t have to go into a lot of detail about the events of that day to enjoy the story or convey its lessons. Although September 11, 2001 is the backdrop for the story, Deedy is offering us a timeless, universal story of empathy, compassion, and shared dreams of hope. Sharing this book with a child will open their minds to other cultures, traditions, and belief systems. In the United States, we take for granted that everyone watched the events and aftermath unfold on television. This was not the case … yet even in the most remote corners of the world where “skyscrapers” have no meaning, people hurt for us. Yes, it offers insight that show our differences, but it celebrates – and emphasizes – what makes us brothers and sisters.
I highly recommend this book for children and adults alike.
5 Minutes for Books review by Carrie (August 2009)
School Library Journal review by Diana Chen (July 2009)
Wall Street Journal review by Megan Cox Gurdan (July 2009)
Newsday review by Sonja Boll (September 2009) note: Scroll down, it is not the headline review.
14 Cows for America book trailer on YouTube
14 Cows for America website sponsored by Peachtree Publishers
14 Cows for America Blog Tour Schedule at A Year of Reading
Carmen Agra Deedy: Spinning a Story of Mama YouTube video
Illustrator Thomas Gonzalez with Mary Lee Hahn at a Year of Reading
Interview with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah at Children’s Literature
Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah at the 2009 National Book Festival Library of Congress page