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Inspiration for the New Year

    Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah was in New York studying to be a doctor when the September 11th attacks took place.  When he returned to his native Kenya in 2002, he told the story of what happened to his unbelieving Maasai friends and family. 

“Buildings 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?”  Appalled, the villagers wanted to do something for these poor Americans.  For the Maasai herders, cows are life, so they decided to donate a herd of fourteen cows to America, in a ceremony that brought tears to the eyes of the American ambassador.

In “Fourteen Cows for America,” storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy has collaborated with Naiyomah to tell the remarkable true story of the generosity of a small group of people halfway around the world.  Thomas Gonzalez’s double-page illustrations capture the grandeur of the Maasai countryside as well as the faces of the compassionate villagers.  As Deedy says in the book, “…there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”

For more stories to get your New Year off to an inspiring start, check out Elizabeth Partridge’s new book, “Marching For Freedom: Walk Together, Children, And Don't You Grow Weary.” 

This history of the march on Selma for voting rights back in 1965 is filled with the stories of teenagers and children who played important roles in the struggle.  Though national figures like the Reverend Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King were movement leaders, young people, outraged by injustice and resolved to change the status quo, were everywhere, leading meetings, marching and protesting. Little Joanne Blackmon was only ten years old when she was arrested, along with her grandmother, as they joined a group of African-Americans attempting to register to vote at the Selma, Alabama, courthouse.  Joanne’s older sister was arrested nine times over the next two years.

These stories and others are clearly told and illustrated with contemporary photographs, some of them portraying the violence that accompanied the protests.  Middle schoolers will find the book both sobering and inspiring.

Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” is the bestselling story of a lost climber who was taken in by Pakistani villagers and returned the favor by working with them to build a school in the village.  The book begins with nail-biting suspense as Mortensen loses his way in the mountains not once, but twice, and almost freezes to death.  After the physical ordeal, he faces the challenge of raising money for the school he’s promised to build.  It’s an amazing story but, at more than 300 pages, the book is a bit daunting for young readers. Now they have two other choices.

    Elementary school readers will enjoy “Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups Of Tea,” mentioned here a few months ago. Told in picture book format, the story is illustrated with Susan Roth’s gorgeously textured fiber collages.  For older readers, Sarah Thomson has adapted Mortenson’s original book into a “Young Reader’s Edition” that updates the story and includes new photographs. 

As Jane Goodall states in the preface, “We can all, everyone one of us, make a difference in the world, every day.”  Happy New Year!



Originally published in the Free Lance-Star, January 5, 2010.