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*14 Cows for America* by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, collaborator)
14 Cows for America
by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, collaborator)
Grades 2-5 36 pages Peachtree August 2009 Hardcover    

Illustrated in vibrant watercolors reaching into the soul of Africa, 14 Cows for America is a moving story of the generous gift of the Maasai people to the United States following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Based on the true story of college student Kimeli Naiyomah, the book begins with his first visit home after witnessing the tragedy in New York City. Greeted by his native people, Kimeli is genuinely welcomed home by these gentle, nomadic cattle herders who have a great love and respect for their successful young man.

His heart is heavy as he shares the story of September 11, first with the elders, then with the rest of the tribe in the Maasai tradition under the acacia tree. The people listen; deeply moved by the event, they desire to do something to help. Kimeli asks for their blessing to offer his only cow. The people want to do more; in a vibrant tribal celebration, the Maasai people give 14 cows to the representative American diplomat.

Completing the story is a personal narrative from Naiyomah telling the story of his youth in a small village in Kenya, the importance of cows in their culture, the values of his people, his experience in the United States, his heartfelt reaction to the devastation of September 11, and the gift of his people to America.

Thomas Gonzalez’s breathtaking watercolor skies immediately grab the reader’s attention. Using reds and grays, oranges, blues and yellows, he captures the spirit of the African plains, the light shining on the faces of the Maasai people, their thoughtful, sincere expressions, and the bright colors of their traditional garb.

Carmen Deedy’s third-person narration of this true story further evokes the senses of sight, touch and sound with concise, carefully chosen language that draws the reader into the African setting. Thoroughly respectful of a completely different culture, she focuses on the innate goodness of the people – respect for elders, animals and their traditional lifestyle.

A well-done, comprehensive website augments the story, providing additional information about the importance of cows, the history of the Maasai people, and even the proper pronunciation of some of the native words used in the text (

14 Cows for America is a wonderful story to share aloud with young people, especially to commemorate September 11. Pair it with John J. Harvey’s Fireboat: the Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman to evoke thoughtful discussion of this tragic event with elementary-aged children,
“Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”

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  Kristine Wildner/2010 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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