Review of 14 Cows for America, by Carmen Agra Deedy

14 Cows for America

by Carmen Agra Deedy
in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah
illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

Peachtree, Atlanta, 2009. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #3 Children’s Nonfiction

14 Cows for America is a gorgeous nonfiction picture book, telling a touching and beautiful story. I’ve read many books about September 11, but this one is completely different from any other.

The book takes us to a remote village of the Maasai in Kenya. One of their own, Kimeli (the collaborator on this book), has come home from his doctoral studies in America. The people ask him if he has any stories to tell, and he tells the story of the Twin Towers falling.

After telling the story, “Kimeli waits. He knows his people. They are fierce when provoked, but easily moved to kindness when they hear of suffering or injustice.”

To the Maasai, the cow is life. So Kimeli offers the people of America his only cow. Others in the tribe respond the same way. A diplomat from the United States Embassy in Nairobi comes for a day of sacred ceremony, as the Maasai give 14 cows to the people of America.

“Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”

The story is told beautifully, with simple language. My summary doesn’t convey the charm and grandeur of the book, with its gorgeous paintings. This story can be read to very young children, but also enjoyed by adults. A double-page spread at the back has Kimeli Naiyomah explaining the background of this true story in more detail. I especially like his final paragraph:

“These sacred, healing cows can never be slaughtered. They remain in our care in Kenya under the guidance of the revered elder Mzee Ole-Yiampoi. The original fourteen have calved and the herd now numbers over thirty-five. They continue to be a symbol of hope from the Maasai to their brothers and sisters in America. The Maasai wish is that every time Americans hear this simple story of fourteen cows, they will find a measure of comfort and peace.”

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