Acacia trees are sprawled across my lap, as I hold a book I wish all children could hear on September 11. This compelling picture book, 14 Cows for America, was written by Carmen Agra Deedy in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. A native of Kenya, Kimeli was in New York the day of the terrorist attacks. He returned to his Maasai village in Kenya and told the story of what happened that day. One of the most moving illustrations is a double-page that shows Kimeli, arms flung wide to evoke flames, and the spellbound children pondering:
“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?”
Kimeli is moved to act, following the tenet: “To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own.” A cow is the symbol of life to the Maasai, so he asked the elders to bless his one precious cow, as an offering to Americans in mourning. Others followed his example, and today the cows, which will never be slaughtered, continue to be a symbol of hope and brotherhood.
How comforting to know that people from so far away care this much for us. And how sad that we have lost so much good will from people across the world, after the war in Iraq. Nine years after the tragedy of that day, we are engulfed with news and wild rumors that discourage us from finding any way out of our anger or grief. The news of a stunt-crazy Gainesville, Fl pastor with a congregation of 50 spreads around the world. Yet, how many people have heard this powerful story? Or any of the hundreds of other stories about peacemakers around the world? We can’t wait for journalists to wake up and remember how to be responsible. We can’t just hope our children figure out how to make our world more harmonious.
Put this book in your lap, put an arm around a child, and read it now.
For more about dealing with 9/11 in the classroom, see this wonderful essay in Rethinking Schools.