Books in the Key of Community

I expected to encounter a heavy dose of post- 9/11 stories in the media this week, but such horrifying images are simply not appropriate for small children. Instead, it seems to me they need to hear about the importance of community. Across the world, communities, happily, come in all colors. Here are a few you might enjoy sharing with young ones:

Cunnane, Kelly. Chirchir Is Singing. illus. by Jude Daly. Schwartz & Wade, 2011. Ages 4-8.

Even a small child needs to find her place in her community. Chirchir, which means “born quickly,” lives in a village in western Kenya. This girl loves loves loves to make up songs. One bright day she wakes up determined to help the elders as they go about their work.

She sees Mama drawing water from the well and feels up to that task. Soon, though, she loses hold of the rope and falls. “Little one, this work is not for you,” says Mama. Each time Chirchir approaches a relative — to start a fire, spread mud on the floor, or to hoe potatoes — she hears that message.

Just when she’s feeling disheartened, she hears a cry and follows it to the hut where her infant brother has awakened. Her older brother, who had been responsible for tending him, lies fast asleep. How fortunate that Chirchir is ready and able to handle the job, for what better way to soothe a baby than to sing?

Chirchir’s small journey of self-discovery is pleasingly rendered by the South African artist Jude Daly, with folk-art paintings employing flat perspectives and a generous helping of leafy greens for the rural landscape. Echoing the hills’ curves are lively images of swirling flocks of swallows, a golden yolk of a sun, and an elongated swirl containing notes and images of her family at work that emerges from Chirchir’s mouth when she realizes she, too, has an important job to do.

Cunnane, author of For You Are a Kenyan Child (2006), has created another gentle, likable story that celebrates family life in Kenya. Her rhythmic, poetic language sparkles with specific images, such as the “winking silver circle of the well,” and with Chirchir’s lilting songs: “Jambo! Hello! Day is growing tall./ Wake up to green sunlight and rooster’s call!”

Educators will find this lyrical little story tailor-made for read-alouds and for incorporating simple instrumentation. Others will simply enjoy a fresh, sweet story that ends on a high note.

The author includes information about the setting and a glossary of the Kalenjin and Swahili words lightly sprinkled throughout the story.

For other great read-aloud titles see my post on 14 Cows for America and these hopeful ones:

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