Remembering September 11th with the Authors of “14 Cows for America”

The following post was co-authored by Monica Valentine, program specialist in the Library’s Young Readers Center. 

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The series of coordinated attacks resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries as well as billions of dollars in property damage. At the time, it was the biggest American crisis faced by younger generations. The attacks changed the American way of life in significant ways, much like today’s public health crisis.

To commemorate this anniversary, let’s explore a book talk from the 2009 National Book Festival made especially for children. It features author Carmen Agra Deedy and her collaborator Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah sharing the story of a heartfelt offer of aid to America from an unexpected source after the September 11 attacks. Below you’ll find prompts for writing and thinking that young readers, families, and teachers can use to explore the author, the author’s work, and its connections to the crisis we are facing today. Recommended for ages 7+.

Carmen Agra Deedy is the author of twelve books for children, including “The Library Dragon,” “The Cheshire Cheese Cat,” “Martina the Beautiful Cockroach,” and the New York Times bestseller, “14 Cows for America.” Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah has collaborated on “14 Cows” with Carmen Agra Deedy. Naiyomah has been awarded a Rotary International World Peace Fellowship and will begin studies in peace and conflict resolution in 2010. His story as a Maasai warrior is at the center of Deedy’s book. In today’s video Carmen and Kimeli, discuss “14 Cows for America.” Carmen and Kimeli are introduced by Mary Quattlebaum of the Washington Post.

Carmen starts her presentation at 2:38, and timestamps for major topics are below:

  • Reading the picture book “14 Cows for America” (3:18)
  • “There is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort” (10:27)
  • Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah starts his talk (12:12)
  • “Why cows, why not money, why not grains, why not anything else?” (14:36)
  • Where are the cows now? (18:58)
  • The meaning of 9/11 to the Kenyan Maasai people (21:45)
  • Q&A starts (23:40)

Writing and Thinking Prompts

17:50: Kimeli explains that even though cows did not have economic value, they represented a spiritual sacrifice from his people in order to comfort Americans. Nobody is too small or too poor to give a gift to express support and comfort.

What small thing can you do, within your capacity, to help someone near you in this tough time? You could tell your friends what you like about them over video chat, offer to do someone’s chore for them, or put your efforts into drawing a cheerful picture. What sincere gesture will you make to comfort someone you love?

At 16:58, Kimeli asks us to imagine how he witnessed 9/11, brought the story back to Kenya, and inspired his fellow villagers to give an enormous gift of comfort to the United States. At 11:01, Carmen describes how she found out about the Maasai people’s gift to America by reading the newspaper and then wrote a children’s book to share this story of compassion.

Telling stories of what we witness or read about is a powerful way to share things that affect us. Sharing stories can motivate people to act. How can you share a story of what you see, whether it’s people’s struggles or acts of kindness? Even if what you witness doesn’t directly affect you, it’s important to share the pain that others feel; the more we share, the more people are encouraged to help those in need.

Sharing stories helps us see compassion in the world. Can you find a story, in your neighborhood or online, of people comforting each other during this global pandemic? Share it with someone you love. How did that make you both feel?

11:37 Carmen says, “even artists can’t always produce work when it’s too fresh”. Creativity can feel stuck during a difficult time, and you may be having a hard time creating things right now.

Be kind to yourself and don’t force yourself to create. Instead, read and share stories. What can you learn about other countries? How will you get to know your loved ones better? Sharing might be challenging at first, but think of stories as gifts that you give to each other. With practice, you can become a storyteller who brings joy to many people around you.

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