Muthini – whose name means “suffering … [a]ll because he was born with no fingers on his left and only two on his right” – is the youngest of nine children who live with their grandmother in Kenya. What Nyanya – grandmother – lacks in money or food, she makes up with “extra portions of love.” One day, Nyanya takes the long, difficult walk to Muthini’s school to tell him she can no longer care for him: “He was too young and she was too old.”
With tears and resignation, Nyaya and Muthini walk “hand in hand” to meet a man named Gabriel whose home is filled with children laughing and playing. Gabriel tells the tired pair that he has “‘no room for Muthini … But there is always room for a blessing.’” Muthini becomes Baraka; by changing his name, he changes his future: “‘I can never look at you and see suffering and I don’t want others to see it either,’” Gabriel explains, “‘I want them to hear your name and see what I see, what your Nyanya sees: a blessing. Baraka.’” And thus Baraka’s new life begins …
Here’s the best part of this book: it’s true! The final five pages re-tells the story with on-site photographs that begin, “Baraka is a real person. And so is Grace, his grandmother or Nyanya.” Award-winning Canadian author Eric Walters – who’s written over 90 titles for children and young adults! – co-founded and runs The Creation of Hope which cares for Kenyan orphans, including Baraka and his family; Baraka is directly sponsored by Walters’ own daughter and her friend. For you savvy givers, rest assured, “A commitment has been made that 100% of money that comes from schools or children will always go to service“: 23 cents pays to plant a sapling, $20 will purchase farm tools for a family, and $50 will cover the costs of the Rolling Hills Residence for a full day. And after reading Blessing’s story, surely you’ll be hard pressed not want to share you own blessings with others, too …
When Mimi and her little sister Nakkissi go to fetch the family’s water from the stream one hot day, Mimi does something she knows she shouldn’t: she realizes that tired Nakkissi can’t walk all the way home without a drink, so she gives her “two handfuls of brownish water” from the stream – even knowing that the water must first be boiled before drinking. That evening, Nakkissi falls seriously ill with a sickness that too many village children don’t survive. Armed with a machete, hoe, and sticks to ward off any wild animals, the whole family walks in the middle of the night to the next village in search of help.
With simple, clean care at the health clinic, Nakkissi recovers quickly. Nurse Tela convinces the family to stay another night because the next day is vaccination day. Mimi watches and learns as Nurse Tela tends to pregnant women, babies, and many children more ill than Nakkissi. Inspired by what she sees, when they return home, Mimi shares her “big dream” with her father, who discusses it with the village elders … and three months later, that dream becomes a most welcome, necessary reality. What might have been a family tragedy proves to be healthy salvation for Mimi’s whole community.
Part of Canada’s Kids Can Press‘ compelling, informative, entertaining CitizenKid series – “books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens” – Mimi’s Village is “based on a blend of real stories.” Author Katie Smith Milway (who also wrote CitizenKid’s uplifting, based-on-real-life The Good Garden) definitely inspires readers with a good story … and then fortifies her audience with informative context and opportunities to take action. She shares the experiences of real-life nurse Felina Maiya of Zambia, who has thus far brought saving treatment and hygienic prevention techniques to 61 households since 2006. Milway also provides the ‘why’ of the importance of simple health care (diarrhea causes one in five deaths; malaria kills a child in sub-Saharan Africa every 45 sections), and how readers can get involved (a 7-year-old Canadian boy raised the funding to build a well in Uganda!) and new ways to create change (an African superstar performs concerts that urge his fans to use bed nets to prevent malaria).
In this season of privileged plenty for so many of us lucky readers, resources like CitizenKid titles are priceless. Invest in a few (or all!) and encourage your kiddies to go global: with the help of CitizenKid, teach them now that actions speak louder than words.
Readers: Children, Middle Grade