Thursday, April 12, 2012
MY HEART WILL NOT SIT DOWN by Mara Rockliff
Historical fiction picture books are unusual to begin with, but Mara Rockliff’s text takes an even more uncommon approach—she depicts the American Great Depression from the point of view of a village child in Africa.
When her teacher tells them about the plight of children in the (contemporary) Great Depression, Kedi’s “heart stands up and it won’t sit down.” She understands the hunger of those New York children because she, too, has gone to bed with a grumbling empty tummy! Her mother’s initial reaction to Kedi’s desire to help is to let the American people come to them; they can share their dinner. And when Kedi asks her mother and the other villagers for monetary aid, the African villagers wonder, “Why send money to people whose faces we haven’t seen?”
On her way to school the next day, Kedi’s mother gives her one coin—their only coin—which seems puny and useless, until all the villagers arrive at the school bearing their coins. Finally, Kedi’s heart can sit down.
As described in the author’s endnote, the fictionalized tale is based on a true event, in which the city of New York received a donation of $3.77 from a small Cameroon village to aid the hungry of the city. Such generosity, Rockliff points out, is not solitary, as similar instances occurred in Papua New Guinea and Santa Domingo, Guatemala.
The text offers a very interesting opportunity for discussion, even with students whose reading level would be above and beyond the simplicity of a picture book. What prompts us to want to help those far away, even if we ourselves have little? What can we do to help those in need and what is the effect of our donation beyond its actual monetary value?
The art is brightly colored and chunky, reminiscent of other picture books of African folklore. My Heart Will Not Sit Down carries an interesting and heartwarming message of human generosity, and the accessibility of the illustrations packages that message with candor and simple honesty.