Grade 4 students listened to and discussed Books for Children of the World: The Story of Jella Lepman, written by Sydelle Pearl. This picture book tells the true story of Jella Lepman, a German Jew who spent World War II in England, writing for British and American newspapers. After the war, at the request of the U.S Army, Lepman returned to Germany as a cultural and educational advisor. Asked to determine the needs of the children in Germany, Lepman saw the children's desire for books. After much hard work, Lepman was able to organize the first international event held in postwar Germany, an exhibition of children's books donated from all over the world that originated in Munich and traveled throughout the country. In addition, she persuaded a German newspaper to print 30,000 copies of her own translation of The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, so she could distribute it to German children during the traveling book exhibit. In 1949, Jella Lepman founded the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany with the goal of promoting international and intercultural understanding.
If the war is really over, if one is to believe in peaceful coexistence, the first messengers of that peace will be these children's books. -Jella Lepman
After reading this book together, fourth grade students were able to connect it to the books that they had read in Language Arts, Number the Stars by Lowis Lowry and Extra Credit by Andrew Clements. They were also able to connect the metaphor of books as a bridge to peace and understanding to their previous discussions of bridges across cultures.
“To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own.”
When Kimeli, a Maasai tribesman and medical student at Stanford University who happened to be visiting the United Nations in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, returns to his Masai village shortly after the 9/11 attacks, a child asks him what stories he has brought with him. After sharing the story that “has burned a hole in his heart,” he asks the elders for permission to give the one cow that he has to the Americans because “to the Masai, the cow is life."
When the American ambassador comes to the village, the Masai present him with not one, but fourteen cows “because there is no nation so powerful that it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”
Students in grades 4 and 5 discussed how the poignant gift of 14 cows by the Maasai tribesmen bridges cultural differences and exemplifies empathy. We also learned about Ubuntu - humaneness- a philosophy of life that emphasizes showing empathy for fellow humans. This concept is often demonstrated in African customs through actions of compassion.
During the read aloud, students were captivated by the illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez and how they helped to tell the story. They wondered how this story became a book and what happened to the cows.
We watched the following video from the 2009 National Book Festival to learn more about the making of this picture book and the gift from the Maasai.
To learn more about 14 Cows for America, visit the book's website here.