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Tribe's gift to Americans inspires author's latest book
Author Carmen Deedy will read her new book, “14 Cows for America,” on Tuesday at Brenau University.

Debut and reading of ‘14 Cows for America

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Pearce Auditorium, Brenau University, 500 Washington St. SE, Gainesville
How much: Free, but seating is limited

Even sad stories can have happy endings.

That’s the lesson learned by author Carmen Deedy while writing her latest book, “14 Cows for America.” It tells the story of a gift — 14 cows, to be precise — given to the American people by the Maasai tribe of Kenya, who were moved by the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Deedy will read her story at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Brenau University’s Pearce Auditorium, just days before the book is officially released and also in advance of the anniversary of 9/11.

It’s a story, she said, that inspired her as soon as she read newspaper accounts of it. And although she didn’t necessarily see it turning into a book, it was a story that intrigued her.

“I was very affected when I read (about) it,” she said. It was right after Sept. 11 — six or seven months — and everyone was just so very raw. ... Writers, musicians, most of us were not even considering creating art from that day’s carnage. It seemed obscene.”

But the story of a remote tribe in Kenya tugged at her, and eventually she pulled the newspaper clipping out of her idea file and started to do some more research.

It seemed the Maasai tribe valued cows more than anything. One tribe member, who had been studying in the United States and was actually in New York on 9/11, came back to his tribe months later and was so moved he decided to give his cow to the American people as a gesture of his sadness.

Other tribe members were moved to do so as well, and before long 14 cows, the symbol of life in this village, were given to America.
Deedy wrote the story as a children’s book, and said while the topic stems from a sad event, it doesn’t mean kids should be shielded from the story. “If you think about it, children’s literature has dealt with very grim topics,” she said. “It’s only in the last half century or so that we have taken a more insular view of children’s literature.”

It’s about keeping the topic appropriate for the age, she said, and keeping in mind that children are not blind to anger and meanness.

“Children do know there is cruelty in the world, there is loss in the world, there is pain and grief,” Deedy said. “And I think when we give them stories of hope, we offer them strength.”

That means children are welcome to the reading, where they can take in the lush illustrations and hear the story of generosity from a village that has no electricity, schools or grocery stores.

In fact, Deedy said, children are always welcome to her readings. The readings by the Cuban-born author can sometimes resemble performances, with Deedy taking on the roles of her different characters and occasionally using different voices, expressive movements and accents.

Her other books include “Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale,” “The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark,” “The Secret of Old Zeb,” “Agatha’s Feather Bed: Not Just Another Wild Goose Story” and the audio book “Growing Up Cuban in Decatur, Georgia.”

But no matter your age, “14 Cows for America” is one of inspiration and selflessness, she said, rising from the ashes of a tragedy.

“Injury causes pain, and we are stunned when it happens. We tend to crawl into a shell to deal with our pain, and I think (9/11) made Americans feel very isolated and confused,” she said. “And here comes this small tribe from thousands of miles away, and they present us with this unexpected, unsought, unimagined gift of generosity and humanity.”