Monday, November 16, 2015

Hope Springs by Eric Walters

Hope Springs by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

Rating: 4.5 stars

The Mbooni District in Kenya is a village far away from our Washington, D.C., suburbs. Hope Springs takes place in that distant, dusty village. It's a story about how people confront the reality of scarce resources, specifically, what does a community do when there is limited water during a drought?
In the story, three children trot off down the hill to a small spring which serves as the lone source of water in the village. Empty water containers bounce along with them. Boniface, Mueni and Charles place their water containers in a long line of containers and begin to play while they wait for their turn at the spring.
A group of angry women comes over to them and interrupts their play. The women shout at them, accusing them of stealing water that is not rightfully theirs. The children might live in the village now, because they reside at the orphanage, but because their families are not from this village, the women believe they should not get any water. They kick the kids’ containers out of line and tell them to leave. Frightened and intimidated, the children run off.
Back up the hill in the orphanage, Boniface, the oldest boy and main character, discusses the specific incident and circumstances of the drought with the houseparents. The houseparents explain that the women acted out of fear more than aggression. The women are afraid there will be no water—and therefore no life—for their own families, their own children. The orphanage is digging their own well, the houseparents explain to Boniface; soon, they will have enough water and no need to visit the overcrowded spring.
And, despite the uncertainty of what one finds under our feet, the orphanage soon has a well and does not need to go to the community water hole. Instead of celebrating, Boniface is bothered by the fact that the orphanage has more water than the rest of the community. Despite the fact that the women from the village were so mean to him, he believes the orphanage should help them and their families.
The houseparents, moved by Boniface’s generosity and kindness, agree—and they insist on letting Boniface himself lead the discussion with the villagers. Boniface gulps down his own fear and finds the right words. Soon, with hard work and teamwork, the villagers turn the little spring into a deep well. Because of the kindness of one boy named Boniface, there was water, and, therefore, life—for everyone. And there still is.
This is a story based on a real event. This fact floored my children, who have recently lived through water issues in our own home and, because of that, can appreciate the fear of living without water and the need for a new well. The characters are based on real children and photographs of them are in the afterward. My second grader was in awe, and I, a former Peace Corps Volunteer, wonder how this story might creep into her clever brain and big heart and inspire her.

If you want to shrink the world, open up a book. If you want your child to visit a world far away from his or her own, or begin to understand that some children’s days are very different, get a book like Hope Springs into your childrens’ hands. You never know what might happen.

This book was originally reviewed for Washington FAMILY Magazine. To see the original review, please click HERE.

Friday, November 13, 2015

When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt

When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
HMH Books for Young Readers

Rating: 5 stars

Cardell the coyote had "a mostly wonderful life. He had a perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy." They both adored him. The thing was, that they were no longer together. Cardell mostly lived with his mama, but sometimes he spent time with his daddy and step-mama and new stepbrother, Little Frankie. They all got along pretty well.

On the other side of the desert, Cardell lived with his mama. One day, their neighbor Otis came to pay a visit--with flowers in his paws--to his mama. "Cardell felt a grrr in his throat." But his mama was smiling.

There had been other suitors before Otis, but none lasted. Otis was different, though. In addition to paying attention to mama, he kinda courted Cardell, too. Otis made prickly pear pudding with Otis. He showed the little coyote how to pounce super high. The grrr didn't come as often.

Then one day, Otis told Cardell stories. The funniest stories! They "settled on Cardell's fur like a warm blanket." Soon, Cardell was as smitten with Otis as his mama was.

And Cardell's "mostly wonderful life" got a little bit more wonderful.


Kathy Appelt does a fantastic job of making a sweet story out of something quite sticky. If you're a child of divorce like me, you know that the the idea of stepparents is necessary and good on the one hand, but difficult and sad on the other.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference for the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators and had the chance to listen to Kathy Appelt speak. My daughter is a huge fan of her chapter books (The Underneath and True Blue Scouts of the Sugarman Swamp). One of the things Appelt talked about was the inspiration behind her stories--how she uses the people and pets she loved most in her life to write stories. Her stepfather inspired When Otis Courted Mama. Her stepdad courted her mother when Appelt and her two other sisters were teenagers--making him a fairly brave man, she now realizes. There were a few things going for him, but it was his funny and wild stories that won over the three girls--and their mama, too.

The world needs a few more books like this one. Their positive messages need to the sad, outdated stereotypes and misgivings found in books like Hansel and Gretel, which I blogged about last week.

As if this book--about an important topic that's done so very well--isn't great enough, it's illustrated by Jill McElmurry, of Little Blue Truck fame!