Monday, October 6, 2014

My Name is Blessing and Hope Springs both by Eric Walters, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

 My Name is Blessing is the story of Muthini, a young Kenyan boy living with his grandmother and her eight other grandchildren.  And, though they are poor and often hungry, there is a lot of love in Muthini's home.

The youngest of the cousins, Muthini had been born with no fingers on his left hand and only two on his right hand, and so his mother had given him a name that meant suffering.

One day, his grandmother took Muthini on a long walk to a place where he could hear children laughing and playing behind a gate.  Inside were happy, healthy, well-dressed children, boys and girls.  Muthini became self-conscious of his tattered clothing, his bare feet and his hands.

Here was a home for kids, and although it was very painful for his grandmother to do so, she asked if there might be a place for Muthini, she was just too old and poor to give him much now.  Gabriel, whose home it was, welcomed them, and asked to see Muthini's hands.  Then he told there there was no place in his home, "not as Muthini, not as suffering, but as Baraka, as a blessing" there is definitely a place.

Which pleased his grandmother, who had always seen Muthini as a blessing anyway and she can visit him as often as possible.

This is a simple, straightforward story,  There is not one indication in the portrayal of the grandmother that giving up her youngest grandchild isn't one of the most painful decisions she has ever had to make, but loving him like she does, she knows it is for the best.  Her resources are so severely limited.

But this is also a story about hope and the future, and about how a disability and the child's shameful attitude towards it can be changed under the right circumstances.  Muthini had always hidden his hands out of habit, but the idea that this will be different in the future, is quite clear.

The wonderful expressive illustrations by artist Eugenie Fernandes are done in a earth-tone palette of acrylics, with soft yellows, blues, browns and greens throughout, evocative of the African Savannah, where Kenya is located.   Fernandes also captures the full range of feelings and emotions experienced by Muthini, his grandmother and Gabriel.

There are five pages of back matter about the real Baraka and his grandmother, giving information about which tribe they belong to, the conditions of their home and what life is like for the children who come to live the home (called Creation of Hope) founded with the purpose of creating a better future for the children Mbooni region of Kenya (where Baraka comes from).  The home/school that is the Creation of Hope is a project that author Eric Walters is very involved in (you can find out more by clicking the link).

In Hope Springs, returns to Kenya to tell the story of Boniface.  Boniface live in an orphanage with many other children, and each child has certain chores to do everyday.  Boniface's chore to to go down the mountain with other children and collect water in containers at a little spring some distance away.

But there has been a drought in Kenya and the other people at the spring don't want to share the water with the orphanage, tossing their water containers aside.

Luckily, a well was being dug for the orphanage, but sadly, it was taking a long time.  Each day after school, Boniface raced over to see how the well was coming along.  Finally, one day, the well was deep enough and water starts gushing into it.  The orphanage would at last have all the water they needed.

But Boniface wasn't satisfied.  He went to the orphanage's houseparents, Henry and Ruth, and asked if it would be possible to dig another well by the little spring with the leftover materials.  And so with everyone helping, a second well was dug, providing enough water for the very same people that had refused to share with Boniface.

Both Walters and Fernandes return to the successful format of their book, My Name is Blessing in this wonderful story of kindness, sharing and community.  Boniface lives also lives in a Creation of Hope orphanage similar to the one Muthini was taken to by his grandmother.  Like Muthini's story, Hope Springs is also based on a true story.

Walters manages to tell the story of the wells in an entertaining way.  It is a feat of good writing to be able to tell a story in an entertaining manner while, at the same time, educating the reader about the importance of water where is it scarce and showing how an act of kindness can change a community's life and attitude without sounding preachy or making it didactic.

Fernandes returns to her earth-tone palette of browns, blues, greens and yellows in her lovely acrylic illustrations.

At the back of the Hope Springs, are a number of pages about the real Boniface, the problem of drought and the lack of water in Kenya and the work being done to help alleviate this situation.

Hope Springs and My Name is Blessing are excellent companion books and make thoughtful, inspiring read alouds, though given the subject matter they are really picture books for older readers.

Eric Walters has written over 92 books, including novels for kids of all ages and topics, yet he still finds  time to remain active in the Creation of Hope project.

My Name is Blessing and Hope Springs are recommended for readers age 7+
My Name is Blessing was borrowed from the NYPL
Hope Springs was an EARC received from NetGalley

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