In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest blogger: Ethiopian children's books

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I've often wondered whether the people who design the covers of many YA books ever actually read the books themselves.  The cross-legged stance of the girl on the cover of A Corner of White might keep me from picking it up, too.

I've written recently about our friends who are adopting a 1 1/2 year old girl from Ethiopia.  Jean, mom of Eleanor's friend Casey, who will be the big sister, is our guest blogger tonight.  When I asked her if she knew of any international adoption books she'd recommend, she said that instead, they've focused on books which will give Casey a clearer understanding of Ethiopian life (and a little bit of the Amharic language) before her sister arrives.  Here's Jean, with a summary of some of her favorites:

So here are the Ethiopian books I was telling you about.  Hope this is helpful for your blog!

Silly Mammo, retold by Gebregeorgis Yohannes
Silly Mammo is the story of the obedient, if not the most astute, young boy of Weizero (Mrs.) Terunesh.  When Weizero Terunesh finally decides Mammo needs to start helping with expenses, she sends him out to earn a living.  But while obedient and hard-working, Mammo never quite figures out how to bring his earnings back to his mother.  One mishap after another (e.g., carrying money in his hand, falling and dropping the money because he didn't know to put the money in his pocket - upon his mother's scolding that his earnings should be in his pocket, he goes out the next day, finds work and is paid with a bottle of milk . . . which he dutifully pours into his pocket . . . and the story continues with similar mishaps about how to get the earnings back to his mother).  Meanwhile, a beautiful, but mute girl, Tewabech, lives in a nearby town.  Her father heard that she would be cured if she could only laugh and offers her hand in marriage to any man that can make her laugh.  You can see where this is going.  As she sadly gazes out her window, she sees the obedient young Mammo carrying a donkey on his back - another failed attempt to follow the instruction of his mother, at which point she promptly breaks out into laughter.  Mammo is brought into their home and they fall in love.  It's a cute story and Casey enjoys all the silly antics of Mammo.  What's also neat is that it incorporates some Amharic words, so exposes Casey to a few additional words in another language (e.g., Ababa (dad), Weizero (Mrs.), eshi (ok))  Also, in  the version that we have also, the story is printed both in English and in the Amharic fidel (Amharic characters), so she becomes familiar with a different kind of script than the English letters.
A Saint and His Lion tells the story of Tekla, who at birth is determed to be destined for greatness, but ultimately suffers a crippling accident that affects his ability to walk.  While he is bed-ridden, he falls in love with scripture and dreams of becoming a priest.  Despite his disabilities, he attempts to find monks who will teach him to become a priest.  On his way to the monks, he discovers an injured lion and cares for the lion until he is healed.  Thereafter, he settles in with the monks and, upon mastering his biblical studies, he sets out to share the good news of Christ.  But as he is attempting to travel, he falls.   After many attempts, given his bad leg, he simply cannot stand back up.  But the same lion he once saved returns, carries him on his back to safety, and ultimately travels around with him.  Being able to enter villages on the back of the lion does wonders for spreading the word of Christ and opens people's minds to the faith.  Despite his set backs, his good heart and perseverance allows him to achieve the greatness he was destined for at his birth.  

Fire on the Mountain
, by Jane Kurtz
Fire on the Mountain is the story of Alemayu, who is orphaned after his parents died.  He journeys to find his sister, who is working as a servant in a rich man's estate, where he is also able to find some work.  One day, the rich man brags how he is braver than others and can withstand the coldness of the air on the mountain.  Alemayu speaks up and says, matter-of-factly, that he too could withstand such coldness.  Offended that someone would seemingly challenge him, the rich man makes a deal with Alemayu.  If he can withstand one night with only a light shawl on the mountain, he would give him money and four cows, so he would no longer have to work as a servant.  But if he loses, he and his sister would have to leave the estate, never again permitted to work there.  Alemayu accepts the challenge and passes the evening shivering on the mountain, listening to the hyenas in the distance.  When Alemayu returns the following morning, cold but alive, the rich man asks how he did it.  Alemayu responds that he survived by staring at a  fire of a shepherd on a distant mountain, and pretending that the fire was also warming him.  Based on this, the rich man claims that Alemayu lost the bet, on the theory that staring at a distant fire was the same as making a fire.  The rich man intends to prepare a great feast to celebrate his having won the bet.  He tells Alemayu that he and his sister can stay this one night, but they will have to leave the next morning and never come back.  The other servants are appalled at how devious and unfair the rich man acted.  But they spend all day preparing injera and Ethiopian stews for the feast, which fills the estate with the incredible smells of the food for the occassion.  After the rich man arrives, he sits down and waits, but no food is served.  He demands music, and the musician moves her fingers, but no sound emerges.  When he demands to know what is going on, they explain that smelling the food is the same as eating it; pretending to play an instrument is the same as enjoying its sounds.  The next day, the rich man gives Alemayu his cows and money he owes him.

Tsion's Life is not so much a story, as a detailed account of a day in the life of a young girl in Ethiopia.  It provides examples of customs, ordinary daily activities, and cultural examples of Ethiopian life, while teaching some Amharic words in the process.  For example, it tells you how to say palace in Amharic (bet mengest), and then tells of various Ethiopian palaces, like the Lalibela, where eleven churches are carved out of a stone mountain and connected by tunnels. Or it tells how to say mother in Amharic ("enat") and then proceeds to talk about Tsion's mother and what she does for a living in Ethiopia.  It's a good book to use to teach kids about the similarities and differences between Ethiopian and American cultures and experiences.

One other book I thought of, which isn't an international adoption book, but is adoption related, is Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born. It's written by Jamie Lee Curtis, and is a cute story about a young girl asking her parents to tell them about the night she was born, how they received a call that her birth mother was in labor, how they frantically boarded the flight, how perfect she was when they saw her, etc.  I think its a pretty popular book for families who find each other through domestic adoption.

All the best,

And love from me,


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