These two picture books will open children's eyes to what is involved in helping the poor in Africa, and may get them excited enough to want to get involved. Both are aimed at children 5-9, so you might wonder, what could such young children do to help anyway? Well, as these two books show, even a very little can go a long way... if it is used creatively and industriously.
Now there are some clear similarities - both are beautifully illustrated, and both present poverty-fighting ideas that have been proven effective. But they have very different strengths. The first - Beatrice's Goat - is the better written, with a tight, engaging story. The second - One Hen - present the newest and perhaps most effective means of helping: Micro Finance Loans.
by Page McBrier
illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter
Atheneum Books, 2001, 40 pages
This is the story of a little African girl named Beatrice, and how she, and her mother and five younger brothers and sisters all came to live in a "sturdy mud house with a fine steel roof." The house is new, as is the blue wooden furniture inside, and it's all because of a goat named Mugisa.
The goat was a gift but one that required quite some care. A pen had to be built, and each day food had to be brought, and water fetched from the stream, and of course Mugisa had to be milked too. It was this milk that changed Beatrice's life. Not only was it an important source of nutrition for the family, to help them grow stronger and be more healthy, but there was enough left each day to sell to neighbors and friends. So because of Mugisa and her milk, Beatrice was able to get the money needed for her to attend school! And Mugisa was a gift that kept on giving. When she gave birth to two kids, after they grew into adult goats themselves, the family sold them and was able to use the money to build their new home.
This gift of a goat is an example of charitable giving which is, as they say, not a hand out, but rather a hand up. Mugisa required care and work, but allowed the family to greatly improve their situation. World Vision is involved in this type of charitable venture, so if, after reading this book, your children want to become involved, they can go to http://donate.worldvision.org/ and donate an animal to a family in need. A goat might be a bit expensive, at a cost of $75 US, but 3 ducks can be given for just $18, an amount that an excited determined child could raise with just a little help from mom and dad.
The book is beautiful and attractively written, and it tells a story well worth hearing.
One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference
by Katie Smith Milway
illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
Kids Can Press, 2008, 32 pages
It's another beautifully illustrated picture book, and is based on a true story. Kojo is a small boy from Ghana who has to help his mother take care of the family after his father dies. He is fortunate enough to get a small loan - a micro loan - with which he buys a hen, and by selling her eggs he is soon able to pay off the loan, and buy more hens. Through hard work he eventually builds up his flock until it provides him and his family enough money to feed them, and send Kojo to school.
Each page has 100-200 words of text making it a book most suitable for grade one or two - it is quite text heavy for a picture book. But the book is designed so that it can be read to younger children too, with each page including, in a large font, a one line summary. One example: "These are the eggs that Kojo sells from the hen he bought"
A problem with this book is that the longer text is written in a stilted passive style. Definite improvements could have been made quite easily. For example, here's a line from early on in the book:
"Kojo tugs the knot tight and hoists a bundle of firewood onto his head... As Kojo nears the house he can smell his mother's fuju cooking, their main meal made from cassava and yams. He begins to walk faster."
It's a strange choice the author made, and one that could easily be improved on. Why not make it more active?
"Kojo tugged the knot tight and hoisted the firewood onto his head... As Kojo neared his house, he could smell that his mother was cooking fuju, a meal made from yams and cassava. He started walking faster."
See, how hard was that?
That means this is probably not going to be the sort of book your children will ask you to read to them again and again, but it is still a wonderful educational resource that will teach them about an important way we can help the poor in Africa, via Micro Loans and MicroFinancing. Because these are very small loans it is, again, easy for a child to get involved - almost anything they raise or give can be used to help someone. World Vision is also involved in this type of charitable giving, and you can find out more about it by looking for MicroFinance on the menu at http://donate.worldvision.org/.