Eric Walters, Author
Eugenie Fernandes, Illustrator
Tundra Books, Fiction, 2013
Suitable for ages: 6-9
Themes: Kenya, Poverty, Disability, Orphan Crisis, Hope
Opening: “Muthini watched his grandmother stirring the big pot. He knew there would be not much to eat. But whatever there was would be shared equally among her nine grandchildren. They lined up, oldest to youngest. Muthini was last…Using the two fingers of his right hand he scooped up some porridge.”
Synopsis: Muthini and his grandmother, Nyanya, live in rural Kenya near the mountains. Nyanya barely makes enough money to support nine orphaned grandchildren. Muthini, whose name means “suffering” is the youngest and was born with no fingers on his left hand and only two on his right. He is teased by others. When he asks his grandmother why he as fewer fingers she tells him “we are each given more of some things and less of others.” ” It is so sad that other children only have ten fingers when you have a larger heart, a bigger brain, and greater spirit.” One day his grandmother realizes that she is too old to help Muthini. She takes him to a special residential home/school for children without families, where he meets the director. Gabriel, looks at Muthini’s hands and only sees his potential. But Gabriel will only accept Muthini if he changes his name to Baraka, which means blessing.
Why I like this book: Eric Walters’ story is about a real boy named Baraka and his grandmother, Grace. His text is very lyrical and heartwarming. His extraordinary story begins by showing Muthini’s disability as a misfortune. But Gabriel focuses on Baraka and his great heart and spirit. Baraka is a blessing and not one who suffers. Eugenie Fernandes’ acrylic illustrations are done in soft browns and yellows hues and capture both the emotion and spirit of the story. He gives great detail to facial expressions.
Resources: There are five pages of back matter about Baraka and his grandmother. Walters shares information about the Mbooni Region of Kenya — the poverty, famine and disease which leaves 500 children orphaned. He chronicles his 2007 visit with photographs of Grace and her family, their meager living conditions and the region. Walters response to what he sees by founding The Creation of Hope, a residential care center for children. You can read about Eric Walter’s work in the book and on his website. Make sure you check out the page devoted to the Creation of Hope.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.