Picture books have an uncanny way of bringing memorable stories to children of all ages. Most fit conveniently into one fiction genre while others fall into multiple genres that are fiction, nonfiction or a blending of the two. My Heart Will Not Sit Down (written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Ann Tanksley, 2012) combines historical events and multiculturalism with a unique message.
The author was inspired by the idea that an African country made a nominal donation to New York City. Mara created a story that goes hand-in-hand with this memorable fact and in the process blends fact with fiction.
The time period is the early 1930’s, during the Great Depression. The reader is instantly thrust into a remote African classroom in Cameroon with an American teacher. After the teacher tells his students about his “village”, New York City, the children easily connect with the concept of hunger. Daily life in Cameroon is filled with many struggles.
The main character, Kedi, takes her interest one step further by trying to find a remedy for the hunger in New York City. Kedi approaches others for help. Despite the village’s poverty and initial reluctance, the impoverished community raises money. They send $3.77 to New York City.
The universal message of people caring about others is a major thread to the story. The fact that residents of a struggling Third World country would reach out to the people in America should not weaken this underlying message. A lack of communication in the 1930s prevented the villagers from knowing what life was truly like in America. The Depression caused significant hardship in America, but the standard of living was still considerably better than life in Cameroon. It is not known whether an understanding of the socio-economics would have changed the community’s perception. Regardless, compassion should never be controlled by economic status.
The author’s note provides other instances of altruistic behavior toward the poor and the starving. This could be a starting point for further discussion or research on this topic.
The bold and lively pictures add to the underlying message. This heartwarming story can launch a series of other important topics.
- History- the Great Depression and life during the 1930s
- Communication before current technology
- Compare the Great Depression to the current recession
- Economics of difficult times- poverty, soup kitchens, and food banks,
- African culture- dress, housing, and lifestyle
- Bulu expressions
- Geography- locating different countries in Africa and their relationship to the US
- Concepts- compassion, understanding, commonality between people, generosity, and charity
- Looking for solutions to problems- (Can people make a difference?)
- People or groups that help other people
- What motivates people to contribute to charity?