I read hundreds of picture books a year as a children’s librarian, and My Heart Will Not Sit Down by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Ann Tanksley is one of the truly unforgettable books of 2012 for me. Kedi lives in Cameroon and her teacher is from America. He tells Kedi and his students about the Great Depression that is causing people to go hungry in his homeland. Although America is far away “across the great salt river”, Kedi feels compassion for the hungry children and her heart will not sit down. She finds a way to raise money in her small village, a village where money is scarce, to send to those in need in the United States.

The author’s note at the end is what really got me. This book is based on a true event. “In 1931,” Rockliff writes, “the city of New York received a gift of $3.77 to feed the hungry. It came from the African country of Cameroon.” She goes on to explain that although $3.77 wasn’t a great deal of money even in the 1930’s, “for the villagers in Cameroon who sent it… the money would’ve been a fortune.” The beauty of this village of people hearing of suffering elsewhere and sharing what little they have is so moving. Rockliff writes about the worldwide experience of compassion: children in Guatemala collecting cans to raise money when they hear about the hungry children in Malawi, the Papua New Guinea islanders sharing food with the American Peace Corps volunteers. Generosity and compassion are qualities we can all embrace, not just the lucky few of us with money in the bank and food in our pantries.

I’d share this book with 1st graders on up to high school students, but I’d make sure the little ones understood that the “great salt river” Kedi talks of is the enormous Atlantic Ocean. To hit the Common Core State Standard of Integrating Knowledge and Ideas,  pair this with 14 Cows for America by Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah and Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez and talk about ways the global community can care for each other. No matter what the economic situation of the community we live in, we all have the ability to help someone. Brainstorm with students about causes dear to our hearts – animals, people in need in a certain area of the world, the environment – and think of a way that we can help. One year my third grade students helped to make a quilt that we donated to a local shelter in need of blankets, and the generosity of our class inspired other families to give pajamas and even a bed. Share My Heart Will Not Sit Down and see what good things it can inspire!

For more information, visit mararockliff.com, or  carmenagradeedy.com.

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