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My Rows and Piles of Coins
Mollel, Tololwa; E. B. Lewis (illus.) My Rows and Piles of Coins. New York: Clarion Books, 1999. $15.00, ISBN 0-395-75186-1.

Note: A Tanzanian boy saves his coins to buy a bicycle so that he can help his mother carry goods to market, but then he discovers that in spite of all he has saved, he still does not have enough money. (CABA Winner)

In 1995 author Tololwa Mollel and illustrator, E.B. Lewis created Big Boy, a charming fantasy about a Kiswahili-speaking child with magical powers. Named an Honor book by the African Studies Association, the picture book provided a realistic framework for the boy's mythical adventures in and around a Tanzanian town. Their delightful new collaboration, My Rows and Piles of Coins is also set in Tanzania. In this story, the protagonist is a Maasai boy, living in a rural northern area. Drawing on his childhood, Mollel has fashioned a story that is universal in appeal and particular in details. Most children's books about the Maasai reinforce stereotypes by highlighting exotic information about the lifestyles of cattle-keeping Maasai. This book provides a refreshing look at the more typical experiences of a family engaged in farming and trade. Father grows an export crop (coffee), mother markets other crops, and their son Saruni helps them both, especially his mother. Using an old squeaky wheelbarrow he hauls his mother's beans, corn, pumpkins and other crops to market. Industrious and thrifty, he saves the coins he earns helping mother, patiently waiting for the day he can buy the bicycle he has his heart set on. Periodically he counts his coins, placing them in rows and piles. Eventually, he gets a bike but it is not new and it comes to him in a surprising way. He shows no disappointment. He is delighted he has a bike of his own, one that he can use to help his mother. This is a wonderful book to share with children. The setting is authentic, the characters are admirable, and the resolution is inspiring and noble. Saruni is a boy to emulate. Like his parents, he is kind, generous, and good-natured. The story also presents opportunities for discussing a number of topics. We learn, for example, that some parts of Africa are chilly during North America summers, that women play important economic roles in the family and community, and that a bicycle can be an important economic asset. Lewis' muted illustrations complement and extend the text. As always, his careful research of place and people is reflected in his pictures. A glossary of Maasai terms and author's note about Tanzanian currency complete the book. Every elementary school will want a copy of this one.

Copyright © 1999 by Africa Access, all rights reserved. Africa Access permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and Africa Access Review. For any other proposed use, contact AfricaAccess@aol.com

Rating: HR Grade: P Type: Book

Reviewed by: Brenda Randolph, Africa Access

Subject: Black author / Tanzania / East Africa / Fiction / CABA Winner