Adults and Teens Can Find Inspiration in These BooksIt has been quite some time since I last felt compelled to proclaim, “You must read this book,” to anyone and everyone I meet. But as this year’s season of thanks approaches, I have encountered just such a story — that of East Lansing resident, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, and his work with the AIDS orphans of Uganda.
The Price of Stones
By Twesigye Jackson Kaguri
$25.95 Viking PressWhen I first picked up The Price of Stones, I was vaguely familiar with the AIDS crisis in Africa. I had heard the staggering statistics: Uganda (roughly twice the size and population of the state of Pennsylvania) has an estimated 1,200,000 children between the ages of 0-17 orphaned by AIDS. The numbers are horrifying, but it wasn’t until I read Kaguri’s book that those orphans became more than numbers. They became living children with faces and stories—stories that made me cry and stories that made me rejoice in the indomitable human spirit. The Price of Stones is the story of Twesigye Jackson Kaguri’s journey to become the founder and director of the Nyaka and Kutumba AIDS Orphans Schools in Uganda. Kaguri was born and raised in the village of Nyakagyezi in southwestern Uganda. Through determination and because of considerable academic ability, he was able to graduate from Makere University and become a visiting scholar at Columbia University. He remained in the United States, married and eventually had a son. Though he loved his life in America, Uganda and his family continued to be extremely important to him, and he frequently journeyed home in order to visit with and help his loved ones in anyway that he could. Kaguri was filled with sympathy for the victims of the AIDS crisis. He was astounded that so little was being done to help. If a tragedy of this proportion happened in America, people would demonstrate in the streets. But here amid the peaceful rolling hills and quiet farms, death crept silently from house to house, taking a mother here and a father there … Frail bodies fought to stay alive in tiny mud daub houses, unseen and uncounted, dying in silence. In surrounding hospitals, mothers sobbed as their HIV-positive children were snatched away. (Kaguri, 2010) Eventually, the crisis touched him personally with the death of his beloved older brother, Frank — a man who had taught him to “do what you can, little brother” to ease the suffering of others. When Frank died from slim, the Ugandan term for AIDS, he left behind a wife and three children with little means of support but who were among the fortunate ones as they still had family left alive on whom they could depend. “In Uganda,” Kaguri explains, “uncles accept responsibility for orphaned nieces and nephews. The problem by this time was that even uncles were dying from slim.” During a visit home to Uganda with his wife, Beronda, in April 2001, his resolve to “do what he could” was hardened, and together with Beronda, he decided to build a school for AIDS orphans. Using the money that they had saved for a down payment on a house as well as the help and donations of friends and church groups, Nyaka AIDS Orphans School was officially opened on Jan. 2, 2003. The road to creating Nyaka School was not smooth. Kaguri faced the opposition of some friends and family members, overcame the corruption rampant in the Ugandan government, fought the superstition surrounding slim and triumphed over circumstances that would have caused a lesser man to despair. His optimism, faith in God and belief in the ability to “free orphans from the cycle of poverty” is evident in every page of The Price of Stones, and the tone throughout is one of hope and promise. When I finished the book, I felt overwhelmed by gratitude for the life that I, and my family, are blessed to live in this country and in awe of what “one person with a modest idea” is capable of accomplishing. If you read anything this holiday season, make it The Price of Stones by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri.
Anna Mei: Cartoon Girl
By Carol A. Grund
$8.95 Pauline Kids Press
Ages 9-12Local author Carol Grund’s first novel, Anna Mei: Cartoon Girl, is the first in a series featuring 11 year old, Anna Mei Anderson. Anna Mei and her parents have recently moved from Boston to Michigan to be closer to family. Anna Mei loved her life in Boston as much as she loves the color pink and is devastated at the thought of leaving. Starting sixth grade in a new school in a new state frightens her, and she worries about how kids will react to the fact that her tall, blond and blue eyed parents had adopted her from the Hunan region of China when she was eight months old. Her worst fears are realized when Danny, a fellow sixth grader at Elmwood Elementary, jokingly asks her “why she’s named after a cartoon,” playing on the similar pronunciation of her name and the word for the Japenese-style of animation, anime. Anna Mei is mortified and runs from any encounter with Danny and his “cartoon girl” nickname for her. She runs right to a group of girls who refer to themselves as the Ponytails after their love of horses and hairstyles. Anna Mei decides to hide her love of science, the color pink and lukewarm feelings about horses in order to “fit in.” She soon learns, however, that pretending to be someone she isn’t is too high a price to pay to “belong” and that life in Michigan may just turn out OK — if she gives it a chance. Grund creates a memorable and likeable character in Anna Mei. Children of adoption or who have recently moved will feel a special connection to her, and any girl age 9 to 12 will relate to her desire to belong and her fears of being seen as “different.” As a parent of a tween girl, I was especially pleased that the story portrays a supportive and loving family and that it shows a girl successful in her struggle with the peer pressure of fellow girls without resorting to the requisite meanness present in many books written for this age group.
Theresa Bolish Grossman
Theresa Bolish Grossman is one of the three owners of Tuesday Books, which is located at 137 West Grand River Avenue in Williamston. The other owners are Beth Phelps and Justine Dailey.