This expressive picture book, based on a real family, lovingly tells a hard story with a twist.
It’s difficult to broach poverty, disability and custody issues in so few pages without sounding maudlin, but Walters manages by speaking simply. Muthini, whose name means “suffering,” was born with two fingers on his right hand and none on his left. Living with his loving but impoverished grandmother, Grace, and cousins, Muthini endures gossip from kids and adults, their disdain etched with as little as a mouth or eyebrow slant. Grace counters that his large heart, brain and spirit compensate for his hands, but love and spirit can’t feed him. Grace tearfully explains that he’ll be better off at an orphanage. Grace’s frankness communicates the difficulty of this choice without condemning Muthini’s disability; when Muthini’s two fingers catch a tear from Grace’s weary face, the poignant gesture is more than enough to communicate their bond. The lines in the characters’ faces are both pained and painstaking, communicating everything from sadness and scorn to joy and relief. Scenes of soccer, school and storytelling intersperse the exposition of their poverty, relieving it of caricature or condescension. A photographic afterword gives background on the real Muthini and Grace, as well as Walters’ Creation of Hope foundation for Kenyan orphans.
With dignity and quiet acceptance, this story illustrates that blessings, like family, can take unexpected forms. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)