________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 1 . . . . August 29, 2008

cover One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference.

Katie Smith Milway. Illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2008.
32 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-55453-028-1.

Subject Heading:
Microfinance-Africa-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2 and up / Ages 7 and up.

Review by Danya David.

**** /4


Kojo and his mother live in a village in the Ashanti region of Ghana. None of the twenty families in the village have very much money, but they do have a good idea.


Twenty families live in a dusty town in Ghana. They sleep in mud-walled homes and cook over an open fire. They’re generally hungry, and own little more than the clothes on their backs, but these villagers are noble, innovative, and armed with a shared vision.

     One Hen tells Kojo’s story — the pursuits of a young village boy who quits school to earn money after his father dies. He and his mother, a resilient duo, are entrusted with a loan procured through the collective efforts of the village families. Kojo’s mother gives her son a small portion of this money, and with it Kojo buys a hen. Within a year, Kojo has grown an entire flock, a venture which soon necessitates the skill and knowhow of other people. The burgeoning positive interdependence among the villagers who work with Kojo and his flock of hens sets the ball rolling for a chain of events that enables the villagers to strive for a viable reality which involves being their well-fed and educated. Through Kojo’s earnest initiatives, the whole area begins to generate productive transactions, and, in no time, Kojo’s flock of hens becomes the largest farm in the region. The town is transformed into a sustainable and productive community. One Hen is based on the life of Kwabena Darko who, through the help of one small loan, built up a chicken farm and enabled an entire region of Ghana to flourish.

internal art

     This inspiring picturebook, written by Katie Smith Milway and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, is praiseworthy on many accounts. Teaching a lesson without sounding didactic can be a challenging pursuit. We are not always in the mood to be taught. Many children’s stories walk the fine line of the moralizing all-in-one tale yet One Hen expounds various lessons with great subtlety, craft, and force. Milway’s writing is warm but minimalist, free of the common imagery of romanticized peasant life. She uses nursery rhyme toolery to draw home the story’s essential meaning. Reference to nursery rhyme structure (specifically “This is the House that Jack Built”) strikes a universal chord and implies the endurance of Kojo’s story, itself: it is noble in its ordinary-hero core, and is here to stay, just like the rhymes.

     One Hen is not an escapist story — far from that. It is emphatically grounded in reality, offering citizens and lawmakers advice on how to encourage sustainable economic development, effectively explaining the process of microloans through an empowering life story example. The story offers advice on how to be resourceful and look after yourself in a way that addresses the needs of your family, your larger community, and the human desire to live in a dignified manner. The back of the book provides names of organizations and websites which discuss practical ways that readers can affect change, just like Kojo did. One Hen also teaches, refreshingly, that money can be a very good thing when it is used for good means.

     Eugenie Fernandes’s illustrations complement the somewhat-sparse writing with warm and vibrant colors, the graceful brush strokes evoking the shapes and textures of the Ashantian town. Her style is folkloric- both decorative and conceptual. There is a magic-realist quality to her scenes, with papaya halves floating through sky, chickens dressed in women’s clothing, and book pages that act as a classroom floors for children.

     On one hand, One Hen pays homage to the vision and the hard work of Kwabena Darko, who, as the narrator explains, now facilitates a microlending system that offers people in developing countries with no access to traditional banking processes the chance to improve the fate of their communities. At a larger scale, however, One Hen is a tribute to the potential resilience of sustainable societies.

     One Hen could easily serve as a multifaceted classroom tool, drawing on numerous curriculum links, including community responsibility, macro and micro economics, math, and geography, for example, at both elementary and high school levels.

Highly Recommended.

Danya David is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature program at University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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