________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 24. . . .February 22, 2013


Gift Days.

Kari-Lynn Winters. Illustrated by Stephen Taylor.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-55455-192-7.

Subject Headings:
Brothers and sisters-Juvenile fiction.
Schools-Juvenile fiction.
Uganda-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Ellen Heaney.

*** /4



“For the girls who, because of their circumstances, carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.”


This dedication [above], by author Kari-Lynn Winters, sets the tone for a story of a Ugandan girl’s struggle to get an education.

internal art     Nassali longs for a chance to go to school, but because her mother has died and there are four other children in the family, she, as the eldest girl, is burdened with household chores. She watches the only boy in the family go off to class, and she plays teacher to her younger sisters, but when she voices her desire to learn, too, she is told that her cooking and cleaning tasks come first. Then follows the refrain “This is the way it’s always been”. After hearing this again from several relatives:

That night Nassali waited for her brother to fall asleep.

‘I will teach myself how to read,’ she murmured. To keep herself awake, she bit down on her bottom lip.

At last, she heard [Matovu’s] steady breathing. She crept closer, loosened his grip on the book, hid in the corner of her mud-brick home, and opened it. The feel of the rough paper brought a smile to her torn, chapped lips.

Nassali tried to memorize each squiggle, but exhaustion took over and she fell asleep.

     Brother Matovu, recognizing Nassalli’s desire to read, starts to help with the chores one day a week and to teach Nassali what he has learned – the “gift days” of the title. An epilogic last page shows Nassali at a desk, having been accepted as a student at Makarere University, writing a letter of thanks to her brother.

     Two pages of end matter describe the lack of access to education in Africa due to cultural barriers, poverty and disease. This situation applies to many children, but especially to girls. There is also information about the section of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child applying to education.

     The author teaches children’s literature at Brock University and has written a number of other picture books (Runaway Alphabet, On My Walk). Her straightforward narrative, using a select number of Lugandan words, offers a window into the contemporary rural culture of Uganda (including the Nassali’s child-like reference to “the [clearly fair-skinned] researchers…who came from far away and always wrote on the whitest paper”).

     Stephen Taylor, a seasoned book illustrator (One More Border, Music From the Sky) places solid human figures in colourful modern dress against a sepia background. The poses are generally sympathetic, although a few are rather stiff, and middle younger sister’s head never sits quite right on her body.

     For the subject matter alone, this book belongs in all primary school and public library collections.


Ellen Heaney is the Head of Children’s Services at the New Westminster Public Library in New Westminster, BC.

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

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