CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 28 . . . . March 27, 2015
Life in rural Tanzania provides the setting for this simple story about an amazing gift.
Anna is a young student in a "little schoolhouse at the end of a dusty road". Much of her day and that of the other pupils is taken up walking long distances back and forth from home. One day something wonderful happens; a 'Bicycle Library' brings a chance for a new kind of life with the delivery of a truckload of bikes for the students.
Unfortunately, there are not enough to go around. Anna doesn't get a bike, but she is still pleased for the other children.
Anna's good will is rewarded when, running after the bikes on their homeward journey, she is offered a chance to double with Mohammed who leaves her with his bike because she has farther to go. Mohammed agrees to meet her for the ride to school the next day.
Brian Deines has often used his illustrative talents to depict stories of North American First Nations life, but here his rich oil paintings, with their solid figures and warm palette, are very much up to the task of giving readers the sense of life in Africa. The joy of the children who have received a life-changing gift leaps off the pages. Ontarian Alma Fullerton, who is the author of a number of works including picture books and young adult novels, has provided a spare text that touches neatly on all the key points of the story.
Although not designed only as a teaching tool, In a Cloud of Dust would be useful in a classroom discussion of how children live in surroundings not familiar to Canadian children. There is an end note about bicycle libraries, which really are functioning in various places in the world, and some of the organizations which make them happen.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children's librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.
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