Winters, Kari-Lynn, illustrated by Stephen Taylor. Gift Days. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside (2012). Ages 8 up. ISBN-10 1554551927; ISBN-13 9781554551927.
Young Nassali longs to learn to read and write like her brother, Baaba. But since her mother’s death, Nassali is responsible for looking after her younger siblings and running the household. There is no time for books and learning. Then one day, she wakes up to discover that her chores have been taken care of. It is her first gift day. From that day on, once a week, Baaba gives Nassali the gift of time so that she can pursue her dream of an education, just as her mother would have wanted.
This book is also raising money for the charity Because I am a Girl, a social movement to “unleash the power of girls and women to claim a brighter future for girls in the developing world” through education and women’s rights; already enough money has been raised to send 10 girls to school in Uganda for a full year (see Brock News, Education prof launches new children’s book, helps a cause).
Read more about this book at Wikipedia.
Kari-Lynn Winters is an author, poet, and performer. She is Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario, where she teaches drama-in- education. She is the author of Buzz About Bees.
Stephen Taylor has illustrated numerous children’s books, including educational publishings over a span of 20 years. He studied at the Ontario College of Art. He is also a fine artist who has showcased his art at Toronto arts festivals, including the Caribana art exhibits at the Royal Ontario Museum. His titles include Rise of the Golden Cobra, Cakewalk, and One More Border: The True Story of One Family’s Escape from War-Torn Europe. Mr. Taylor was born in Dulwich, England and currently resides in Toronto, Canada with his wife and son.
- 2013: Finalist, BC Book Prize (“Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize“)
Recommended Books: CBC’s Here and Now has chosen Gift Days as one of four Recommended Children’s Books for December! From cbc.ca/hereandnowtoronto/2012/12/19/recommendations-for-childrens-books/:
Gift Days, by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Stephen Taylor (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, ages 8+). – In another story set in Uganda, Nassali longs to go to school, but after her mother’s AIDs-related death, she must take over the responsibility of running the household. Eventually, Nassali’s older brother volunteers to do her chores one day a week so that she can learn how to read, as their mother would have wanted.
- CM: Canadian Review of Materials 19:24 (February 22, 2013), online at umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol19/no24/giftdays.html:
Review by Ellen Heaney
“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.
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 too 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.
- Midwest Book Review 23:1 (January, 2013), online at midwestbookreview.com:
The harshness of life in many nations around the world denies youths the chance to reach their potential. “Gift Days” tells the story of young Nassali, an African girl weighed down with chores without the presence of her mother. Wanting to learn, but not having the time to, she looks up to her brother who can go to school. When her brother frees her from chores once a week and helps teach her what he’s learned, she finds ways to improve her and her family’s future. “Gift Days” is a moving story on the power of education and its place to uplift society, a choice addition to children’s picturebook collections with an international focus.
Sal’s Fiction Addiction (February 10, 2013), online at salsfictionaddiction.blogspot.ca:
“Kojja told her, “Prepare the breakfast, fetch the water, and take care of your sisters. After that, you can be the scholar.” Jjajj told her, as she wove
raffio baskets with the other grandmothers, “Prepare the lunch, fetch the firewood, and pull the weeds in the cassava field. After that, you can be the scholar.”
It is all that Nassali really wants…to be able to attend school with her older brother and the other boys of the village. She listens to their talk, and admires their learning. Sometimes, she even pretends that she is at university in one of Uganda’s top schools.
Her job since the death of her mother is to be in charge. Every day, the same old chores. One night, when she knows that her brother is finally asleep, she takes his school book and tries to teach herself to read its message. Tired from a full day’s work, she is soon fast asleep.
Baabawe takes his book back, while also recognizing his sister’s dream of an education. The next day she takes her sisters with her while she follows her brother to school and listens outside the school window. It is a long trek in the hot, hot sun. But, she is excited about what she hears.
That night she cries to her grandmother and her uncle that she wants to go to school, too. They will not hear of it. A surprise is in store the following morning…all her chores are done for her. She has time to practice letters in the dirt. She remembers them from reading her brother’s book.
There are even more surprises in store for Nassali. And then, she surprises everyone else!
Despite a United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child — “You have the right to a good quality education. You should be provided with an education and encouraged to go to school to the highest level you can” — there are many children around the world who are not afforded that right, especially young girls. There are numerous reasons for this lack of education. A note at the back of the book explains why, and what is happening in Uganda in particular. Naasali’s experience of no school is shared by far too many.
- American Library Association’s Booklist Online (December 21, 2012), at booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=5872296:
Review by Ilene Cooper
In a Ugandan village, Nassali fetches water, does the chores, and takes care of her sisters. What she’d like to be doing is going to school with her brother, Kojja. But since her mother’s death from AIDS, it’s Nassali’s job to run the household. Still, she tries everything she can think of to learn, from teaching herself reading to following her brother to school—an hour’s walk—just to sit outside the classroom window. Nothing gets her closer to her goal, however, until Kojja gives her the gift of time: one morning a week, he does the chores so she can practice reading and writing. The final spread shows a triumphant moment: a now-grown Nassali receiving a college acceptance letter. The gauzy artwork, reminiscent of the work of Floyd Cooper, captures busy village life, but, more often, the solitary moments, where Nassali can do no more than hug a book to her, hoping to somehow bring its knowledge inside her. The final informative spread, with photos, explains what life is like for Ugandan children trying to get an education.
“Books for children: Gift Days,” by Brenda Hoerle. The Record (December 14, 2012), online at therecord.com:
Gift Days, by Kari-Lynn Winters. illustrated by Stephen Taylor (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $18.95 hardcover) — Nassali is a young African girl whose mother has died of AIDS, leaving her in charge of the family’s house. But she dreams of getting an education, like her older brother, Matovu.
Caring for her sisters and doing her daily chores leave Nassali little time. And her family can’t afford uniforms and school supplies for both her and Matovu.
But when she can, Nassali sits by the school window. listening to the teacher’s lessons.
After she voices her frustration, her brother decides to take action because, “Maama would have wanted it this way.”
One day a week, he wakes early — on gift day — to do all of Nassali’s chores so she can spend time with him learning to read and write. And thanks to his support, Nassali eventually realizes her dream.
Toronto author Kari-Lynn Winters and illustrator Stephen Taylor shed light on the plight of countless girls in impoverished countries and shows how education can be life-changing for them.
Included with the book is information about organizations committed to supporting girls like Nassali.
- “The Gift of Education,” by Julian Kitchen. Brock Education Journal 22:1 (November 2012), pp. 1-2, online at brock.scholarsportal.info:
One of the greatest gifts is the opportunity to learn. Many, blessed with rich learning opportunities at home and in school, take this for granted. Many here and around the world are not so fortunate.
Gift Days, a picture book by children’s author Kari-Lynn Winters (2012), is a powerful reminder of the limits to educational opportunity and a testament to how caring individuals can give the gift of learning in even the most adverse circumstances. Nassali, an African girl unable to attend school, fulfils her wish to read thanks to the gift days offered by her brother, Matovu. As educators, we are uniquely positioned to provide young people with gift days of wonder, knowledge and understanding.
“Please Matovu, tell me what the squiggles say,” Nassali asks in Gift Days. In the first article in this issue, “The Missing Tooth: Case Illustrations of a Child’s Assembled, Out-of- School Authorship,” Kari-Lynn Winters draws on theories of social semiotics, New Literacy Studies (NLS), and critical positioning to explore how a child’s modes of meaning-making and socio-cultural environment can contribute to literacy and, ultimately, authorship. Through this powerful and deeply personal piece involving interactions with her young son, Winters invites us to think of the gift of literacy in ways that take into “account children’s social lives, their personal relations and connections, and their authentic ways of creating and communicating meaning.”
Nassali says, “I will teach myself to read” but is unable to do so until she receives help. Most of us learn better when other adapt the lessons to our the lives we lead. In “Food Chains, Frenemies, and Revenge Fantasies: Relating Fiction to Life in a Girls’ Book Club,” Nancy Taber, Vera Woloshyn, and Laura Lane explore the complex ways in which the girls negotiate their everyday lives by studying discussions about Dork Diaries in a book club. While the girls were capable of reading the book on their own, the structured activities helped them “illuminate their own lives, giving the group the opportunity to critique food chains, frenemies, and revenge fantasies. In each case, the girls first validated and then critiqued these aspects of their lives, moving away from an unquestioned acceptance of meanness in the food chain.” This article reinforces the importance of educators as guides to deeper forms of literacy, social understanding, and authorship among learners.
“Maama always said an education is the path to a better life,” Nassali recalls in Gift Days. Parents and teachers are powerful influences who can help students along that path. In “Honouring Roles: The Story of a Principal and a Student,” Jerome Cranston explores the principal-student dynamic through a narrative inquiry into his interactions with a student during his time as a principal. Cranston argues that “school leadership should be focused on developing the relationships that support student and teacher learning rather than narrowly concentrating on technocratic approaches to managing things.”
Every day is a potential gift day. Teacher educators are blessed with the opportunity to prepare teachers who can make a difference in the lives of children. The final three papers are testaments to the possibilities when teacher educators strive to deeply engage teacher candidates.
Teaching is a challenging profession, especially for teachers motivated to go the extra mile for their students. John Vitale, in “The Perfect Storm: Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout in the Secondary School Music Classroom,” reminds us that we must take time to care for ourselves in order to offer students the gift of education. Vitale investigates the stress, anxiety, and burnout he experienced teaching music. For Vitale, transitioning from teacher to teacher educator, this process was valuable preparation for his future role. He writes, “I have much more insight and knowledge into the demanding role of the secondary school music teacher, which I can pass on and share with my students.”
Lorayne Robertson and Janette Hughes are interested in developing critical literacy and promoting social justice. In “Surfacing the Assumptions: Pursuing Critical Literacy and Social Justice in Preservice Teacher Education,” they examine how new literacies and technology- supported learning can be directed toward social and educational change. As they puzzle over their successes and struggles pedagogical innovators, they realized that new literacies and technologies need to become central themes in the learning of teacher candidates, not just vehicles to support critical literacy and social justice. This is a gift that may lead to better days for teacher candidates and the students they will eventually teach.
To make each school day a gift day, Nancy Maynes and Blaine E. Hatt argue in “Shifting the Focus to Student Learning: Characteristics of Effective Teaching Practice as Identified by Experienced Pre-service Faculty Advisors,” teachers “need to make each instructional decision on the basis of its impact on student learning.” In this article, they identify and examine instruments and processes for teacher growth. In their ongoing work, they are exploring ways of identifying these characteristics in hiring and developing them in teacher education and professional development.
In Gift Days, the gift of education led Nassali to university. I hope that the articles in this issue of Brock Education will inspire us as educators and teacher educators to make each school day a gift day.
- Gift Days Review, in CanLit for Little Canadians, by Helen Kubiw, posted at canlitforlittlecanadians.blogspot.ca/2012/12/gift-days.html (December 29 2012)
On the heels of a holiday season which many treat as gift days, Kari-Lynn Winters’ newest picture book, Gift Days, from Fitzhenry & Whiteside exemplifies the true nature of a gift. It is not a present given on a statutory holiday or to commemorate the anniversary of one’s birth. It is a heartfelt sharing of something that is and will be cherished, freely and without expectation of reciprocity.
Gift Days takes the reader to Uganda where a young Nassali is expected, since the death of her mother, to prepare the meals, fetch the water and firewood, and look after her younger sisters, the weeding and the washing. The expectation for Matovu, her older brother or baabawe, is to attend school and learn lots. But Nassali dreams of learning to read and write and going to school.
“Maama always said an education is the path to a better life.“
Knowing that “Maama would have wanted it this way,” Matovu begins to complete Nassali’s chores one morning a week so that they can spend time practising reading and writing. These special days become her Gift Days.
By emphasizing Nassali’s desire to read and write and become educated, rather than the custom that she take on the household responsibilities upon her mother’s death from HIV/AIDS, Kari-Lynn Winters takes Gift Days from the hardship of a young girl’s life in Uganda to the story of a young person determined to find the means to succeed, albeit with constraints. Kari-Lynn Winters notes in her afterword that, although Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that every child has the right to a good quality education, many do not have access to it by virtue of geography, economics, health and traditional responsibilities. Gift Days provides the hope that an education is within the realm of possibilities for everyone and anyone, even if that education is not provided in a traditional school setting. Artist Stephen Taylor’s rich illustrations evoke both the warmth and starkness of Nassali’s life but his final illustration of an adult Nassali, so simple and encouraging, takes the story to a reassuring and bright resolution, just as her future appears to be.
- Children’s Book Review – Gift Days, by Barbara Spurll, posted at barbaraspurll.blogspot.ca/2013/01/childrens-book-review-gift-days.html (January 14, 2013)
“That’s my school book!”
“Please Matovu,” said
Nassali, “tell me what these
He didn’t answer. Instead he
held out his hand- waiting.
“Gift Days” is about overcoming obstacles. In this tale, a young girl, in spite of her determination to learn to read on her own, is only able to realize her dream through a special gift from a loved one. We learn that gifts of kindness, however small, can make a real difference in the lives of others.
Many children throughout the world, especially girls, due to circumstances beyond their control, do not have a right to an education. Kari-Lynn reminds us through her inspiring story that education is indeed a gift to be treasured.
Stephen Taylor’s charming mixed media illustrations, many with monochromatic backgrounds are a good match for the story. One of my favourites is the lovely vignette-like illustration of Nassali, who has fallen asleep embracing her brother’s textbook.
- Introduction to Kari-Lynn Winters and Gift Days, by Julian Kitchen (Nov. 2012)
We are very lucky to have, on faculty at Brock, art educators who are also artists in their own right. Kari-Lynn is a popular and prolific children’s author. She and her colleagues on the arts team are committed to the arts, arts education, and scholarship.
Kari-Lynn, my friend and colleague, writes children’s books that are playful and thoughtful. Her writing is informed by an understanding of how children learn. Her stories also celebrate the world in all its quirkiness and wonder. Gift Days is both a continuation of Kari-Lynn’s work and a departure. The humanity of her earlier books is combined with a sense of purpose that affected me deeply when Kari-Lynn read it to me. That reading, Kari-Lynn, was a gift day for me.
Gift Days is a reminder of the limits to educational opportunity and a powerful testament to how caring individuals can give the gift of learning in even the most adverse circumstances. Nassali, an African girl unable to attend school, fulfills her dream of learning to read, thanks to gift days from her brother. Our society celebrates heroes who go to great lengths to achieve or help others. While there is need for stories of outstanding heroism, we also need more stories like Gift Days that depict everyday heroes engaging in small yet significant acts of kindness that make a difference in the lives of others.
As teachers, we are blessed with countless opportunities to make a difference in the lives of children. We make that difference through our character, the way we care for students, and the attention we give to each student’s intellectual and moral development.
Every teacher can be an everyday hero. Every day is a potential gift day.
- Review by Brittany Baird, student:
Gift Days is an eloquently written story of courage and perseverance that will be sure to touch your heart and inspire future generations. Its powerful silver lining is compelling with the capacity to foster readers to critically analyze their world and actively work towards social justice – changes that build the foundation of a just world that begin with believing in oneself. The discussions and actions that will potentially transpire from exploring this story are limitless, making it a must read!
Kids and teacher resources
“Girls are the answer, and so are you.” Learn more about empowering girls worldwide at Because I am a Girl, becauseiamagirl.ca.
CBC Radio’s “All Points West” with Nikki Tate, discussion of Gift Days, March 25 2013
Brock News Around Campus, March 25, 2013 (read online)
Assistant Professor’s illustrated book shortlisted for BC Book Prize
Kari-Lynn Winters, Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education, has seen great success in her most recent illustrated children’s book Gift Days.
Stemming from a successful book launch last November, Winters’ latest work has received high praise, most recently being shortlisted for the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize at this year’s BC Book Prizes.
“It is a distinct honour to be nominated for the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize,” said Winters. “Especially because British Columbians write and illustrate many incredible books.”
Having lived in and travelled extensively through British Columbia for 10 years, Winters says the province will always have a special place in her heart.
“There is a vibrant and active book community there and I know that the judges must have had a tough decision narrowing it down to five nominees,” she said.
Held on May 4 in Victoria, BC, the BC Book Prizes have been awarded in since 1985 and have seven different categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, regional, children’s literature, illustrated children’s literature and bookseller’s choice award.
Presented annually at the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala, this was the last year that Winters was eligible.
Brock News Around Campus, November 22, 2012 (read online)
Assistant professor launches new children’s book
Kari-Lynn Winters latest children’s book, Gift Days, could not have been more appropriately titled.
Launched in early November at Brock University’s Hamilton campus, the book is about a young African girl, Nassali, who dreams of an education, but due to the circumstances of having to take care of the household and raise her younger siblings, it simply was not an option – until she received a gift from her brother.
And much like the gift Nassali received in the book, 10 Ugandan girls will be receiving a similar gift.
“It was beyond my expectations,” said Winters of the book launch. “We raised enough money to send 10 Ugandan children to school for a full year.”
Winters said the idea for the book came to her while she was completing her PhD; with a course in multimodal literacies, and more specifically African literacies, acting as the launching pad for what is now a 32-page picture book.
“The one thing that kept coming up was that at the end of a long day, the males in Uganda were able to sit under the jackfruit tree and talk to each other and the females never got this opportunity,” she said of how the story’s shape began. “The girls do so much work they aren’t often able to go to school—and that’s where the story stemmed from.”
Fitzhenry and Whiteside Publishers’ Christie Harkin was one of the supervising editors for the book and was immediately impressed upon reading the story for the first time.
“It was really moving,” said Harkin. “It wasn’t preachy; it’s the story of a girl and even though she’s a universal character, she’s still just one girl.”
Harkin says that they are trying to take their picture book line in a direction toward global citizenship awareness and Winters’ book fell into that category.
“When she came with her book it was really good – she did a lot of research and made sure she knew her topic.”
With almost a year of research put into the book, Winters ensured that there would be a noticeable accuracy in all aspects; from the language to the images to the smallest of details.
“But, I am not the only author on this project,” says Winters. “It takes a team to put it together.”
When Kari-Lynn spoke about authorship she conceived it broadly, including all the staff at Fitzhenry & Whiteside Publishers as well as the illustrator, Stephen Taylor — a Toronto artist, whose beautiful, realistic pictures capture the essence of the book perfectly. Winters also gave credit to the Ugandan scholars who helped her vet the book for accuracy, including three people from Uganda — Samuel Andema, Elizabeth Namazzi, and Jalia Kangave.
“Their input was not only helpful, it was crucial for cultural accuracy,” says Winters.
Although defined as a children’s picture book, the universal story reaches much further than a young child.
“You can use for this book for a grade 2-3 classroom but if you want to delve into more sophisticated issues such as children’s rights, critical literacies, equity, or health education it can be used in high school or adult education classes as well,” said Winters. “I knew I wanted to have it access a wide range: a lot of people don’t know about sophisticated picture books.”
The Brock News, November 23, 2012 (read online)
Education prof launches new children’s book, helps a cause, by T. Mayer
The title of Kari-Lynn Winters’ latest children’s book, Gift Days, is a poignant one.
Launched in early November at Brock’s Hamilton campus, Gift Days is about a young African girl, Nassali, who dreams of an education. But after the death of her mother, Nassali must take care of the household and raise her younger siblings. That rules out school until her brother gives her the gift of time — days off housework duty — to pursue her dream.
Thanks to money raised at the Gift Days launch through book sales and donations, 10 Ugandan girls will be receive a gift similar to Nassali’s. They’ll be able to attend school for a full year. In total, $260 was raised for the charity Because I am a Girl, which aims to better the opportunities of girls and women throughout the world.
“It was beyond my expectations,” Winters said about money raised. “We are all super excited to be giving gift days to these girls.”
It was a course in multimodal literacies, specifically African literacies, while Winters was completing her PhD that inspired the 32-page picture book.
“The one thing that kept coming up was that at the end of a long day, the males in Uganda were able to sit under the jackfruit tree and talk to each other and the females never got this opportunity,” she said about how the story began to take shape. “The girls do so much work they aren’t often able to go to school and that’s where the story stemmed from.”
Supervising editor Christie Harkin of Fitzhenry and Whiteside Publishers was struck by the story the first time she read Winters’ manuscript.
“It was really moving,” Harkin said. “It wasn’t preachy. It’s the story of a girl and even though she’s a universal character, she’s still just one girl.”
Harkin says the publishing company hopes to make its picture book line about global citizenship awareness and Winters’ book helps achieve that.
“When she came with her book, it was really good. She did a lot of research and made sure she knew her topic,” Harkin said.
Winters spent nearly a year doing research for the book, ensuring she was accurate in her storytelling right down to the smallest of details. Ugandan scholars also vetted it for accuracy.
“Their input was not only helpful, it was crucial for cultural accuracy,” Winters said.
She was also grateful to her team of editors and Toronto illustrator Stephen Taylor for helping put the book together.
Although it’s children’s picture book, Winters said the universal story knows no age.
“You can use for this book for a Grade 2-3 classroom, but if you want to delve into more sophisticated issues, such as children’s rights, critical literacies, equity or health education, it can be used in high school or adult education classes as well,” she explained. “I knew I wanted to have it access a wide range. A lot of people don’t know about sophisticated picture books.”
Kari is available to visit schools, libraries, birthday parties, workshops … Please see more about author visits.