- Age Range: 8 - 13 years
- Grade Level: 4 - 7
- Lexile Measure: 630L (What's this?)
- Series: Calf Named Brian Higgins
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: One Elm Books (August 1, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1947159003
- ISBN-13: 978-1947159006
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Customer Reviews: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #949,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Calf Named Brian Higgins: An Adventure in Rural Kenya Hardcover – August 1, 2018
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About the Author
In 2005, Kristen Ball became the first westerner to live in Sauri, Kenya, after she was awarded a scholastic grant. She now teaches middle school in Connecticut. A Calf Named Brian Higgins is her debut novel.
"Truly epic" - Laurell K. Hamilton Learn more
6 customer reviews
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A Calf Named Brian Higgins covers a lot of territory and many global and social topics while it’s an engaging, heart-tugging story bound to leave the readers a little teary at times and sincerely humbled at others. Tucked seamlessly into the story-telling in a skillful avoidance of info-dumps, facts about world hunger, poverty, and health have a greater impact than a simple reporting of the facts.
Hannah makes friends, tries the local cuisines, and goes quite a long time between showers as she learns why her Uncle Brian adores this area and people. Proud, happy, helpful people aid Hannah as she journeys between cultures, trying her hand at crafts and visiting a local school and health clinic. While her mom helps at the clinic, her dad stays in America, unwilling to venture into the world that his brother loves so much.
This is a sweet must-read for anyone, from middle-school to adult, who would like to open their child’s eyes or have their own eyes opened and to feel for just a moment a little bit dusty and thirsty. The story is so engaging and the lessons so real, I don’t think anyone can put this book down and leave its lessons behind.
Very sweet, very pertinent, very engaging. Highly recommended.
I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
A Calf Named Brian Higgins: An Adventure in Rural Kenya
By Kristen Ball
Thank you to @kidlitexchange for sharing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
This is such an important book. It provides the reader with an amazing sense of place. You can feel the heat, taste the dust and see the mosquitoes that Hannah encounters on her visit to a small rural Kenyan village. You feel Hannah’s sadness when she attends school and because there are no pencils or paper, learns the children must do their math in the dusty earth with only a stick. You experience her shock and surprise that often there is no water for a shower and the school children’s only drinking water must be fetched in a bucket from a faraway stream. You feel her amazement when she learns that her new friends have no glasses to help their vision and very little medicine if they become ill. And most importantly you understand Hannah’s determination to help her new friends and to find solutions to their problems, even though she is only thirteen years old.
This is a great read aloud that will spark a conversation about the inequities in our world, and about what each of us, young or old, can do to end poverty. It includes the author’s story of why she wrote the book, as well as her experiences visiting Kenya, along with pictures of the children she encountered. I definitely recommend this July 1st release be added to elementary and public library collections.
I recently met local author Kristen Ball, who turned her experiences in rural Kenya into a middle grade adventure called A Calf Named Brian Higgins: An Adventure in Rural Kenya. The story centers around Hannah Higgins, a thirteen-year-old who accompanies her mother to Kenya in order to help out her Uncle Brian. He works at ICRAF, The World Agroforestry Center in Kisumu, which is an organization that helps build sustainability programs in developing nations.
Hannah is from the United States and she has multiple instances of culture shock as she gets used to the idea of a place where it’s a cause to celebrate when no one dies from hunger for a year, malaria is a fact of life, and running water is a luxury. The description of the country’s setting is stark and realistic, the characters interesting, and the storyline compelling and complex enough to captivate middle grade readers.
Landing in Nairobi airport, Hannah starts out by noticing how the things she’s always taken for granted are missing. For example, her Uncle Brian is absent, having been delayed meeting them at the airport because of a broken-down bus. Hannah and her mom have to make their way to their hotel without him.
The next day, Hannah and her mom take a small plane held together with duct tape to the small town of Kisumu. From there, they head to their lodgings for their three-week stay, a guest house run by the motherly Grace Mutuo. Uncle Brian arrives, and he takes Hannah to visit the town of Sauri where he works. Hannah is amazed at the poverty and lack of hygiene in Kisumu and Sauri. Water and electricity are infrequently supplied, and the clinic is often lacking medicine to help the residents, although the doctor does the best he can. The schools have no books for the students, and many of the children have nothing to eat at lunchtime.
Hannah is as motivated as her Uncle Brian to help. She starts a lunch program for the students at the school and quickly makes many friends. But when tragedy strikes, Hannah has to discover if she has the same humanitarian spirit as her Uncle Brian to carry on helping others even through her personal loss, or if grief will overcome her good nature.
I really enjoyed reading A Calf Named Brian Higgins and learning about the details of life in rural Kenya from a young outsider’s perspective. The language was well done, especially the incorporation of broken English and Swahili into the dialogue and narrative. Hannah is an easy character for readers to identify with; she’s friendly and outgoing, enjoys her family and friends, and is quick to learn and adapt to new situations. But she has flaws, too, which make her human – too much change can be overwhelming for her, she can sometimes act selfishly, and she can lash out without meaning to when she feels vulnerable. Her character reacts both well and badly to stressors, and part of her story arc is her finding out her own limits, both physically and mentally.
If I had a critique, it was only a small thing that stood out to me: I felt that Hannah cried too much. As a reader, I could understand her strong emotional reaction to events and situations that seemed new and different to her, but she seemed to cry just as easily for important events, such as the death of a loved one, as for small problems, such as disliking a meal she was served. I would’ve preferred her to have some more stoicism – otherwise, her tears seem to sometimes take on a “crocodile” aspect. If she cries over everything, then nothing in particular strikes the reader as significantly tragic.
But overall, I really enjoyed reading Ms. Bell’s debut novel. It was an interesting experience reading at a middle grade level – I read books to my kids all the time, and I think this is one that they would find fascinating and that would stick with them. The story was engaging from beginning to end and, even as an adult reader, I learned a lot about rural Kenyan culture and lifestyle.
I look forward to reading more work by Ms. Bell and hopefully reading it to my kids as well.
This review was originally published in the magazine Bewildering Stories, Issue # 776.