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AGAINST THE ODDS: How God planned the steps of a girl with deformed feet

Nonfiction

“Rebeka traced the shape of her curled feet through the blanket that covered her and her little sister, ­Medatrece. Everybody was asleep and she needed to go to the bathroom. She wanted to go by herself, without bothering anybody, but she was also afraid. Wild dogs roamed the Rwandan countryside after dark and could easily get into her yard.”

The introduction of Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk by Meredith Davis and Rebeka Uwitonze (Scholastic Focus, ages 10-15) instantly plunges readers into the plight of a 4-year-old with severely deformed feet. To take care of the most basic need, she has to crawl across a dirt yard in the dark, dodging animal waste and praying the wild dogs don’t get her. But that’s only the beginning of her challenges.

The fifth child in her large family, Rebeka Uwitonze was born with a neurological disorder that made her feet curve entirely backward, bent her middle fingers into her palms, and limited the use of her arms. Superstitious villagers suggested someone quietly suffocate her, but her parents knew God had a plan for her. Rebeka grew up with this assurance and a will strong enough to propel her to get up and walk—that is, hobble on the backs of her feet. Such determination would soon carry her through greater challenges.

God doesn’t always reveal His plans, but when Rebeka was 9 years old a series of providential events brought Clay Davis, a Texas businessman, to her village. One of his friends was sponsoring a little girl through a Christian charity called Africa New Life Ministries. The little girl happened to be Rebeka’s younger sister. Rebeka herself had a sponsor through the same ministry: Dr. Rice, who lived in Austin and happened to know the Davises. When Clay returned to Texas and showed Dr. Rice pictures of his sponsored child, the man was stunned. He’d had no idea of Rebeka’s disability. Might she come to America for surgery? 

Thus an improbable chain of circumstances brought an obscure Rwandan girl to the chance of a lifetime, but that was only the beginning. The surgery that began to correct Rebeka’s twisted feet called for months of treatments, therapy, 31 casts, and 58 hospital visits. Every step caused intense pain and required a level of fortitude challenging even for a grown-up. Throughout Rebeka’s year in America, the faith and love of her natural family and the dedication of her host family provided the inner strength to keep going. 

But there’s more. Rebeka’s American mother, Meredith Davis, also happened to be an aspiring children’s nonfiction writer who had already made important publishing connections. Even here, God’s providence was working to get the story into print.

“I was born the way God created me,” Rebeka says in a personal note to the reader. “I endured hard things. If I can do it, you can do it.” With God’s help.

—This story has been updated to correct descriptions of Rebeka Uwitonze’s neurological disorder, the name of her sponsor, and her age at the beginning of Her Own Two Feet.

RUNNERS-UP

All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World

by Lori Alexander 

The curious son of a cloth merchant, young Antony was destined to follow in his father’s trade but with an interesting sideline: lens grinding. Gentlemen of the age that we’ve come to call the Scientific Revolution had been using lenses to explore small things. But Antony had some ideas that would improve the simple magnifying glass and give human eyes the capacity of seeing into a tiny world of living creatures previously unknown. The engaging biography with colorful and winsome illustrations communicates the excitement of those days, when a draper with a middle-class education could blaze new trails into the frontiers of science. (Ages 7-10)

Crossing on Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and a Journey to the New World

by David Macaulay

Before David Macaulay (The Way Things Work) developed a fascination with engineering and architecture, he was a boy growing up in England. In 1957 his father accepted a job in New Jersey, which meant David and his mother and siblings would be crossing the Atlantic on an ocean liner to join him in the United States. To tell the story of this adventure, Macaulay goes back to the early days of mechanized water travel. The detailed drawings (with whimsical touches) and the clear, readable prose make this a treat for budding engineers. The rest of us can marvel at the creative genius God gives to man. (Ages 8-14)

The Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality

by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

In Clinton, Tenn., whites and blacks were friendly as long as the latter obeyed certain unwritten rules: no going into the library or pool; balcony only at the movies. Then came Brown v. Board of Education. Jo Ann Boyce, barely 15, was one of the “Clinton 12” who enrolled in the local high school and became national icons. She tells her own story in a variety of verse forms that give her recollections immediacy, poignancy, and emotional grip. During four tense months at Clinton High, we see faith in her fellow man wavering while faith in God holds firm, to be rewarded in time. (Ages 10-16)

Rocket to the Moon! (Big Ideas That Changed the World)

by Don Brown 

The idea of rocket propulsion goes back hundreds of years, but traveling by rocket is only about a century old. One of the first to try it was Rodman Law of New Jersey. He becomes our narrator for this history of the Apollo Project to put a man on the moon, a dream that was accomplished less than 10 years after its proposal. The graphic-novel format dives into the basic rocket technology and its development by Goddard, von Braun, and others. The dramatic presentation and straightforward narrative make this a story even non–science nerds will find engrossing. (Ages 8-12; note: There is one quoted profanity)

HONORABLE MENTIONS

O Captain! My Captain: Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War shows young readers a side of our nation’s greatest conflict that’s seldom seen. Epic Athletes: Stephen Curry introduces young sports fans to a tough competitor on the court who is also a God-fearing family man. The latest in the Reformation Heritage Christian Biographies for Young Readers series details the life of Julia Gonzaga, a little-known Reformation hero.

—The next story in the Children’s Books of the Year section is “Grace and Poetry.”

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine based in Missouri. She writes novels for young adults, is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series, and reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.