I’ll admit I didn’t expect to like this book when I first picked it up. It’s on my school’s summer reading list and the 2014 Rebecca Caudill nominee list. However, I must admit it was a pleasant surprise. I found myself caring for the characters far more than I thought I would, and the book gives good insight into a culture most of us never pay attention to.
The book takes place in Burma (which is now often called Myanmar). My initial limited knowledge of Burma came from the fact that I once played Tuptim in a production of The King and I. Tuptim was a “gift” from the King of Burma to the King of Siam. Yep, limited knowledge.
I started to learn a bit more about the country when working on research projects with my students. The students needed to research a leader (political, religious, business), and the school librarian suggested I use Aung San Suu Kyi as an example because none of the kids would probably pick her. If you’re not familiar with her, she’s a civil rights activist in her home country of Burma/Myanmar. Her dad was actually one of the key players in Burma’s independence from Great Britain. Now Suu Kyi demonstrates peacefully for a democratic government in her country. (Unfortunately, they went from being ruled by Britain to being ruled by a very militaristic government.)
This story opened my eyes to an entirely different struggle for the people in Burma.
Author: Mitali Perkins
Genre: contemporary fiction
Age group: YA
Synopsis: The story begins from the perspective of Chiko, a Burmese boy whose father was taken by the government. He is not allowed to read anything not approved by the government, so he hides his father’s stash of books. He and his mother live in fear and hunger, so he decides to answer a newspaper ad looking for young men to become teachers. When he arrives, he is swept off into the military like many other boys his age. The boys are told they must be patriotic and fight to rid their land of the Karenni, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma. Halfway through the story, we switch perspectives. We follow the story from the perspective of Tu Reh, a young Karenni boy whose home was destroyed by Burmese soldiers.
To tell anymore of the story would give too much away. I’m not sure yet how kids will react to the story, but I found it to be a fascinating look into a very different culture.