A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn, Tamsen) and Mary Hoffman (Amazing Grace, Princess Grace).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Dinah Craik (1826-1887), The Little Lame Prince.
- Best birthday wishes to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, opened on this day in 1912. Read The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott and The Fenway Foul-Up by David A. Kelly, illustrated by Mark Meyers.
- In 1916, the Chicago Cubs play their first game in Weegham Park, now called Wrigley Field. Read The Story of the Chicago Cubs by Tyler Omoth.
- Billie Holiday records the haunting anti-lynching song â€śStrange Fruitâ€ť in 1939. Read Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper.
During National Poetry Month, I have been featuring some of the best single poetry volumes of recent years. But today I want to take a look at a free-verse novel, Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate. She is best known for her Newbery novel The One and Only Ivan, which was published in 2007. For me, Home of the Brave remains one of the most compelling books ever written for children about the immigrant experience.
In this easy to read, imminently accessible novel for ages 10-14, Applegate creates one of fictionâ€™s most compelling characters, Kek, a fifth-grade boy who has just arrived as a refugee from Sudan to live in Minnesota. In the Civil War that ravaged his country, Kek lost his father and brother, and his mother remains missing. So like many of the refugees from his area, he was brought to Minnesota to live with his aunt and cousin.
Everything about this strange new world, including the biting, terrible snow, confuses young Kek. He struggles with the strange sounds of a new language. And he learns that â€śYou come here to make a new life, / but the old life is still haunting you.â€ť
But as Kek struggles with the unfamiliar, he finds one thing in the landscape he can hold on toâ€”an old cow that has seen better days. As a member of the Neur tribe, Kek has been a cattle herder, someone who knows and appreciates the value of a cow. And so as he finds a way to care for and eventually find a place for this singular cow, Kek begins to find a place for himself in this new world.
This is one of the books about the immigration experience that has been created in a way that children can understand and respond to. Young readers over the years have understood Kekâ€™s devotion to a cow, who reminds him of his life before America. Although information about the Sudan and Kekâ€™s experience has been placed in the back matter, the facts have also been seamlessly woven into the story. In this character driven book, Kek pulls readers along with his touching and painful story, his hope for a better life, and his assimilation into his new land. And so in the final chapter, when Kek is reunited with his mother, the last words of the book ring true â€“ â€śMama, I say, / welcome home.â€ť
At one point Kek says to his cow, â€śIf you can moo, you can sing.â€ť This novel singsâ€”from the first to last line. And with heart and wit and warmth, it makes the experience of recent immigrants to the United States come alive.
Here’s an excerpt from Home of the Brave:
When the flying boat
returns to earth at last,
I open my eyes
and gaze out the round window.
What is all the white? I whisper.
Where is all the world?
The helping man greets me
and there are many lines and questions
and pieces of paper.
At last I follow him outside.
We call that snow, he says.
Isn’t it beautiful?
Do you like the cold?
I want to say
No, this cold is like claws on my skin!
I look around me.
Dead grass pokes through
the unkind blanket of white.
Everywhere the snow
sparkles with light
hard as high sun.
I close my eyes.
I try out my new English words:
How can you live
in this place called America?
It burns your eyes!
The man gives me a fat shirt
and soft things like hands.
Coat, he says. Gloves.
He smiles. You’ll get used to it, Kek.
I am a tall boy,
like all my people.
My arms stick out of the coat
like lonely trees.
My fingers cannot make
the gloves work.
I shake my head.
I say, This America is hard work.
His laughter makes little clouds.
Originally posted April 20, 2015. Updated for .