A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
APRIL 20:

  • Happy birthday Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn, Tamsen) and Mary Hoffman (Amazing Grace, Princess Grace).
  • It’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 “Strange Fruit” 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 2012. 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 fiction’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 “You come here to make a new life, / but the old life is still haunting you.”

But as Kek struggles with the unfamiliar, he finds one thing in the landscape he can hold on to—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 Kek’s devotion to a cow, who reminds him of his life before America. Although information about the Sudan and Kek’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 – “Mama, I say, / welcome home.”

At one point Kek says to his cow, “If you can moo, you can sing.” This novel sings—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:

SNOW

 

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.

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Originally posted April 20, 2015. Updated for .

Tags: African American, Animals, Cows, Multicultural, Politics
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Home of the Brave
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COMMENTS

  1. Gabby says:

    I don’t get to read your blog every day but always make an effort to catch myself up. I am so thrilled to see this book on here!!! The language is so beautifully descriptive, and I believe all readers of this book, young and old, would come away deeply touched by Kek’s story. I think it is such an important book for kids to read, to learn the impact of events that seem so very far away from the affluence and relative calm and safety of the U.S., and just to learn compassion. I cannot say enough about this book! Thank you for including it in your blog!

  2. DBay says:

    I profoundly love and appreciate this site. Thank you, sincerely, for doing it. Meanwhile the part-time editor in me must let you know that The One and Only Ivan was actually published in 2012, not 2007 (and therefore won the 2013 Newbery Medal). Typos happen to the best of us. Cheers!

  3. Anita says:

    Thanks for catching this. Change made.

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