fiction favorites…Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

I just read this book last week and am very eager to share it with you all!    

“Cattle” (an excerpt) 

In my class,
my long-name class
called English-as-a-Second-Language,
we are sixteen.
Sixteen people
with twelve ways of talking.
I look at our faces
and see all the colors of the earth –
brown and pink and yellow and white and black…
Ms. Hernandez
tells everyone my name
and my old home.
Then she asks us
to draw a picture
on the black wall
to show where we come from.
I draw a bull with great curving horns,
like the finest in my father’s herd.
But it takes me a while
to decide on his coat.
In my words
we have ten different names
for the color of cattle.
But the writing chalk is only white.

“Helping” (an excerpt) 

My aunt had looked so weary.
I wonder how I can help.
In the cooking fire room
are many dirty dishes.
Ganwar said the machine for washing
was in the way-down-at-the-bottom-of-the-stairs-room.
Maybe that’s what his
basket is for.
Carefully I place the
cups and saucers and plates
in the basket.
Then I carry the basket of dishes
down the stairs
to the room of washing.
I see six white boxes with doors.
Some are making noise.
I find a sleeping one and open the top.
One by one I put the dishes into the hole.
Then I close the top and wait,
while all around me
the machines hum and talk.

 Looking at life in a new homeland called Minnesota, through the eyes of Kek, a young refugee boy from Sudan, is an illuminating experience, sometimes hauntingly sad, other times warmly humorous.

 Katherine Applegate pulls us into Kek’s world beautifully in her book Home of the Brave, with a series of free verse chapters, beginning with his arrival at the airport in the midst of a snowy, cold winter, and his introduction to Dave, a volunteer from the refugee resettlement agency.  Kek moves in with his aunt and older cousin, and begins the process of adjusting to life in an utterly-different world, while he waits for word on the fate of his mother, lost to him in the same long war which has claimed the lives of his father and brother.   This settling in is full of quirky stumbling stones involving clothes-washing-machines and English lessons, moments of heartache when camp after camp reports no news of his mother, and sunny sweetness as Kek gradually makes friends with a collection of warmhearted people who compassionately offer friendship to this newcomer.

This is a book which inspires the best in all of us by giving a glimpse of life through a stranger’s eyes and the difference that kindness can make.  Here in Minnesota, where this story takes place, we have seen an influx of vast numbers of refugees from Sudan, Liberia and Somalia over the past 15 years.  Applegate says in her Author’s Note, “Every time I stepped into that exquisite, dangerous Minnesota cold, it seemed unimaginable to me that people could move to such an impossibly different place, a place where the words are new, the food is new, the culture is new.  And the icicles are most definitely new.  But the heart of Minneapolis is as warm as its winters are cold.  And like so many towns and cities all over the U.S., it was full of people who found ways to say to those newcomers, “Welcome to our home.  We’re glad you’re here.”  A book not just for Minnesotans, but for anyone with a heart for strangers.  It would be appropriate as a read-aloud for children as young as 7, I think.  Highly recommended.