As a K5 library media specialist, I am always on the lookout for gripping books with substance to suggest to fifth graders. I also want books that bring young readers into worlds where redemption and compassion are themes. Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins is such a book which I had the pleasure to read in a day recently.
Bamboo People is the story of two boys, Chiko and Tu-Reh, in war torn Burma. Each have experience the challenges of a country in turmoil: justice, mistreatment, rejection, revenge, and deception.
Chiko is the story of a young man whose desire is to teach. His father, a doctor has been imprisoned by the military regime of Burma. When he responds to an ad for teachers, he is deceived and captured by the Burmese army. Being forced into the army, Chiko befriends a streetwise boy, Tai. Chiko learns how to fight and face the brutal treatment of training from Tai and in return, Tai learns to read and write.
Chiko’s and Tai’s lives take an interesting turn when they switch places for two tasks in the Burmese army.
Tu-Reh lives a different life. He is a Karenni refugee hiding in the jungle close to the Thailand-Burma border. His village is attacked and burned along with the bamboo fields. He wants revenge. Tu-Reh is thrilled that his father, his “Peh” has finally asked him to go on a mission.
Tu-Reh and Chiko’s lives are about to intersect. When they do, each learns lessons in redemption, forgiveness, and compassion.
I could not put this book down. I had heard many go things prior to reading and was at first, worried it might be too high for fourth and fifth grade. Having read it, I think not, especially fifth grade. I cannot wait to hand Bamboo People to a colleague who has engaged her students with books about social justice in the world. We need more stories about how it is to be a child in other parts of the world. These stories are critical to opening the hearts and geography of my students.
Thank you, Mitali Perkins for bringing the world a tiny bit closer.
Title: Bamboo People
Author: Mitali Perkins
Date Published: 2010
Reading Level: 5th grade and up
Source of Book: Copy from the publisher.