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Katherine Paterson, the author of THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA has a new novel entitled THE DAY OF THE PELICAN, which deals with the impact of war. Paterson was inspired to write her latest book based on her encounters with a Kosovo family who was sponsored in the United States by her church in Vermont.

The historical notes at the end give a quick, but detailed, overview of the history of the region and will help children and adults alike to understand the upheavals and turbulence of this area.

Why I recommend this book for my students: THE DAY OF THE PELICAN looks at the Kosovo struggle through the eyes of Meli, a middle school student who feels responsible for her brother’s sudden disappearance. When she gets in trouble during class and has detention, her older brother, Mehmet, walks home alone – against their parent’s wishes. Even after he is located, still alive, she continues to feel liable.

I would recommend the reader look at a map of that region and perhaps even read the historical notes at the end of the book before reading. Paterson inserts much history into the beginning of the novel to set the stage and it might help a younger reader to stick with the book into chapter two. Another alternative is to use THE DAY OF THE PELICAN as a family read aloud with older elementary students, so parents can summarize and explain the history as they go.

The clashes between the Albanians and the Serbians impact the family early on and cause a change in their lifestyle. As the novel opens they have a nice home and are business owners, but piece-by-piece their livelihood is diminished. The story follows them as they are displaced and then forced to flee their homeland. Traveling with their uncle’s family and ailing grandmother, they face many hardships along the way, including having to transport Granny in a wheelbarrow across the mountains and living in deplorable conditions.

THE DAY OF THE PELICAN will help children (and adults) see how war disrupts peaceful people’s lives. I want my students to read this so they can develop an understanding of how a middle-class family ends up without food or money in a desperate attempt to keep one another safe.

As a young mother, I met a teen who had escaped from his war-torn country in the Middle East. My children and I would visit with him in our church’s basement, helping him plan his future in Canada while he was still mourning the loss of his family. THE DAY OF THE PELICAN reminds me of this boy who, through no fault of his own, was displaced from his home and family and forced to rely on the generosity of others in order to find a spot where he would be safe.

Paterson’s novel can help enlighten those who do not understand the struggles of immigrants. It shines a beacon on the plight of children and their families impacted by war by illuminating Meli’s journey and focusing on the path she and her family were forced to follow. I highly recommend this book because of Paterson’s ability to make a conflict that seems so far away to many become one that is immediate and real.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Dec. 11th, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
Another friend was just telling me about this book. She liked much of what you liked, but said she had a hard time seeing the main character as a full, rounded character - not that she didn't like the book, just that she felt a bit of distance there. Do you agree?
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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