Kid Konnection: Bamboo People
Things are dangerous in Burma. When Chiko’s father was taken away to prison, he asked Chiko to take care of his mother. So far, Chiko doesn’t feel like he’s doing a very good job, since he and his mom don’t have enough money to pay the rent, eat well or send to support his dad. When Chiko sees an ad for teachers, he’s anxious to go apply, since he can read and write in both English and Burmese. If he can get the job, things will improve for him and his mother. When he goes to apply for the job, he discovers that it’s a trick and he and all the other “applicants” are rounded up and forced to become boy soldiers. Chiko and a young street boy become unlikely allies.
Tu Reh is a young Karenni boy. Burmese soldiers have forced him and his family out of their home and into a refugee camp across the Thai border. Tu Reh and his best friend, Sa Reh are consumed with anger and they’re anxious to exact revenge. Tu Reh’s father is a well regarded and peaceful man – when he selects Tu Reh to accompany him on the camp’s latest mission, Tu Reh is ecstatic.
Chiko’s and Tu Reh’s lives intersect at a violent and surprising moment, changing them and their families forever.
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins is an absolutely amazing book! I’m not sure I’ll be able to adequately express just how much I loved it and how important I think it is. It’s impossible to read this book and not be affected. I felt a range of emotions from anger and sadness to joy and hope. Chiko and Tu Reh are such different characters but I became attached to both of them and rooted for them along the way, especially when their lives came together in such a violent and unexpected way. This book really made me think about the fact that it can be easy to be taught to hate a group of people, but it’s much more difficult to hate an individual. It made me think about the way power and greed can corrupt people and ruin the lives of so many. It made me wonder how we can let things like this go on in our world and what can be done about it.
Don’t let the YA label of this book fool you. There is much in Bamboo People for adults, as well as children. I learned so much as I read it, and also want to know more now. (I admit to knowing very little about Burma before I read this book.) Mitali Perkins includes several notes in the back of the book and tells readers that in 1989, the military government of Burma changed it’s name to the Union of Myanmar, however, the US, the UK and Canada as well as other nations refused to recognize the new name. Not all that long ago, Burma had one of the highest literacy rates in Southeast Asia, but things have been declining there for years. Now, the country is poor with the second worst health system in the world. Burma has the largest number of child soldiers in the world and these young soldiers are taught to hate ethnic minorities . To learn more about Burma and to find discussion questions for the book, visit bamboopeople.org and watch this CNN video:
For more children’s books reviews, go to Booking Mama’s feature, Kid Konnection. If you’d like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children’s books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, leave a comment as well as a link on her site.