Thursday, January 19, 2012

Burn My Heart by Beverly Naidoo

Burn My Heart by Beverly Naidoo (Amistad, 2007)

Summary from publisher:
Mathew and Mugo, two boys -- one white, one black -- share an uneasy friendship in Kenya in the 1950s.  They're friends even though Mathew's dad owns the land and everything on it.  They're friends despite the difference in their skin color.  And they're friends in the face of the growing Mau Mau rebellion, which threatens British settlers with violence as black Kenyans struggle to win back their land and freedom.  But suspicions and accusations are escalating, and an act of betrayal could change everything.

Burn My Heart, along with a few other books I've read recently, are working together to remind me how US-centered most of my reading is.  I know incredibly little about life in Africa, either present-day or in the past.  Through the reading I'm doing for both the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Award and the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, I'm learning more than I ever thought I would.  I'm picking up books I would have walked past not so very long ago.  My students and I are richer for it.

It's not that I purposely avoided books about Africa (or India or China, for that matter).  It's just that the subjects I like to read about tend to be American and European history and contemporary romantic fiction.  I understand I need to read broadly in order to talk to my students about books, and I honestly thought I DID read broadly, until this year.  NOW I understand what that means.

Burn My Heart is a story of friendship, betrayal, and rebellion.  In many ways, I wish it were a YA book instead of a middle grade one.  I wanted to know more about Mugo and the struggle for Kenyan independence.  I appreciated how Naidoo wrote about complex issues in a way fifth or sixth graders could understand, and perhaps even decide they want to learn more about.

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