Shana Burg helps us see and learn about young students in Malawi, Africa. She brings to life the hardships that so many children and families in other countries experience. Burg shows us the resilience, creativity and shared laughter and joy of these children as they find solutions to problems and issue in their daily life.
We follow a young girl from America, Claire, who is traveling with her father and will be living in Malawi for a short while. It is not the place a young teenage wants to be – away from friends, cell phones, TV, movies – you name it it will not be found in this new town.
Claire is also suffering from the loss of her mother and is sure this is not the place to be. She needs her friends. She is refusing to talk with her father in hopes he will see the error of his ways and return them to the USA.
Bit by bit we learn about the culture and people through Claire’s miss steps and as she slowly develops friendships with the students in her very different school. A school with few books, no pencils or notebooks and where writing tools are found outdoors when needed. ( Sticks make great pencils in the dirt.)
This book sets up so many small adventures and moments that would provide opportunities for discussion with students. Claire deals with loss of a parent, as do the children in her new school. She deals with a bully in her classroom and how to navigate rules and expectations that are so very different from her life in America. She finds herself very sick at one point and realizes the difference in health care she receives as an American and a doctors daughter to that of her fellow students in her Malawi classroom.
This middle grade novel is a perfect place to engage students in learning about people and cultures around the world. Taking a look at Burgs web site (http://shanaburg.com/books/) would help students see how real life events can develop their own writing. Burg has taken events from her life and learning to develop this fictional text.
Teachers: It would be great to start this book with a B-K-W-L-Q chart from J.Allen or by setting up pages in their Read and Respond journal. (Building Background, What do I know?, What do I want to know?, What did I learn? What new questions do I have? ) There is so much to think about as we follow Claire and her new friends this would be one way to help your students focus on the changes that Claire makes in her thinking and feelings as they read or listen to this wonderful story.
Shana Burg also has a second book titled A Thousand Never Evers. If you like her writing you might want to check this one out as well.