When Mitali Perkins spoke at the Children’s Author Breakfast at BookExpo, she talked about how books can be both windows and mirrors: windows in the sense that they let you look in on other people’s lives and cultures, and mirrors in the sense that you can see yourself reflected in the characters. This is a wonderful approach to writing, especially when writing for young readers.
Mitali’s latest book is Bamboo People, a simultaneously tragic and uplifting tale set in modern-day Burma. Half the book is told from the perspective of Chiko, a scholarly Burmese boy that gets forced into military service. The other half is told from the persective of Tu Reh, a Karenni refugee living with his family on the Thai border. Chiko’s experience is shaped by the fact that his father, a doctor, is imprisoned for resisting the government. Tu Reh’s experience is colored by his thirst for vengeance after Burmese soldiers burned his home. The story of Bamboo People is how these two boys came to meet, and what happens once they do.
Sounds heavy, right? And yet I couldn’t put this book down. Not only did I learn a lot about a part of the world that I’ll admit I never give any thought to, but I found the characters to be so fully painted I couldn’t help but project myself into their world – a great window into Burma. Mitali Perkins’ writing is totally accessible, and kids will find themselves learning not just about the world, but about the human spirit and the choices that we have the power to make. They may even see a bit of themselves mirrored in these characters half a world away.
For further reading on Bamboo People, head over to Kidsmomo to see my friend Karen’s take on the book, having a personal tie to Burma. There’s more on Burma on the Bamboo People website, and it’s always great to visit Mitali’s Fire Escape, where Mitali Perkins writes about her experiences writing books between cultures.