Forced to flee his homeland of Sudan to escape the civil war that has claimed the life of his father, his brother, and perhaps his mother (who is missing), Kek must now survive the bone-cold winters of his new home in Minnesota. Home of the Brave
, an award-winning book by Katherine Applegate, is a moving story about an African refugee who must learn how to be a man in a strange land that is not his own.
"...you will have lived just half a life if you never love a cow."
Dave, a worker from the Refugee Resettlement Center, takes Kek to live with his aunt, Nyatal, and his cousin, Ganwar. Kek makes friends with Hannah, a girl in foster care, and the students in his 5th grade ESL class. But it is a weary old cow living on a rundown farm that truly helps Kek adjust to his new life. Kek was part of the Nuer, a Sudanese tribe of Africa. The Nuer were cattle herders who valued cows as an important part of their culture.
"If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance."
Kek's story, beautifully written in free verse (poems) by Applegate, practically sings off the page. As a refugee from Africa, Kek sees ordinary things in totally new ways. An airplane is a "flying boat." Glue is "magic milk" that Kek uses to repair his aunt's dishes after he tries to clean them in the washing machine. For a boy who once waited 9 hours for a handful of corn in Sudan, American is an amazing place.
But sometimes Kek feels unworthy. How can he shop in a grocery store with rows and rows of food when his people back home are starving? How can he enjoy a library when his own mother had always dreamed of learning to read? Keks's brave journey to feelings of acceptance and belonging is one that I think readers from all countries will understand. At the end of the book is background information about the Lost Boys from Sudan that only adds to this compelling story. 272 pages. For ages 10 and up.
For another wonderful story about people from different countries living in America, try Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (see link below).