Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday
Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!
**This book is technically historical fiction, but I felt it was pretty darn close to nonfiction**
Never Fall Down
Author: Patricia McCormick
Published May 8th, 2012 by Balzer + Bray
Goodreads Summary: This National Book Award nominee from two-time finalist Patricia McCormick is the unforgettable story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who defied the odds to survive the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 and the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge.
Based on the true story of Cambodian advocate Arn Chorn-Pond, and authentically told from his point of view as a young boy, this is an achingly raw and powerful historical novel about a child of war who becomes a man of peace. It includes an author’s note and acknowledgments from Arn Chorn-Pond himself.
When soldiers arrive in his hometown, Arn is just a normal little boy. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, his life is changed forever.
Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp: working in the rice paddies under a blazing sun, he sees the other children dying before his eyes. One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. Arn’s never played a note in his life, but he volunteers.
This decision will save his life, but it will pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier.
My Review: When I started Never Fall Down, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I began it because Ricki recommended it to me, but I didn’t read the back or have any prior knowledge about the book. So, when I began, I had no idea how tough this book was going to be.
I also have to preface with my ignorance of the Cambodian Genocide. I blame my lack of world history education because this is a time of history that should be taught. It, along with the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide, was based in racism and the attempt to purify a country. Reading Arn’s story throws you right in the middle of the genocide, and Patricia McCormick doesn’t hold anything back. Every time you think nothing can get worse for Arn and the Cambodians, something does, but you also have such hope for Arn’s survival as you seen him overcome every obstacle he faces. Even though death actually stares him in the face throughout the book, this young boy somehow continues. He continues through starvation, excessive work, lack of sleep, and murder surrounding him. Arn stated in interviews with McCormick that music saved his life, but I think it was more about his willingness to do whatever was needed to survive and especially anything to help those he cared for to survive.
Patricia McCormick tells our story in a broken English dialect that was influenced by “Arn’s own beautiful, improvised English” that McCormick heard in her head after interviewing him and traveling with him to Cambodia over a couple of years. The extent that Ms. McCormick went to ensure that Arn’s story was a true representation of his trials and heroism is honorable.
Teachers’ Tools For Navigation: This would be a perfect cross-curricular text! It could be read in a world history class in full or in parts. Although it is McCormick’s writing, it is definitely Arn’s story, and Arn’s story is one that needs to be shared. This book could also be used in lit circles where each group has a different book about a piece of history or an individual who/that is not usually learned about (maybe with Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Sold, Caminar by Skila Brown, The Glass Collector by Anna Perera, Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, The Queen of Water by Laura Resau, or Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams).
One of my amazing 8th grade students read this book recently, and she was as enthralled with it as I was. Immediately after finishing, she got online and started learning more about Arn and Cambodia. She came across an amazing video with both Patricia McCormick and Arn in it. It is 27 minutes long, but it is so worth watching:
Discussion Questions: What do you think ultimately helped Arn survive?; How did Sombo save Arn’s life at the orphan camp? When the war with the Vietnamese started? At the killing fields?; Do you think music is what saved Arn?; How were the Khmer Rouge able to make their prisoners do whatever they wanted them to?; Why did the Khmer Rouge kill all the educated Cambodians?; Why was Sombo so unsure about the Coca Cola?
We Flagged: “All the time now we hear girl screaming, girl running, girl crying. At night but also sometime in the daytime. All the tie, the Khmer Rouge they chase the girl, cut the hair. Sometime with scissor, sometime with knife. Chop short, to the chin, like boy. The girl, they cry and sometime they run. They run, it’s no good. The Khmer Rouge may shoot them, maybe take them to the bushes, do whatever they want. A lot of the girl afterward, they pull on their hair, pull like maybe they can stretch it, make it long, make it beautiful again.
My number two big sister, Maly, her hair like silk. Most proud thing about her, her hair. Shiny black, like blue, like a crow has. Every night she brush her hair, every morning. Sometime even she brush her hair not thinking, just dreaming maybe about the boy she love. One morning I wake up before everyone and see her making rice. Her neck, it’s bare now, her skin there is pale, never saw the sun, her long hair gone. Last night while I was asleep, the soldier, they cut her beauty. So now when she give me a bowl of rice soup, her eyes stay on the ground.” (p. 29-30)
Read This If You Loved: Titles listed above in Teachers’ Tools for Navigation
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