The Milk of Birds
Author: Sylvia Whitman
Published April 16th, 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Goodreads Summary: This timely, heartrending novel tells the moving story of a friendship between two girls: one an American teen, one a victim of the crisis in Darfur.
Know that there are many words behind the few on this paper…
Fifteen-year-old Nawra lives in Darfur, Sudan, in a camp for refugees displaced by the Janjaweed’s trail of murder and destruction. Nawra cannot read or write, but when a nonprofit organization called Save the Girls pairs her with an American donor, Nawra dictates her thank-you letters. Putting her experiences into words begins to free her from her devastating past—and to brighten the path to her future.
K. C. is an American teenager from Richmond, Virginia, who hates reading and writing—or anything that smacks of school. But as Nawra pours grief and joy into her letters, she inspires K. C. to see beyond her own struggles. And as K. C. opens her heart in her responses to Nawra, she becomes both a dedicated friend and a passionate activist for Darfur.
In this poetic tale of unlikely sisterhood, debut author Sylvia Whitman captures the friendship between two girls who teach each other compassion and share a remarkable bond that bridges two continents.
My Review: This is a special book. First, because of the characters who tell the story. K.C. is a young girl with learning disabilities which have caused her to hate reading, writing, and school. Nawra is a refugee in Darfur who continues to have an optimistic view of the world even after she has been surrounded by horrors that I can’t even imagine. Both of these girls are not represented very often in books, and they are both so important to know. Through this book, the reader gets to see the intensity of the situation in Sudan and refugees’ power in overcoming however they can. They also get to see the brilliance of students with learning disabilities. There are so many students in our school just like K.C., and too many of their peers would judge them by their struggles instead of by their heart and soul.
Second, this book is special because of the way the author is able to intertwine these two stories in a flawless way, and a way that keeps the reader engaged in both stories simultaneously. Third, the lyrical writing of Whitman makes this story not only interesting and important, but also beautiful to read. Last, the power of this book lies in the book, and how the book will change those who read it.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book has some incredibly lyrical aspects which would be perfect for mentor texts for imagery and other descriptive language. I also love the idea of written pen pals, and I would love to see this book being used to start pen pals in a classroom. Finally, K.C.’s friendship with Nawra helps her become an advocate for refugees in Darfur. This would be a great way to talk about ways to make a difference in the world. I would pair it with A Long Walk to Water which shows the same thing. Powerful.
Discussion Questions: What does K.C. teach us about students with learning disabilities?; What does Nawra teach us about Sudanese refugees?; What is your favorite Nawra saying? Why?; How does life here compare to life in the Sudan?; What is a way you could help the refugees in Sudan?; What is another cause in the world that you could help?
We Flagged: “My mother is sitting on the mat where I left her. She shows no surprise that Adeeba and I return so soon with nothing but more words from the khawaja. She does not protest when I lift her.
I carry my mother as I used to carry wounded animals from pasture, arms on one side, legs on the other, her body draped behind my neck and across my shoulders. She is not much heavier than a goat.” (Nawra, p. 3)
“When she explains things, they make sense, for a while. Who cares about the area of a trapezoid, though? That question stumped my teacher for a minute, and then he launched into this spiel about geometry in everyday life, and if I were someone with a trapezoidal yard, I might need to figure out how much fertilizer to spread. As if. Hook up your hose to a bottle of Miracle-Gro, point, and shoot.” (K.C., p. 12)
Read This If You Love: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan, Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian