Katherine Paterson has written an important middle grade/tween novel that speaks to the atrocities committed against the Albanian living in Kosovo. These events took place less than a decade ago, something I think my students will be appalled by. At my school I have a large Bosnian population, and while this is not their story exactly, parts of it may hit home for them. It is also the only novel I have found for their age level about the events that led them and others like them to flee their country.
Meli Lleshi and her family are living happily in Kosovo. Although they don't have a lot of money and neighbors they were once friendly with have stopped buying food at their store because they are Albanian, it is the only life they have known and they are hopeful that things will change in the future. However, Meli's older brother, Mehmet goes missing and when he returns, the family fears for their safety more than ever before. It is decided they will flee their home and go to live with relatives in the country. From that point on, life is a struggle as they must try to find food and shelter for the family. The Lleshis become refugees. When Baba announces that they will be moving to America, they look forward to a new beginning, while mourning the fact that their family will be leaving their homeland. America is a new start for the family, but it is also full of struggles as language barriers exist and there are few job opportunities for adults with no language skills. When the attack against America occurs on September 11 by some Muslim extremists, Meli and her family who are also Muslim must now face discrimination once more.
This book is full of wonderful topics of conversations to have with kids if this were used as a read aloud. The topic is current and one that students will want to know more about. I am already looking forward to when this book comes out in paperback so I can buy multiple copies to use with a book club. Visit Katherine Paterson's website.