The Milk of Birds

By: Sylvia Whitman

Over a year-long correspondence, a Darfur refugee and an American teen learn about each other's lives and come to better understand their own.

ISBN: 9781442446823

JLG Release: May 2013


Sensitive Areas: Rape, Misogyny
Topics: Friendship , Pen pals , Refugees , Genocide , Letters , Darfur, Sudan

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Awards & Honors

2014 Amelia Bloomer Project List, Young Adult Fiction; 2014 Finalist, Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award; Winner, IRA Notable Books for a Global Society, 2014

Praise & Reviews

Starred or favorable reviews have been received from these periodicals:

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, The Horn Book Magazine, The Horn Book Guide^, School Library Journal, Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)

School Library Journal

American eighth-grader K.C. struggles in school, her parents are divorced, and she feels like a failure next to her perfect brother. Nawra, 14, is illiterate and pregnant from a rape; she lives in an Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in Darfur. The girls get to know each other through a letter exchange organized by a charity working in Sudan. American eighth-grader K.C. struggles in school, her parents are divorced, and she feels like a failure next to her perfect brother. Nawra, 14, is illiterate and pregnant from a rape; she lives in an Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in Darfur. The girls get to know each other through a letter exchange organized by a charity working in Sudan. Their story is told through first-person narratives and their letters. Nawra describes the brutal violence taking place in her country and the terrible things that have happened to her and her extended family—homes have been destroyed, bombs dropped, and women and children have been forced to witness atrocities being inflicted on loved ones. Yet she is thankful to be alive and draws strength from her faith and the proverbial wisdom of her grandmother, which she routinely shares in her dictated letters. She is able to nurse her mother back to health and reaches out to help those around her in spite of her difficult circumstances. K.C.’s problems seem pale in comparison, but Whitman deftly puts both girls’ concerns in the contexts of their very different worlds. K.C. becomes active at school in helping raise awareness and funds to help the people in the IDP camp. Nawra’s flashbacks and the time lag between letters can make it difficult to understand the sequence of events, but the horrific happenings are easier to take in and process in the girls’ back-and-forth exchanges. In the author’s note, Whitman writes how she hoped her novel would be historical fiction by the time it was published. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Nonetheless, this powerful and important book has a lot to say to young people about seeing beyond their own struggles and opening their minds and hearts to others.—Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC

Horn Book

In alternating first-person accounts and letters, fifteen-year-old Nawra, an “internally displaced person” living in a camp in the Sudan, and K. C., a fourteen-year-old girl struggling with learning disabilities in Richmond, Virginia, find strength in their friendship and begin to work through their problems. The two are connected throu In alternating first-person accounts and letters, fifteen-year-old Nawra, an “internally displaced person” living in a camp in the Sudan, and K. C., a fourteen-year-old girl struggling with learning disabilities in Richmond, Virginia, find strength in their friendship and begin to work through their problems. The two are connected through Save the Girls, a fictional charity based on an actual one (Women for Women International) that matches U.S. donors with Sudanese pen-pals and offers job training as well. Although Nawra is grieving the murders of most of her family, the withdrawal of her surviving mother, and a pregnancy brought about by gang rape, she still has gentle words of encouragement and advice for her American “sister.” K. C.’s initial reluctance (writing is an almost insurmountable chore for her) develops into passionate advocacy as Nawra slowly reveals her circumstances. Their correspondence deepens ties both girls have with family, community, and each other. Nawra’s conversation and letters are embroidered with Sudanese proverbs (“The miserable person has a long life,” “Nothing scratches your skin like your own fingernail”) that with their poetic, wry images state the truth, if sometimes obliquely. Despite believing she is “dumb,” K. C. invests her letters with such curiosity and spirit that she avoids an unflattering comparison with Nawra’s fortitude. These two correspondents make readers long to learn more about them and will likely inspire more than one to follow the author’s appended note on ways to help alleviate suffering in the Sudan. anita l. burkam

Book Details

ISBN

9781442446823

First Release

May 2013

Genre

Fic

Dewey Classification

F

Trim Size

5 1/2" x 8 1/4"

Page Count

384

Accelerated Reader

Level 4.9; Points: 12;

Scholastic Reading Counts

Level 4.7; Points: 20;

Lexile

Level 780L

Format

Print Book

Edition

Hardcover edition

Publisher

Atheneum

Potentially Sensitive Areas

Rape, Misogyny

Topics

Friendship, Pen pals, Refugees, Genocide, Letters, Darfur, Sudan,

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