Book Reviews: Historical Fiction by Beverley Naidoo

Posted by Big Universe on Feb 14, 2013 3:39:31 AM

South African author

I’ve always loved stories. They are windows to other worlds. A good story doesn’t tell you what to think. But if I can hook you in, maybe you’ll find yourself compelled to think, feel, imagine... and to begin a new journey of your own. ~ Beverley Naidoo

Four years ago this month I "met" Beverley Naidoo through Femi, Sade, and their father. They are a Nigerian refugee family living in London, whose lives (mostly Femi's) were central to Web of Lies. The story was so powerfully told, that I wanted to learn more about this children's author from South Africa. Her personal story is as captivating as the ones she's created for young readers.

So far, I've read three of her works: Web of Lies, Burn My Heart, and Out of Bounds: Seven Stories of Conflict and Hope. These are books written at an upper-elementary level with stories that will interest and engage older readers, too. Each of these has been shared with young readers, and this week's reviews focus on their reactions to the books.

mau mau rebellion Burn My Heart
by Beverley Naidoo
Amistad, 2008
Book Level: 5.2; Interest Level: MG

Mathew and Mugo are friends, just as their fathers had been friends when they were boys. The Graysons, British settlers, took ownership of the land once farmed by Kikuyu, Mugo's ancestors. As fears of the Mau Mau Society begin to grow, the boys' worlds begin to diverge. Their friendship is being tested as they both confront prejudice, loyalty, and fear. Are they truly friends? Were they ever? This middle grade novel offers a fictional account of life in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion.

  • I picked this out of a group of books because it has a cool name and a pretty cover. I did learn a little about the British going to Africa. I didn't know they did that.
  • This is a haunting story. I couldn't put the book down. Although the story is set in 1950s Kenya, the themes of prejudice, change, and the horror that comes with perpetuating fear could just as easily apply to 1950s America.
  • This is a well-paced read that offers a window into a poorly documented piece of history.

short stories for middle gradeOut of Bounds: Seven Stories of Conflict and Hope
by Beverley Naidoo
HarperCollins, 2008
Book Level: 5.4; Interest Level: MG

These are stories that describe life in South Africa during apartheid, 1948 through 2000. Each story is narrated by a young person who is trying to make sense out of what’s happening to his or her life, family, community, and nation. This is a set of short stories about life in South Africa during apartheid.

  • The thought-provoking tales are set simply, providing for easy comprehension.
  • Each character is given a distinct, notable personality. Although their names may be foreign for some readers, the identifiable traits set each person apart.
  • While these short stories seems like a fairly simple, straightforward read, there are moving messages on and between the pages.
  • After each chapter, some main points of the subject remain hidden, leaving the reader an unanswered question sometimes without a correct answer. This aspect drew me deep into the book. I often found myself rereading some passages to hopefully better understand the situations.

Web of Lies
by Beverley Naidoo
Amistad, 2006
Reading Level: 4.7; Interest Level: UG

Having fled Nigeria and resettled in London, Femi (10) and Sade (12) thought they would finally be safe. While Sade is dealing with her mother's death and the possible intrusion of a "new woman" in their lives, Femi is getting more and more involved with a street gang. It isn't long before their resilience as individuals and as a family are once again put to the test. This is a novel that allows you to journey with the characters (and their father) as they deal with the presence of a gang in their lives.

  • This book shows a harsh reality for some children worldwide. While global cultures differ based on geography and customs, Ms. Naidoo has a way of making the story of Femi and Sade universal.
  • The reader makes the connection that many people today face the same problems of fleeing their homeland in hopes of a better life only to encounter a harsh welcome where they land.
  • It would be a good book for stimulating a discussion on global current events and what's happening to displaced citizens.
  • The story is believable, offering stark but not exaggerated descriptions of the realities of life. Once you start, you will want to finish the book.

When looking for books that introduce kids to other cultures and yet have universal appeal, you can't go wrong with these. They also have high interest / low readability appeal. The characters and plots are sophisticated enough for older readers who need extra help, too.

Topics: Reviews

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