Product Code: 93282
Binding Information: Hardback
Ages: 11 - 14
Availability: In stock
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A refugee and a child soldier challenge the rules of war.
Narrated by two teenage boys on opposing sides of the conflict between the Burmese government and the Karenni, one of Burma's many ethnic minorities, this coming-of-age novel takes place against the political and military backdrop of modern-day Burma.
Chiko isn't a fighter by nature. He's a book-loving Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. Tu Reh, on the other hand, wants to fight for freedom after watching Burmese soldiers destroy his Karenni family's home and bamboo fields. Timidity becomes courage and anger becomes compassion when the boys' stories intersect.
Find extended resources, a pronunciation guide, ways you can help save lives in burma, and more at www.bamboopeople.org.
Read the article on Mitali Perkins and Bamboo People that appeared in Book Page.
Read an interview with Mitali Perkins on BookBundlz. Bamboo People is BookBundlz' featured Teen Book for July 2010!
This book is good for your brain because:
World History, Government, Character Development, Genre Study, Middle Grade Fiction
If you like this book, you'll love these:
2010 Indies Choice Book Awards - Most Engaging Author Honor Recipient
2010 Indies Choice Book Awards - Young Adult Honor Book
Unintentionally Funny Books - January 17, 2010Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins (Charlesbridge, July 2010). From the fantastic Mitali Perkin’s (Rickshaw Girl) comes the untold stories of the Karenin and Burmese people, currently living under military rule. Told from the perspectives of Chiko and Tu Reh, fifteen-year-old boys on either side of the conflict who are just trying to survive being thrust into violence and war against their wills and beliefs. Chiko’s father has been thrown in jail for protesting the military rule and in particular the violence against the Karenni people. Chiko is conscripted into the army where he learns that his book smarts aren’t the only kind of intelligence and how to start being a man. Tu Reh and his family have been forced into a refugee camp where they fight the Burmese from the jungle and try to stay alive. Circumstances force the two together and to forge an understanding. Perkins gives engaging, real voices to her characters who pull you along with them on their often-terrifying ride through a tense situation. Perkins teaches readers about a world that exists today and about which we know very little as Westerners. But her message doesn’t feel clunky nor does it hit readers over the head. Instead, it shows us a slice of life that we should consider more closely and about which we should care. Check it out. Excellent for reluctant and guy readers.
Bruce Wishart - February 27, 2010Ten years ago I told the story of Captain Albert Mah and Captain Cedric Mah, Chinese Canadian brothers who had amazing adventures flying the Burma Hump during the Second World War. I know that this is a different world than the one Mitali Perkins visits in Bamboo People. I say this only because my research into the country spawned a personal interest in the tragedy of modern-day Burma. I sought out Bamboo People as soon as I heard of it, and now Mitali Perkins has offered me a glimmer of understanding.
I could call Bamboo People a coming of age story, or an anti-war story. Either would be true, but neither would do it justice.
Chiko is a book-loving Burmese boy who wants only to be a teacher. We are drawn into his fear from the first pages. His father, an English-taught doctor, is jailed and perhaps dead for providing medical care to a leader of the freedom and democracy movement. Now Chiko has taken one of his father’s English books into the yard outside his family home in Yangon. He knows he’s taking a risk. He is tired of hiding, feeling as if he is also in a sort of prison.
The characters are vibrant. Chiko and his mother. Their neighbour, the inimitable Daw Widow, and her beautiful daughter Lei. And, after Chiko is brutally pressed into the army, Chiko’s unlikely friend, the street-boy Tai, and the Burmese soldiers who surround them.
Midway the point-of-view switches to Tu Reh, one of the Karenni. The Karenni are among the many oppressed minorities in Burma. Tu Reh watched his home and bamboo fields burned by the Burmese army, and from his new home in a Thai refugee camp he seethes with a desire for revenge. This feeling is magnified by Tu Reh’s friendship for the volatile Sa Reh.
For North American readers the worlds of Chiko and Tu Reh are unstable and frightening even without the conflict they face.
In my opinion the voice is the magic of this story. It is first person, present tense. It is deceptively simple. It seemed to be setting me up for a much gentler story, but soon that simple and honest voice began to speak of terrible things.
And because Mitali has seen with her own eyes she doggedly avoids opportunities for melodrama, or an overtly moralistic message, as she explores the themes of power and violence. In fact, as the worlds of Chiko and Tu Reh descend further and further into madness, as fear and anger grow into bravery and compassion and friendship, this simplicity of voice seems to grow even more fitting. This is elegant storytelling.
The Goddess of YA Literature - April 20, 2010
Bamboo People (Charlesbridge, 2010) has two narrators. Chiko is Burmese. He longs to become a teacher even though everyone assumes he will become a doctor like his father. Chiko misses his father who has been arrested for his resistance to the leaders of Burma. When Chiko answers an ad in the paper for teachers, he discovers that there is deception. Instead, he is sent off to be trained for the army. Tu Reh is Karenni, an oppressed people who live in refugee camps near the Thai border. Burmese soldiers burned down his home and the homes of others in his village. He longs for revenge and seeks to join his father on missions into the jungle. What happens when the two meet? That is, indeed, the million dollar question. How can Tu Reh give comfort and aid to someone who perhaps is a spy for the Burmese Army? How can Chiko survive without help from others? After all he is book smart but knows little about survival in the jungle. As the two lives intersect, Perkins gives readers a glimpse into what it means to be a hero. As Tolkien observes: a hero does not return home unscarred. Readers will not return from this book without a new sense of the geopolitics of modern day Burma (Myanmar). War and the effects of war have long been themes explored by books. Perkins offers tweens and teens a chance to ponder these global themes from a developmentally appropriate perspective.
Shelf Awareness - May 19, 2010Most young people probably don't even know where to find Myanmar (formerly known as the Union of Burma), and if they do, it's because it made headlines when Cyclone Nargis hit its coast in 2008. But Perkins's (Secret Keeper) involving novel about two teens on either side of the conflict at the Burma-Thai border exposes readers to this little-known part of the world and the issues at the heart of the country's great divide. The book begins with 15-year-old Chico reading A Tale of Two Cities in the walled garden outside the home he shares with his mother. She tells him to come inside; a Burmese boy reading English is enough to rouse suspicion with the soldiers who accused Chico's physician father of treason and hauled him away to prison. Determined to help support his mother, Chico answers an ad in the government newspaper about an exam for new teachers--then discovers it's a trap. The army conscripts all the young men who come to apply for jobs. Instead of becoming a teacher, Chico learns some life-saving lessons from a street boy named Tai, and he in turn teaches Tai to read and write. The two new friends, however, become subject to intra-platoon politics, and Chico winds up as a mine-clearer. Enter Tu Reh, a Karenni 16-year-old living in a refugee camp, who finds a seriously wounded teen in enemy uniform: Chico.
Through the perspectives of her two narrators, the author allows young people to see that they--and we--have more values that unite us than separate us. Perkins demonstrates during the course of the book how bamboo functions in a variety of ways for the people in the Union of Burma: as a source of food, fuel, medicine--and as a weapon. When Tu Reh's father, who is leading a mission to take supplies to a Karenni healer, tells his son that he alone must decide the fate of this injured Burmese soldier, the man says, "I'm going to stay like the bamboo, Tu Reh. I want to be used for many purposes." He asks Tu Reh to make a choice: "Leave him for the animals. End his life now. Or carry him to the healer." Tu Reh's choice leads to another and another, none of them easy. The author paints war in all of its gradations of gray, including the people who influence those decisions, both powerful and seemingly powerless. Readers will leave this moving story--half from Chico's first-person narrative, and half narrated by Tu Reh--with the understanding that everyone has a choice, no matter how dire the circumstances.
Shirley Mullin, Kids Ink Children's Bookstore - March 18, 2010A classic coming of age story in a setting almost unimaginable to the American reader, Perkins tells the story of Burma at war. Young men are forced into the army and others escape into the jungle to fight with the resistance. Chiko is thrust into the army while [Tu Reh, who is] Karenni, an ethnic minority, struggles to survive against the oppressive army. Through the eyes of these two young men we experience violence, prejudice and the abuse of power as well as what courage and heroism really means.
ExploreDance.com - June 3, 2010I recently read Mitali Perkins' Bamboo People, a young adult novel. This is a story of two boys living in Burma under difficult conditions. At first glance, this is not a dance related novel. Bamboo People is not a dance related novel at tenth glance either. So why, you ask, are you reviewing it on ExploreDance.com? Because on page 260 (out of 264), dance becomes a central idea in the book, even if dance is not explored in depth.
Bamboo People is set in a time of war, and in war torn lands disabling injuries are all too common. One of the main characters, who lost a foot, thinks to himself, "Why didn't I run more with my feet when I had both of them? I should have sprinted, jumped, leaped, danced, skipped, bounded here and there like a rabbit. Now I limp slowly..."
The book shows that, even when confronted by other issues that seem far more serious on their face, dance matters. Dance is one of the reasons people long for wars to end.
Bamboo People is clearly written for young adults: there are a lot of short chapters, the language used is relatively accessible and the graphic violence is kept to a minimum. There is some violence, which is unavoidable given the setting in a war zone. What violence is present is artfully written.
Still, as an adult, I found Bamboo People to be an excellent read. The characters are interesting, and grow over the course of the book. The conflicts the characters face feel genuine. I avidly read the second half of the book in one sitting. I used to read that way a lot (science fiction, Tolstoy, etc.), but I haven't in a long while. Bamboo People reminded me of why I love to read.
In the sequel, the main characters should discover wheelchair/integrated dance, exceed the limitations of their prosthetic limbs, win the heart of the girl and bring peace to Burma. Okay, maybe that is not realistic - they should bring peace to all of Asia.
However Ms. Perkins decides to write her next novel, I am sure it will be a good read.
BookMoot - June 5, 2010Oh My Goodness!
Mitali Perkins has written something here that is so fine, so rare, so beautiful, that I am loath to move on to another book too quickly because I want to think and remember and savor this exquisite story.
Chiko only wants to become a teacher. His father is a political prisoner of the Burmese government. The army conscripts Chiko, forcing him into service. Studious by nature, he is unprepared for this brutal life but a friendship with a savvy, streetwise conscript named Tai, saves him while he gains strength to endure the random cruelty of the captain who oversees his unit.
Tu Reh is a Karenni teen who has seen his life, his home and village disrupted and destroyed by the very army that Chiko is now a part of. Their lives intersect and each of them must survive the ugly hand that fate has dealt them.
This is such a powerful and emotional story. Told in Chiko's and Tu Reh's voices, the chapters are short which keeps the story moving and will keep readers at all levels engaged.
This is a beautiful tale of faith and hope. I am pondering now the best way to booktalk it. Kids MUST find this book.
Kirkus Reviews - June 15, 2010Well-educated American boys from privileged families have abundant options for college and career. For Chiko, their Burmese counterpart, there are no good choices. There is never enough to eat, and his family lives in constant fear of the military regime that has imprisoned Chiko’s physician father. Soon Chiko is commandeered by the army, trained to hunt down members of the Karenni ethnic minority. Tai, another “recruit,” uses his streetwise survival skills to help them both survive. Meanwhile, Tu Reh, a Karenni youth whose village was torched by the Burmese Army, has been chosen for his first military mission in his people’s resistance movement. How the boys meet and what comes of it is the crux of this multi-voiced novel. While Perkins doesn’t sugarcoat her subject—coming of age in a brutal, fascistic society—this is a gentle story with a lot of heart, suitable for younger readers than the subject matter might suggest. It answers the question, “What is it like to be a child soldier?” clearly, but with hope. (author’s note, historical note)
PaperTigers.org - June 1, 2010With her latest novel, Mitali Perkins once again illustrates the tension of characters caught between cultures, but in Bamboo People the backdrop is war, and the stakes are higher than ever.
Chiko is an educated, 15-year-old Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for treating “an enemy of the state” (a leader of the freedom and democracy movement). Chiko and his mother scrape by on savings while sending money to the government each month to pay for his father’s food – even though they can’t be certain he is still alive. Compelled to follow up on an advertisement for a teacher’s exam, even though he knows it might be a scam, Chiko is tricked into military service. During training, Chiko gets a new kind of education from an illiterate street-boy and fellow “recruit” who becomes his best friend.
Chiko’s father had always told him that Burma’s corrupt military government lied about the ethnic minorities their country was at war with, so when injury lands Chiko in a Karenni refugee camp across the Thai border, he is immediately sympathetic to their cause. It is at this point, however, that Perkins changes perspective, and the rest of the novel is told from the point of view of Tu Reh, a Karenni teen not much older than Chiko whose home and village had been destroyed by Burmese soldiers a few months earlier.
Tu Reh is understandably filled with anger and rage at the Burmese soldiers while also experiencing the normal feelings of confusion that come with adolescence. By trusting his heart, Tu Reh comes to see – and helps the camp to see – that Chiko is also a victim of the Burmese military dictatorship and that it is their duty as fellow humans and as Karenni to treat him with compassion.
This fascinating story shines a light on the desperate situation of those affected by current Burmese policies and will help educate young readers about that situation in particular and the vagaries and confusion surrounding conflict in general. The characters, Perkins’s first male protagonists, are very thoughtful, easy to engage with, and surprisingly similar. In fact, as a reader, it felt as if Tu Reh and Chiko could have been the same person had circumstances not shaped their lives so differently. This juxtaposition is absolutely brilliant and illustrates the point that war makes enemies out of people who, in a different context, would become the best of friends.
An author’s note about Perkins’s own experience living in Thailand and visiting the Karenni refugee camps as well as several pages about modern Burma will help readers place the events of the novel in a broader context and will surely engender sympathy for the plight of all those affected by the situation in Burma.
JLG Monthly - August 1, 2010Chiko, fifteen, has been illegally conscripted into the Burmese army. While leading a mission to find a cache of Karenni rebels' weapons, Chiko steps on a land mine. Tu Reh, a sixteen-year-old Karenni boy, discovers Chiko in the jungle, and it's up to him whether this Burmese boy--this enemy--lives or dies.
JLG Reviewers say:
Publishers Weekly - June 15, 2010
Perkins (Secret Keeper) pulls back a curtain on the current conflict in Myanmar (formerly Burma) in this tensely plotted portrait of teens caught in the crossfire. The novel is narrated in two parts, the first by Chiko, a son of Burmese intellectuals who hopes to become a teacher. Perkins sets a chain reaction in motion when Chiko answers an advertisement looking for educators, only to be conscripted into the Burmese army, where an unlikely friendship alters the course of his life even more drastically. Perkins seamlessly blends cultural, political, religious, and philosophical context into her story, which is distinguished by humor, astute insights into human nature, and memorable characters. Teenage Tu Reh, a Karenni (one of the nation's ethnic minorities), narrates the second half, which begins when he and his father find an injured Burmese soldier (whose identity is instantly apparent), presenting an equally nuanced view from the perspective of the supposed enemy. As Chiko and Tu Reh wrestle with prejudices of culture and class, Perkins delivers a graceful exploration of the redemptive power of love, family, and friendship under untenable circumstances.
Booklist - May 15, 2010
When 15-year-old Chiko is pressed into military service by the Burmese government, he finds himself involved in an ongoing war with the Karenni people, one of the many ethnic minorities in modern Burma. A scholar, not a soldier, Chiko soon gets wounded and finds himself at the mercy of Tu Reh, an angry Karenni boy only slightly older than he is. Will these two teens, who should be natural enemies, find a way to friendship? Perkins' latest novel--told in the individual voices of the two boys--explores that possibility while introducing a considerable amount of factual and contextual information about present-day Burma. Though occasionally didactic and a bit preachy, this is nevertheless a story that invites discussion of the realities of warfare rooted in long-standing antagonism and unreasoning hatred of "the other." A particularly good book for classroom use.
YA Bookshelf - June 29, 2010
I'd never read anything by Mitali Perkins before I had the chance to check out her new novel, Bamboo People, but the story sounded like something I'd want to check out and now I'm really glad that I did. Told from the perspective of two teens on different sides of the conflict between the Burmese and Karenni peoples of modern day Burma, readers get to experience all angles, and they will definitely enjoy the journey.
Political narratives can be great, but occasionally, you feel like you're being hit over the head with info from a single perspective. I would like to commend Mitali Perkins for never going over the edge with this one. Instead of the norm, she gives both voracious readers and reluctant ones alike a chance to learn from and about the conflict from both a child soldier's and a refugee's story simultaneously. From this perspective, the audience gets a fuller look at the conflict as a whole, which might only be possible because the author is neither Burmese nor Karenni, but she's clearly done her research here. At the same time, those who are more familiar with the conflict in Burma will definitely find some amazing characters and a moving narrative to boot.
Some books with multiple narrators move back and forth, alternating between each of them with ease, but Perkins writes half the book continuously in the mind of Chiko and later switches to Tu Reh's perspective when he is about to meet up with the other character. Clearly, this decision aids the author's ability to tell a linear story about the events her characters are facing. However, as someone who loves to read and who values physical book collections, there was an added benefit to structuring Bamboo People in this way: I immediately felt a kinship with Chico when I learned that he was reading A Tale Of Two Cities in the opening moments. His ability to read and write sets Chiko apart among his peers and gives him a sense of pleasure, even when he's at his lowest moments. I can envision a reluctant reader becoming a voracious one following Chiko's example and that is, in the end, the goal of writing books for children and teens, isn't it?
Not only are they on "opposite sides" of the conflict, but also Tu Reh's story is very different from that of Chiko. Both of them have suffered losses, but they react in different ways: while Chiko must find a way to keep his promise to his father to look after his mother, Tu Reh is forced to decide between killing a boy younger than himself or carrying him to safety, even though he's an enemy. Both of these "stories" are ones with which not only teens can readily identify, but also adults will feel similarly about the novel, so it's no wonder that Publishers Weekly recently gave it a starred review. If you haven't checked out this novel yet or any of the other books written by Mitali Perkins, I suggest that you find a way to get a copy on July 1st, 2010. Bamboo People will stick with you for quite some time after you've finished. Buy Bamboo People today!
The Horn Book Magazine - July 31, 2010
While Chiko doesn't completely believe the Burmese government is really hiring teachers, he dreams of becoming one, so he goes to the recruitment meeting--and finds himself abruptly press-ganged into the army and summarily bused to a remote camp in the border region to help put down the Karenni rebellion. Writing in a present tense that adds urgency to the story, Perkins draws a persuasive picture of contemporary Burma/Myanmar, sticking closely to the viewpoint of Chiko, a bookish, romantic boy whose father has already been imprisoned by the authoritarian regime. Living and training under brutal conditions, Chiko nevertheless holds on to his faith and humanity, both of which serve him well when he is captured by the Karenni rebels, who take him to a refugee camp in Thailand where he awaits their decision to kill him, keep him, or let him go. Halfway through, the novel switches to the point of view of Tu Reh, a Karenni boy involved in Chiko's capture, and while the two voices are not sufficiently distinct, their differing perspectives, as well as their commonalities, make the drama as moral as it is physical, and rich with action.
Good Books and Wine - July 15, 2010
You know what sucks? Being a child soldier. For real. One day you are making googly eyes at your hot neighbor, the next you are tricked into joining the army and have no option of leaving. Did I mention your family doesn't know where you are? For many teens in Burma/Myanmar, this is a reality. I definitely did not know very much about child soldiers until reading the superb book Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins.
Bamboo People follows the civil strife in Burma, between the Karenni which is a splinter ethnic minority living in the region and the Burmese who are told that the Karenni are evil. The book is written in two distinct halves. One half is narrarated by Chiko, a 15 year old Burmese boy who dreams of teaching. Instead, he finds himself caught up in war. The last half is narrarated by Tu Reh, a Karenni boy who lives in a refugee camp and also fights the Burmese.
This book provides a powerful look at war and it's role in the lives of young people. We see the results of choices and how they impact a situation for better or worse. We see there are humans on both sides. Rarely is war so simple as good guys vs. bad guys.
I found Bamboo People to be quite thought-provoking. It has made me interested in finding out more about this conflict. Let's be honest, I don't often think about Burma. What I think is fabulous is when a book like this can raise the topic and put it on my radar.
Check It Out - July 21, 2010As a K5 library media specialist, I am always on the lookout for gripping books with substance to suggest to fifth graders. I also want books that bring young readers into worlds where redemption and compassion are themes. Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins is such a book which I had the pleasure to read in a day recently.
Bamboo People is the story of two boys, Chiko and Tu-Reh, in war torn Burma. Each have experienced the challenges of a country in turmoil: justice, mistreatment, rejection, revenge, and deception.
Chiko is the story of a young man whose desire is to teach. His father, a doctor, has been imprisoned by the military regime of Burma. When he responds to an ad for teachers, he is deceived and captured by the Burmese army. Being forced into the army, Chiko befriends a streetwise boy, Tai. Chiko learns how to fight and face the brutal treatment of training from Tai and in return, Tai learns to read and write.
Chiko's and Tai's lives take an interesting turn when they switch places for two tasks in the Burmese army.
Tu-Reh lives a different life. He is a Karenni refugee hiding in the jungle close to the Thailand-Burma border. His village is attacked and burned along with the bamboo fields. He wants revenge. Tu-Reh is thrilled that his father, his "Peh" has finally asked him to go on a mission.
Tu-Reh and Chiko's lives are about to intersect. When they do, each learns lessons in redemption, forgiveness, and compassion.
I could not put this book down. I had heard many good things prior to reading and was at first, worried it might be too high for fourth and fifth grade. Having read it, I think not, especially fifth grade. I cannot wait to hand Bamboo People to a colleague who has engaged her students with books about social justice in the world. We need more stories about how it is to be a child in other parts of the world. These stories are critical to opening the hearts and geography of my students.
Thank you, Mitali Perkins for bringing the world a tiny bit closer.
ForeWord Reviews - July 31, 2010
Chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection and included on IndieBound's Summer 2010 Kid's Indie Next List, Bamboo People is remarkable in its honest, poignant exploration of the everyday people involved in the conflict in Burma. Author Mitali Perkins exposes a major global issue, perhaps less known to juvenile readers, through an unassuming narration, and in doing so, creates an original work that will leave a lasting impression with readers of all ages.
Told in three sections, Bamboo People features two teen narrators, Chiko and Tu Reh. Chiko is an intelligent, literate Burmese boy who is strongly opposed to the Burmese military effort, but is conscripted into the army. Tu Reh, on the other hand, the son of a respected, peaceful Karenni leader, fights for independence fueled by deep anger towards the Burmese, who burned down his family's farm and home. While Chiko must find a way to get through his training and use his intelligence to his advantage, Tu Reh struggles with balancing his need for revenge with the integrity and values instilled in him by his family and community. The boys, whose journeys and struggles often seem to represent the average Burmese and Karenni experiences, are brought together when Chiko is put in a dangerous position that leaves him injured.
While the problems of a foreign land might not initially attract some juvenile readers, the candor and simplicity of Perkins' writing make not just the book, but the intellectual and political ideas behind the plot and theme, accessible. Short chapters help the book's readability as well. Perkins has written six other novels, including Rickshaw Girl, also published by Charlesbridge, which won the Jane Addams Honor Award, and the Julia Ward Howe Honor Award. A world traveler, Perkins' firsthand views of Thailand, and Karenni and Burmese refugees inform her writing.
Bamboo People strikes a wonderful balance between readability and meaning, exploring deep thematic issues such as honor, family, and the consequences of conflict. Without getting too graphic, the book communicates the struggles felt on both sides, and though the main characters are boys, the role of women is explored to an extent as well. At its core, Bamboo People gives nine- to twelve-year-olds an opportunity to broaden their horizons, and learn about other cultures--and isn't broadening our experience one of the chief pleasures of literature? The book's Web site provides even more information about the conflict, all generally presented in a non-threatening way. Through Bamboo People, even juvenile readers can become part of an intelligent, global community that will be empowered to truly effect positive change.
A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy - July 28, 2010
The Plot: Present day Burma. Chiko, fifteen and bookish, responds to an ad for teachers and discovers it's a scam by the military to force teenage boys into the army. Making it even worse is that his father was arrested four months ago and labelled a traitor for providing medical treatment to an "enemy of the state." He is now in the army of the same government who has put his father in prison. There is no escape, just enduring his time and finding some small comfort in knowing that his pay helps his mother, now alone with no income.
Tu Reh also is a teenage boy; he is a Karenni, an ethnic minority in Burma, the target of the army. He and his family live in a refuge camp because his Karenni village was burnt to the ground. A friend's mother died from forced labor; a teenage girl was captured by the army and tortured. Tu Reh wants to fight for Karenni independence, wants to fight the Burmese, wants to take his anger out in action.
The paths of Chiko and Tu Reh cross. A reluctant boy soldier, an angry fighter.
The Good: The first half of the book is told from Chiko's point of view; the second, from Tu Reh. First we meet Chiko, a lover of books and learning, an only child raised in the city, the son of a doctor. He isn't spoiled, but he is protected and safe and limited in his worldview. Upon hearing someone else in town speak, he thinks "their street accent grates on my ears." With this quick phrase, Perkins reveals Chiko's isolation and prejudices. Chiko is about to encounter much worse than accents.
Army training is brutal; the captain bullies the handful of teenage boys who, like, Chiko, were grabbed off the streets. Fighting and physical punishments are the norm. Tai, the street urchin whose accent so bothered Chiko, becomes Chiko's friend, helping him learn how to take a beating without getting hurt. In return, Chiko teaches Tai to read and write. Chiko--whose knowledge of courage came from books--learns what true courage and loyalty is when he has an opportunity to save himself from army life. Should he take it? Can he abandon Tai?
The second half of the book belongs to Tu Reh. He is in the jungle, helping his father carry medical supplies to the Karenni hiding from the Burmese. He wants action, he wants to do something, he wants revenge. He wants to kill the soldiers who have inflicted such hardships, such suffering on his people. Tu Reh thinks this is bravery, this is noble, this is doing the right thing. Is it? His father gives him a choice--the freedom to make a choice--to see what kind of man he is. This choice involves the first person in a Burmese army uniform Tu Reh sees. That person, of course, is Chiko.
And with that, my description of plot ends. Because, you know, spoilers. These two opposites, apparent enemies, who don't even share a language--the city boy, the village rebel--forge an unlikely friendship.
A book like Bamboo People, which introduces not one but two different cultures, can be tricky. How to avoid the awkward infodump? Perkins weaves information about language, food, customs and religion into the story so it's informative without being awkward. Food is shown: "I squeeze lime over my food and start eating." Later Tu Reh thinks, "Peh places both hands on my shoulders. I try not to show my surprise, but we both know that fathers only do this once or twice in a son's lifetime." The reader learns what Tu Reh calls his father, as well as typical father/son interactions for their culture.
Perkins crafts the story so that while older readers realize just how bad some things are, younger readers won't realize what they are not ready for. For example, it's pretty clear that an older teen who was tortured by soldiers was also raped, but that is never explicitly said.
Librarians and teachers will like Bamboo People because it's a welcome addition to collections. It's about Burma, told from an insider point of view. It's a great book for class and book group discussion, about Burma, about politics, about choices. Perkins has a website, Bamboo People, with topical resources.
Truthfully, though, while some readers look specifically for books set in other countries, others do not. Many books have multiple points of entry to connect with a reader. For those readers, Bamboo People is also about teen soldiers: "Imagine going to a job interview and, instead, being dragged into a bus and forced into the army?" It is about survival, surviving the army, surviving the jungle, surviving the enemy.
Bamboo People is also about one of my favorite plot devices: two enemies becoming friends by discovering what they have in common. I was reminded of The Matarese Circle, Robert Ludlum’s story of a CIA spy and KGB agent who start as enemies but realize the true enemy is not each other. Except, of course, Bamboo People isn't about spies and world conspiracies. And in Bamboo People, from the start Chiko and Tu Reh aren't that different, really. Neither is exactly a supporter of the Burmese government, but for different reasons. Each has to find out for himself what "courage" really means. Each matures. Each, also, has a romance that is played out within the norms of their society. Chiko likes the daughter of a neighbor; their relationship is comprised of shy smiles, a photograph given to Chiko, the hope of her mother's approval. Tu Reh, also, has a girl he likes. When he dreams of her, it's of them sharing a life together. Perkins does not impose American values about love, courtship, and dating on the interactions these young men have with the young women they like.
The Boston Sunday Globe - August 15, 2010
Bamboo People is a coming-of-age novel set in Burma, a highly repressive nation with an extraordinary number of child-soldiers. Author Mitali Perkins, born in India, raised in California, and now living in Newton, is well aware of the challenge involved in drawing Americans into the lives of people so far away. She herself was drawn to the story of Burma when she visited refugee camps along the border of Thailand. Though her author's note makes it clear that she wants people of all ages to understand what's going on there, her novel is first and foremost a compelling story. It opens with a young boy named Chiko indulging in what the Burmese government considers a suspicious activity: reading a book in English. Chiko's father has been taken away by soldiers. He and his mother, struggling to survive, don't know whether the government has imprisoned or killed him. Chiko, desperate to help his mother, decides to take a government test to become a teacher. Yet the call for teaching applicants is a ruse, and he is forced into the army, being put to a test like no other. Meanwhile, Tu Reh is living in a refugee camp on the Thai border. He is consumed by anger at the Burmese soldiers who burned his home and the bamboo fields of the Karenni people, one of the oppressed ethnic minorities in Burma. In the friendship that develops between the two boys lies a kernel of hope for the future of Burma.
A Fuse #8 Production - August 20, 2010There is a perception that many children acquire over the course of their education that learning and fun are mutually exclusive ideas. If a book has so much as a smidgen of a fact in it then it's no good to you, right? Fortunately, there are thousands of different kinds of child readers. Some like fantasy. Some like science fiction. Some go in for historical novels. And some like to be taken out of their humdrum lives and given a chance to see how the world works from a different perspective. They may even (gasp, shudder, shudder, gasp) enjoy reading realistic contemporary fiction. Enter Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins. I know we've enough books out there to say that this probably isn't the first book on Burmese child soldiers we've seen. It may well be the best, though. Splitting her book between two boys on opposite sides of a war they do not want, Perkins deftly drops us head first into a world we do not know and makes it accessible, understandable, and interesting. In a time when every other novel for kids is just a reiteration of an idea we've seen done a hundred ways before, here we have at least one book that knows that being important and being enjoyable are simply opposite sides of the same coin.
Chiko's life is spent mostly indoors, and it's driving him insane. Ever since his father was arrested and taken by the Burmese armies the boy has been forced to hide in his home. His mother's fear? That he'll be snatched away and forced to serve in the army like other boys his age. But when a risk taken to apply for a teaching position leads instead to his capture, Chiko is forced into the impossible position of aiding his government as a soldier. And though he makes a clever alliance with the smart street urchin Tai, it may only be a matter of time before Chiko is destroyed utterly by his service. Meanwhile, an opposite story is playing out in a Karenni community. Tu Reh is ready to fight for his people against the Burmese oppressors, but his very commitment to his cause is put to the test when he saves a wounded Burmese soldier. That's soldier's name? Chiko. And suddenly two worlds come together, causing both boys to question their lives and assumptions. An author's note and afterword give more information about Burma and what readers can do to improve the situation there.
The problem with a book of this sort is that as an author Ms. Perkins has to deliberately place her heroes in constant danger while at the same time keep the plot just upbeat enough that you're not crushed by despair. So it is that during their time training as soldiers, Chiko and Tai must constantly find ways to outwit their oppressors without going so far as to draw the worst of their ire. You are consistently made aware that at any moment something truly terrible could happen to the boys. At the same time, there's that strange flicker of hope that maybe they'll find a way out of their predicament. It keeps them going. It keeps you going too.
It's interesting then that Ms. Perkins switches the narrative focus halfway through the book. Up until this point you've been wholly enmeshed in Chiko's story. He is your friend on this journey, and to suddenly switch at this point feels harsh. You understand Tu Reh, of course. And as the story continues you may even grow to like him. But I believe that you never feel quite as close to Tu Reh as you feel to Chiko or even Tai. To be fair, Tu Reh is in a much tougher position. Unlike the two Burmese boys he's surrounded by people who care about him (for the most part) and his enemy is clear cut. They, in contrast, are surrounded by people seemingly on their own side who wish them harm. It's no surprise that the Epilogue belongs to Chiko then. He's the one you want to get the last word. Tu Reh's narrative is necessary, but Chiko's is the one you hang your heart on.
As a child I was a fantasy reader. I deliberately avoided any books with realistic tendencies, particularly if I suspected they might be what I dubbed "depressing". So there would be no reading of Bridge to Terabithia or Julie of the Wolves or any of that for me. It's funny to be a children's librarian now and to realize that while there are plenty of kids out there who share my tendencies, there are plenty more that are looking for something exactly like Bamboo People. Exciting, tense, often beautiful, and containing a moral without whapping you upside the head with it, Mitali Perkins yet again hits it out of the park. Even the fantasy fans like I was are going to find this an exciting ride. A book that continually keeps you guessing.
Semicolon - August 4, 2010I was once a pacifist.
When I was in high school I seriously considered becoming a Quaker or Mennonite because I read that those Christian denominations have a history and tradition of pacifism. One small glitch was that there weren’t too many Quakers or Mennonites in San Angelo (West Texas) to encourage me in my (pacifist) pilgrimage.
When I became an adult, I put away childish things, and yes, I realize how patronizing that statement sounds. I know that Christian pacifism, practiced as a life decision and a way of life, would be incredibly challenging and difficult. And war is certainly not the final answer to much of anything. But in this world I believe that self-defense and even violence are sometimes necessary evils.
All that introduction is to say that Mitali Perkins’ new book, Bamboo People, made me think again about these issues, and I love books that make me think. Bamboo People is set in modern-day Burma where the Burmese government is carrying on a vendetta against the tribal peoples of southern Burma, specifically in this novel, the Karen people, or Karenni. (Actually, according to Wikipedia, it’s a little complicated. The Karenni are a subgroup of the Karen or maybe a distinct but related group.)
"In 2004, the BBC, citing aid agencies, estimates that up to 200,000 Karen have been driven from their homes during decades of war, with 160,000 more refugees from Burma, mostly Karen, living in refugee camps on the Thai side of the border. Reports as recently as February, 2010, state that the Burmese army continues to burn Karen villages, displacing thousands of people.
Many, including some Karen, accuse the military government of Burma of ethnic cleansing. The U.S. State Department has also cited the Burmese government for suppression of religious freedom. This is a source of particular trouble to the Karen, as between thirty and forty percent of them are Christians and thus, among the Burmese, a religious minority." ~Wikipedia
Chiko is a Burmese city boy, educated by his doctor father who is now in prison for using his medical skills to help a leader of the resistance movement. Chiko feels as if he is in prison, too, since he cannot read English books in public or even leave the house for fear of being drafted into the military or imprisoned for some imagined or real infraction of the law.
Tu Reh lives in a Karenni refugee camp just across the Thai border from his ancestral home. The Burmese soldiers burned his village, and now Tu Reh longs for an opportunity to take revenge.
When these two young men meet, Chiko, an unwilling draftee into the Burmese army, and Tu Reh, accompanying his father on a mission of mercy, their decisions will mean life or death, possibly for many people. Is it possible to defend the helpless and also show mercy to one’s enemies? Although it’s not over-emphasized in the book, Tu Reh’s family are obviously Christians, and a lot of the tension in the story has to do with the application of Christian concepts of justice, mercy, hospitality, and healing in a difficult and complex situation. If not pacifism or revenge, then what? How do we balance and make the right decisions?
The key scene in the novel is at the end of chapter three. Tu Reh has become responsible for a wounded Burmese soldier, Chiko. Tu Reh’s father tells him, “I won’t command you, my son. A Karenni man must decide for himself. Leave him for the animals. End his life now. Or carry him to the healer. It’s your choice.” Then a little later in chapter four, Tu Reh’s father tells him, “One decision leads to another, my son. God will show you the way.”
Profound, good stuff.
Reading In Color - July 5, 2010IQ "A man full of hatred is like a gun, my son.' Peh says, 'He can be used for only one purpose-to kill.' [...] 'And that's why I'm going to stay like the bamboo, Tu Reh. I want to be used for many purposes. Not just one.'" pg. 148-149 (I know it's the quote on the back cover, but it's there for good reason. It jumped out at me the most).
Chiko is a Burmese boy who wants to be a teacher. His father is a doctor who has instilled in him a love of learning. However his father is seized by the government for treating "a leader of the freedom and democracy movement" (pg. 8) and declared an "enemy of the state." Chiko must now be even more careful read his beloved books in private. Chiko is later forced into the Burmese army. He is a city boy who loves peace and he's completely out of shape. He has a lot to learn, things he can't learn from books. Tu Reh is a Karenni boy who hates all Burmese people after Burmese soldiers destroyed his family's farm. His family had to flew to a refugee camp near Thailand. Tu Reh is ready and willing to fight against the Burmese, to him, they are not human beings.
The Burmese government wants to get rid of ethnic minorities, like the Karenni. They brainwash Burmese citizens into believing all ethnic minorities are evil and therefore must be kicked out of Burma. I've heard of Aung San Suu Kyi but I didn't know much about her and very little about Burma (also known as Myanmar). Yet another eye opening book by Mitali Perkins. She explains the reasoning behind the conflict in a way that all readers can understand without talking down to her young readers. She has created unforgettable characters, thus making sure you will not forget the story and the plight of Burma. I liked both boys, but Chiko was my favorite (why didn't he listen to his mother early on??). This might be because the reader spends more time with Chiko. I'm not exactly sure but I felt like more chapters were devoted to Chiko, which was fine with me. I also fell in love with Tai, I wanted to meet him and receive the honor of being his friend. He's funny, brave and without him Chiko might not have survived. I also wanted to meet and become friends with Ree Meh, a Karenni girl that Tu Reh befriends. She's stubborn and fiercely independent, so she might not want to be friends at first ;) Actually, I wanted to meet all these characters.
When I did my New Crayons post, I mentioned that I feared being depressed by the story because both boys are essentially child soldiers (Burma has the largest number of child soldiers). It's an important story to be told, but I always feel helpless when I read these sort of stories. I was wrong. This story does not ask for pity, instead it merely seeks to inform you. To let you know that there are tragic events happening outside your own little bubble, but people are surviving. It is a story is filled with hope and humor, it's an uplifting tale of friendship and tolerance. In fact, pity on the person who does not read this book and get to meet such wonderful characters and learn about the resilient people. As a bonus, the book includes ways we can help so at least I feel useful. The story never becomes tedious and characters are slowly but surely changing for the better.
Bamboo People is a lot like the bamboo that the people of Burma represent; it has multiple purposes. The story entertains, uplifts and educates. It is a story that will leave an impact on you, whether you realize it or not. I couldn't help but wonder if Chiko and Tu Reh would have been friends, we will never really know due to the fact that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both boys start off letting their circumstances shape them, but they soon learn to take their future into their own hands. I was transported to Burma and learned not only about the causes of the war and the trials of living there but also the smaller things like the clothing, food and the outward differences between the Burmese and the Karenni (most Karenni are Christians whereas the Burmese are Buddhists). What I really want to know is why did the U.S. only just allow the Karenni to enter the U.S. in 2009? An absolute must read for everyone, it reminds us, once again, that literature teaches tolerance.
Becky's Book Reviews - July 21, 2010Teachers wanted. Applicants must take examination in person.
Bamboo People has two narrators; each on a different side of the war; each closer to childhood than adulthood.
Chiko, who narrates the first half of the novel, is tricked into joining the Burmese army. His father, a doctor, is in prison for "resisting" the government. His mother is worried about her son. Worried that her son will be taken away from her. But she reluctantly agrees that her son should answer the ad for teachers. Her son is smart, and he would make an excellent teacher. Is it a trap? Neither know for sure. But Chiko feels he's failing his father. He feels he isn't being a man. That he's not doing a good job of providing for the family. That a real man wouldn't stay indoors and hide hoping that the trouble will pass him by. Tai is another child, another boy, taken the same time as Chiko. These two become good friends. Chiko even takes time to teach him how to read and write. Neither wants to be in the army. Neither wants to see war.
Tu Reh, our second narrator, is living in the Karenni refugee camp. He has every reason to hate the Burmese. And like so many of the others he's been taught to hate his enemy. But one day he discovers a dying soldier--someone he sees as a mere boy, a child. His first instinct is to kill. Yet something stops him from killing. Something even prompts him to pick the boy up and carry him to a healer. It isn't easy for Tu Reh, it's a decision he questions again and again. Yet he can't regret saving a life. He can't regret seeing this child-soldier as a fellow human. There is something remarkable about Tu Reh.
I loved both narrators. I loved seeing the human side of war. I think Bamboo People is a very compelling read.
It is set in contemporary times.
Kids Lit - July 30, 2010Set in modern Burma, this novel is the story of two teen boys on opposite sides of the conflict between the Burmese and the Karenni, one of Burma’s ethnic minorities. Chiko’s father has been arrested for opposing the Burmese government. Now Chiko and his mother have no money to survive on, so Chiko heads out to be tested for a teaching position. But the test was a trap, and Chiko is taken into the Burmese army training to become a soldier. There he uses his wits to survive, befriending a street boy, who knows much more about fighting and survival than he does. When the time comes to allow his friend to head to the jungle on a dangerous mission, Chiko steps up and offers himself instead. Through that mission, he is rescued by Tu Reh, a Karenni teen, who has hated the Burmese ever since they burned down his village. Now Chiko’s life is in the hands of Tu Reh, who sees him only as the enemy. This book is about the bravery it takes to make decisions that turn boys into men, learning that compassion is the only way forward.
Beautifully written, Perkins has captured a complicated situation in a way that young readers will not only understand but will be drawn to. Rather than using alternating chapters for the two points of view, Perkins tells the first part of the book from Chiko’s point of view and then Tu Reh enters in the second half. This lends a great cohesiveness to the story, allowing readers to view the conflict from both sides, understand both, and at the same time get enough in-depth time with each character to see through their eyes.
Perkins excels at depicting foreign cultures through sounds, scents, and tastes. Food is used to convey the differences and similarities of cultures. There are no long paragraphs of description here, instead readers are treated to details woven into the story that bring the entire book to life. This is done with a skill that makes it seem effortless.
Her characterizations are also done with the same grace, allowing readers to slowly learn about the two boys, learn about the cultures, and slowly be exposed to the horror that teens on both sides of the conflict live with. The darker parts of battle and imprisonment are dealt with obliquely, allowing readers to bring their own level of understanding to the atrocities being committed. Again, this is a testimony to the skill of Perkins’ writing.
Highly recommended, this book takes the horrors of war and package them in a piercingly beautiful story. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Media Macaroni - July 22, 2010When Mitali Perkins spoke at the Children’s Author Breakfast at BookExpo, she talked about how books can be both windows and mirrors: windows in the sense that they let you look in on other people’s lives and cultures, and mirrors in the sense that you can see yourself reflected in the characters. This is a wonderful approach to writing, especially when writing for young readers.
Mitali’s latest book is Bamboo People, a simultaneously tragic and uplifting tale set in modern-day Burma. Half the book is told from the perspective of Chiko, a scholarly Burmese boy that gets forced into military service. The other half is told from the persective of Tu Reh, a Karenni refugee living with his family on the Thai border. Chiko’s experience is shaped by the fact that his father, a doctor, is imprisoned for resisting the government. Tu Reh’s experience is colored by his thirst for vengeance after Burmese soldiers burned his home. The story of Bamboo People is how these two boys came to meet, and what happens once they do.
Sounds heavy, right? And yet I couldn’t put this book down. Not only did I learn a lot about a part of the world that I’ll admit I never give any thought to, but I found the characters to be so fully painted I couldn’t help but project myself into their world – a great window into Burma. Mitali Perkins’ writing is totally accessible, and kids will find themselves learning not just about the world, but about the human spirit and the choices that we have the power to make. They may even see a bit of themselves mirrored in these characters half a world away.
She Is Too Fond of Books... - July 6, 2010Bamboo People takes place in a setting that forces boys to grow too soon into men. Throughout the novel, author Mitali Perkins shows the sharp contrasts, almost dichotomies, of present-day Burma. Even the landscape doesn’t escape this shift, as 15-year-old Chiko describes what could be beautiful scenery, using the word “blood” to foreshadow the way his world is changing (p. 31):
"We’re already on the outskirts of the city and heading north, where rice paddies and coconut trees line the narrow, flat highway. Women are harvesting rice, their bodies bent, their bamboo hats shaped like upside-down bowls. Thin, straight streams sparkle like wires, dividing the wet fields into squares. The last rays of the sun redden, spilling into the water like blood."
Chiko has seen changes in his country: his father has been arrested, he and his mother hide the foreign books in their home, whisper so as not to be overheard when in public, and avoid calling attention to themselves. Chiko repeats a mantra to help him through difficult times (p. 79): One day at a time. Mind your business. Stay out of trouble.
As the story moves along, Chiko adds a prayer to his chant: Give me courage. Chiko reevaluates his goals, weighing the possibility of helping someone else, instead of only looking out for himself. There is a great lesson subtly taught in these pages, and one that is shown again in the section narrated by Tu Reh, the 16-year-old Karenni refugee.
Tu Reh, too, is faced with a choice – does he see one Burmese person as an indidual, or does he see him only as part of the larger politically-driven group who has hurt his family and destroyed their home? Tu Reh and Chiko are both given the opportunity to practice The Golden Rule, and model just treatment of others. Whether each chooses to follow it and treat others as they would desire to be treated (not necessarily as they have been treated), is a test of character under extreme circumstances.
Mitali Perkins brings the reader into Burma, showing us not only the beautiful natural settings and the characters of various ethnic groups, but also the oppression in the city, the jungle, and the camps. Even within the government-backed “training centers” for soldiers, there is a hierarchy of cruelty, with higher-ups bullying the new recruits. There are references to maiming and attempts at killing people on the opposite side of the conflict; hidden mines litter the jungle. The violence is a necessary part of the story, and though it is not overly graphic, it did inspire a “It seems so real” comment from my 12-year-old-son, a mature and sensitive reader. What an awesome opportunity for me to talk with him about justice, tying the conversation not only to the Burmese conflict, but also to examples closer to home.
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Bamboo People, and recommend it to mature Young Adult (and not-so-young adult) readers. Despite the threat of violence and the anger of the conflict, Chiko and Tu Reh are each shown love and support by their own families; the opportunity to practice the Golden Rule begins at home.
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust - July 16, 2010I love books that introduce kids (and adults!) to moments in history or injustices in the world that are otherwise foreign or unknown to them. Mitali Perkins does this in her newest book Bamboo People. She takes the story of two boys, Chiko and Tu Reh, two theoretical enemies, one Burmese, one Karenni, and shows how their lives collide.
I found Chiko's story incredibly gripping and tragic but I had a more difficult time following along with Tu Reh's story. The character names in his half of the story were all so similar (Sa Reh, Bu Reh, Ree Meh...) that I couldn't remember who was who.
With books like this, I often find myself reading the author's note either at the beginning or mid-way through my reading because it helps to give context to the story. That is something I encourage all readers to do. I'll be doing a book talk on this book with my new class in September, and the first thing I'll do is read the author's note, and then I'll lead into telling them about the story.
I highly recommend this book as a parley into teaching and learning about the injustices of modern Burma.
Librarian by Day - August 2, 2010Two teenage boys, on opposite sides of a conflict tearing apart Burma, find common ground. Chiko worries about taking care of his mother after his father is arrested for being a traitor to the government. Hoping to become a teacher, instead he is forced into the army and is sent on a mission against the rebel Karenni tribe. Injured by a mine, he is discovered by Tu Reh, a member of the Karenni. Full of hatred for the Burmese soldiers that burned his village, Tu Reh at first thinks he should let Chiko die in the jungle. But something makes Tu Reh bring Chiko to the refugee camp that he lives at. Both boys will find a new path for themselves--one that holds out hope for their country.
Told in the voices of Chiko and Tu Reh, their stories are symbolic of the violent conflict that is currently tearing apart the country of Burma. Each boy struggles internally with ethical and moral issues, slowly finding a way to resolve these dilemmas. By choosing the harder path, both Chiko and Tu Reh mature, each story serving as counterpoint for the other's. Full of heartfelt language that describes both the daily life and the hardships of the Burmese and Karenni people, Bamboo People offers a look at a little-known current event.
Amy Reads - July 2, 2010Read this book. That is all.
I lie, that is not all. How could I leave you with only that and expect you to listen? So instead I will give you more information about why this is one of the best and most important YA books I’ve read this year, and why I think everyone – including those who don’t read much YA – should read it. (Yes, I liked it THAT much.)
First of all, the issues. This book deals with issues specifically relating to Burma, but they aren’t specific to Burma at all. Civil conflict, child soldiers, refugees, ethnic violence, injustice, hate, these are issues that are current all over the world. This book does an absolutely brilliant job of outlining how and why people become how they are, and what is truly important. The back cover says:
“A man full of hatred is like a gun, my son,” Peh says. “He can be used for only one purpose – to kill. And that’s why I’m going to stay like the bamboo, Tu Reh. I want to be used for many purposes.”
This coming-of-age story takes place against the political and military backdrop of modern-day Burma. Narrated by two teenage boys on opposing sides of the conflict between the Burmese governments and the Karenni, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma, Bamboo People explores the nature of violence, power, and prejudice as seen through the eyes of child soldiers and refugees.
Chiko, a studious and peaceful Burmese boy whose father has been seized by the government for his liberal views, is conscripted into the Burmese army. Tu Reh, an angry Karenni boy whose family’s home and bamboo fields have been destroyed by Burmese soldiers, is eager to fight for independence. Timidity becomes courage and anger becomes tolerance as each boy is changed by unlikely friendships forged by extreme circumstances.
Perkins has written an incredibly powerful and moving book that deals with these issues beautifully. The book never became cliché or boring, the story pulled me right in and didn’t let go. I was left wanting more, wanting to know what happened next to all of the characters, to the places the story took place.
I have previously read other books about civil conflicts and about child soldiers, so that part of the story was not so new to me. This was the first novel that I read about these issues though, and it was definitely more than I expected. I think everyone should read this to learn more about the issues and complexities that exist around the world, especially in these situations. It would have been easy to take the easy road, to portray the situation as less complex than it is, but Perkins never does that. The book is honest and real and truly shows the different views and opinions that people have.
Perkins includes an author’s note at the end of the book in which she talks about why she wrote this book, and about her time in Thailand and meeting Burmese refugees. She says (emphasis mine):
If you want to promote peace and democracy in Burma or help refugees fleeing from that country, please visit www.bamboopeople.org, where I provide resources, a teacher’s guide, and suggestions for involvement.
This is one of those books that I feel like I *should* give away because I want more people to read it, but I can’t bear to part with it yet. It will make the rounds of my family and friends – whoever I can force to read it basically, and then I will consider again :)
EconKids - August 27, 2010Burma's repressive military regime has taken a stranglehold over the country by killing and arresting those who opposed its brutal measures. The military has also suppressed members of ethnic groups along the border and forced young Burmese boys into the army to fight the suspected insurgents. These measures directly affected Chiko and Tu Reh, two boys at the center of this new novel about the hardships in modern-day Burma.
Chiko, a smart and gentle child, desperately misses his father, a foreign-trained doctor thrown into prison by the military government. Chiko also falls victim to the military's oppressive means when a falsified job ad leads to his capture and forced labor in the Burmese army. Ironically, his survival ultimately depends on Tu Reh, an ethnic Karenni teenager living in a refugee camp along the Thai border. The Burmese army had burned Tu Reh's village and had brutalized the people, leaving Tu Reh with little tolerance or patience for the young Burmese soldier he found gravely injured in the jungle.
Perkins, a gifted storyteller and careful researcher, gives voice to both Chiko and Tu Reh in consecutive narratives that describe Chiko's training-camp ordeal and Tu Reh's efforts to help support the Karenni resistance. Liberally woven into the story are themes of hope, courage, friendship, and grace, making the novel an enjoyable read despite the grim topic. The book gets top marks for bringing the reader into a country with which relatively few people have any real familiarity or understanding.
Notes from the Horn Book - September 1, 2010In Bamboo People, Mitali Perkins draws a persuasive picture of contemporary Burma/Myanmar. Young, bookish Chiko wants to believe the Burmese government is hiring teachers, but at a recruitment meeting he’s abruptly gang-pressed into the army and sent to a remote border region. He’s captured by rebels, and the second half of the narrative is told from the perspective of Tu Reh, a rebel boy involved in Chiko’s capture. Readers will be drawn into the rich drama and action.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books - October 1, 2010The career dreams of fifteen-year-old Chiko seem to be over when a group registration session for prospective teachers turns out to be an ambush for abducting new recruits into the Burmese army. The genteelly raised doctor's son is ill prepared to deal with the rigors of army life, and he quickly becomes a target for a sadistic officer. With the aid of Tai, an orphaned street boy who wants only to escape and protect his young sister, Chiko and his group of recruits toughen up and cleverly accomplish all of "Captain Evil's" nearly impossible assignments. Chiko, in turn, teaches Tai to read and write, a skill which ultimately separates the two young men; Tai is sent back to the city as a clerk, while Chiko is sent, unarmed, on a mission to wipe out a nest of rebelling Karenni, an ethnic group putting up fierce resistance to the ruling Burmese. Chiko steps on a land mine, and as he blacks out, the narration shifts to Tu Reh, a sixteen-year-old Karenni on a mission with his father to resupply rebels hiding in the jungle. They come upon critically wounded Chiko, and Tu Reh, charged by his father to decide how to handle the young prisoner, resists his initial impulse to shoot the enemy. Bringing Chiko back to the refugee camp for treatment, however, calls Tu Reh's loyalties into question among some of the Karenni. Political background is occasionally forced ("Father used to tell me about people like the . . . Karenni. The government is trying to get rid of them and take their land, but they have a right to be a part of our country. After all, they've lived here for centuries"). Tu Reh's narration sometimes takes on the tone of a B-movie: "It's time to act-time to grow up and become a man. A man for the Karenni." Most problematic, though, is the improbable tidying of loose ends, in which all outcomes are far too rosy for even the most optimistic readers to expect in a war story. Still, the political struggles of Myanmar (Perkins explains in an appended note her decision to use the term "Burma") are worth examining, and readers not ready for the harsher detail of boy soldiers in Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone (BCCB 5/07) will find Chiko and Tu Reh's adventures intriguing.
A Patchwork of Books - September 22, 2010Mitali Perkins has a knack for creating intricate, believable characters and has definitely done so in Bamboo People. The story of two boys, Chiko, a child forced into being a soldier for the Burmese government, and Tu Rei, a Karenni boy, whose people the Burmese are attempting to take over will give you both sides of a relatively unknown story. The boys are set up by society to be enemies, but both possess personalities that ultimately draw them into a strange, yet touching friendship.
Not only will readers learn a lot about a culture they probably haven't heard a whole lot about, as well as an ongoing problem with child soldiers in that region of the world, but they'll also be taken by the personal stories of both Chiko and Tu Rei. They're written so realistically that one can't help but put themselves into the position of these boys. It's a terrifying concept to even think about, from either side of the war, and a true inspiration to spread the word about this subject.
I did find portions of the story to be a bit wordy, going on for longer than I would have liked, but I have absolutely no other complaints. I loved this latest piece by Mitali Perkins from cover to cover (and even quite literally the cover)! I am always amazed at how much she is able to educate, as well as entertain with her books.
A great choice to read aloud with your class for a unit on world conflict or something along those lines.
The Secret Adventures of WriterGirl - September 29, 2010This book is probably one of the best reads I've come across this year. It is haunting and beautiful at once, full of courage and strength and as a glimpse into modern-day Burma, it is eye-opening.
The story tells two different sides of the same story. The first is of Chiko, a studious Burmese boy who must be kept inside for fear of his own government kidnapping him and drafting him into service. His father has already been arrested for helping "the enemy" and they know nothing of his whereabouts, even though they are required to send in a monthly allowance to support him, and they are not sure if he is still alive and if the government is only lying to them. Deceived by a newspaper advertisement, Chiko is indeed taken without warning to a remote jungle location to be trained to fight the "barbaric" Karenni, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma.
There he finds a friend in Tai, a street boy also taken, who is desperate to get back to his sister. They train together and help each other survive in ways they could not on their own. Chiko is then drafted to go on a "secret mission" into the jungle--as a mine tester. The story then switches to Tu Reh's perspective, a Karenni boy barely older than Chiko and filled with hatred for what the Burmese has done to his people. Here the two stories converge.
It is a very difficult thing having multiple perspectives in a story. Often you become attached to one character and could care less about the other and only suffer through their chapters to get back to your favorite. That is not the case here. Having been thoroughly invested in Chiko for half the book, it is a brilliant stroke on Ms. Perkins part to reintroduce Chiko the moment the perspective's shift instead of going "back to the beginning" to tell Tu Reh's story. You pick it up seamlessly as the story progresses. And I can see the importance in the character shift. You needed to hear both sides of this story. Both of them grow in great ways and therin lies Mitali Perkins' greatest strength. Her characters are complex and real. Even the side characters had a depth to them that made me feel like I truly understood them (and I have to admit, I was completely in love with Tai's character. He was awesome). Even the love stories on both Chiko's and Tu Reh's parts were lovely. And her descriptions of the world draw you in. The details of the humidity, the fruits and plants, the threats from the jungle, everything. It felt like you were there with them, and I loved that.
Overall, a wonderful read I would highly recommend.
School Library Journal - November 1, 2010With authenticity, insight, and compassion, Perkins delivers another culturally rich coming-of-age novel. Two teens on opposing sides of ethnic conflict in modern-day Burma (Myanmar) tell an intertwined story that poignantly reveals the fear, violence, prejudice, and hardships they both experience. Chiko, a quiet, studious student whose medical doctor father has been arrested as a traitor, is seized by the government and forced into military training. Chiko is groomed for guerrilla warfare against the Karenni, a Burmese minority group living in villages and refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. After he and his patrol stumble into land mines, Tu Reh, an angry Karenni and rebel fighter, must decide whether or not to save him. Tu Reh's home was destroyed by Burmese soldiers, and he struggles with his conscience and his desire for revenge and independence. Both Chiko and Tu Reh are caught in a conflict that neither fully understands. Family, friendships, and loyalty have shaped their lives. But as young soldiers, they face harrowing situations, profound suffering, and life-and-death decisions. Both boys learn the meaning of courage. Chiko and Tu Reh are dynamic narrators whose adolescent angst and perspectives permeate the trauma of their daily lives. Dialogue and descriptions are vibrant; characters are memorable; cultural characteristics are smoothly incorporated; and the story is well paced. Perkins has infused her narrative with universal themes that will inspire readers to ponder humanitarian issues, reasons for ethnic conflict, and the effects of war. The author's notes provide helpful background information on Burmese history and the ongoing military regime's repression of minorities.
Crazy Quilts - October 25, 2010The hinges of the front door creak, and a rusty voice calls out, “Wei-Lin! I heard that boy of yours shouting from my kitchen. And I saw him reading a book. Outside.”
It’s only Daw Widow. Mother lets go of my hand. Quickly I tuck my shirt into my trousers and push up my glasses. Lei enters the house behind her mother, looking like an orchid in her slim green sarong. Her purple silk blouse seems to carry the sunlight into our house.
Mitali Perkins creates the layers of this scene with such great skill that it is easy to slide into the story’s space. These few sentences tell us so much about relationships, environment and culture, as does the entire text of Bamboo People. I read in one of Mitali’s interviews that Tu Reh was initially the only character in the story. We meet him in the second half of the book and learn that he has been misplaced from his native land by the Burmese army. He reluctantly saves Chiko’s life after Chiko is forced to lead troops through mine infested territory to find what they’re told is a cache of weapons. Chiko does not seem to be an after thought in the story. We come to know his role in his family, the issues that young boys in Burma face and we see his strengths and weaknesses.
Perkins skillfully gives us two young boys who have such a complicated connection yet they manage, these children manage, to find the humanity in their situation. With little reason to hope, they manage to persevere. Chiko and TuReh as well as the other characters in the story realize that becoming educated and wise is more important than hanging onto childhood.
While this seems to be the story of two boys, it is the story of a country that is torn apart by war. It’s the story of how families are lost and recreated, how girls lose their womanhood, how countries and ethnicities clash and how people manage to survive. Perkins doesn’t get this heavy or preachy. The issues are there, but they don’t weigh the story down.
“She asked a lot of questions about my family. And she told me about your home in the village, Tu Reh. And how it was burned. I’m -I’m sorry.”
I can’t answer. It’s a strage sensation, hearing a Burmese soldier apologize. What am I supposed to say?
“Do you have dreams for the future, Tu Reh?” Chiko asks suddenly.
“Not as big as yours,” I say. “Some land, some rice, a family, a home. That’s all.”
“That’s enough. Who needs more than that? I hope you get it.”
“I hope so, too.”
Worlds of Words - November 8, 2010Bamboo People takes place in modern-day Burma (Myanmar) where there is political upheaval between the Burmese people and ethnic minorities in that country, specifically the Karenni people. The first part of the book is narrated by Chiko, a Burmese boy, who aspires to be a teacher to make a difference in the world. With his father in prison for resisting the government, Chiko answers a call in a newspaper to help his family. Unfortunately he discovers he has been tricked along with other applicants to be a boy soldier in the Burmese army. He is pressed into the army and bused to a remote camp in the border region to put down a Karenni rebellion. Chiko’s reading and writing skills help him endure a cruel army captain and brutal conditions. He is eventually captured by the Karenni rebels who send him to refugee camp in Thailand where he awaits their decision on whether he will be killed, kept captive, or released. The second half of the book is told by Tu Reh, a Karenni boy, who is involved in Chiko’s capture. Tu Reh is forced to live in a refugee camp after Burmese soldiers burn down his family’s home and is consumed by anger and the desire for revenge. He is chosen for a military mission as part of his people’s resistance movement. Chiko and Tu Reh’s stories artfully come together when both are sent on their first mission into the jungle and Tu Reh has to make a difficult decision, “Who is his enemy?”
Lengthy back matter includes insights about modern Burma and “What’s in a name?” in addition to an informative author’s note and acknowledgements. Readers will learn additional historical and contemporary information about Burma by accessing a website with resources, a teacher’s guide and suggestions for involvement. In the author’s note Mitali Perkins shares that she lived in Thailand, next door to Burma, for three years, and visited the Karenni refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. On the website, she states that she was astounded by how the Karenni kept their hopes alive despite incredible loss, dreaming of the day when they would once again be a free people. She was impressed with how the Karenni creatively used the bamboo plant for all kinds of purposes, including transportation, weapons, food, storage, and irrigation, and so decided to use the plant as a symbol for the peoples of that region. Her interactions with Burmese teenagers made her aware of their difficulties as well because of the lack of schooling and jobs and the realization that, for many young boys, being a soldier is their only option to feed their families. Perkins notes that all of us face powerful negative emotions, but also face choices in acting on them. See www.bamboopeople.org for more information.
This riveting novel shares the horrors of war, the oppression of ethnic minorities, the lives of child soldiers from two different sides, and insights into a country that is not familiar to many adolescents. With themes of war, prejudice, child soldiers, friendship, and family, this book could be paired with The Enemy: A Book about Peace (Davide Cali, 2009), A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Ishmael Beah, 2007), or Daniel Half Human: And The Good Nazi (David Chotjewitz, 2004). Readers may also want to explore other books by Mitali Perkins such as Secret Keeper (2009), Rickshaw Girl (2007) and Monsoon Summer (2006).
BookDragon - November 9, 2010Inspired by three years of living in Thailand with her family and visiting refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, Mitali Perkins’ latest novel follows the lives of two boys on opposite sides of a war they have inherited.
City-educated Chiko feels compelled to apply for a government teaching position in hopes of supporting his mother while the two wait for news of his doctor father who has been imprisoned for resisting the Burmese government. When he goes to city hall to apply, he’s abducted with other young boys and taken far into the mountains to be trained as a soldier. Chiko’s academic lifestyle has not prepared him for the physical challenges of fighting life, but he makes quick friends with homeless orphan boy Tai whose street smarts just might save them both …
Tu Reh takes over the story’s narration midway through, as he must decide the fate of the seriously injured Chiko. Tu Reh is a Karenni boy soldier, a member of one of the many ethnic tribes that challenge the rule of the corrupt Burmese government. Out for his first mission with his hero father, the group finds Chiko is the only survivor of a mine blast. Tu Reh’s father quickly bandages Chiko, then puts his fate into his son’s hands – take him to the nearby healer and save his life, or leave him to die.
Both Chiko and Tu Reh are mere boys, learning as best as they can amidst inhuman, unjust conditions not of their making. But somehow, someone has instilled them with morals and goodness strong enough to counter the fighting and hatred, regardless of the imminent threat to kill or be killed … indeed, while these children have inherited war, they’re the only hope of somehow, someday ending the violence.
Perkins adds a pertinent end chapter, “About Modern Burma,” which warns of the unfortunate situation of the majority of the Karenni people even now. In her “Author’s Note,” she wisely asks her readers the toughest questions, “What would you do if your mother was hungry and your only option to feed her was to fight in the army? What if you saw soldiers burning your home and farm while you ran for your life?” In spite of such tragic, horrifying experiences, both Chiko and Tu Reh manage to find their human spirit beyond vengeful reactions … others in Perkins’ story certainly do not. She gently but encouragingly offers resources to those who “want to promote peace and democracy in Burma or help refugees fleeing from that country” at www.bamboopeople.org.
Read Chiko’s and Tu Reh’s story. Learn how young Nya Meh learned to forgive the worst atrocities a young girl could ever face and chose instead to heal others. And how Chiko’s father never forgot the kindness of his childhood Karenni friend. And how grandfather implores the hot-headed others, “If we give way to hatred, we won’t be any better than our enemies.”
Join in. Let peace start today, one reader at a time …
Library Media Connection - November 1, 2010Set in Burma, this novel highlights the struggles of everyday people against a tyrannical government. Chiko, whose father was seizeed by the authorities becasue of his political views, represents one viewpoint, while Tu Reh, a Karenni young man, represents another. The first half of the novel is Chiko's story, while the second half is Tu Reh's. In order to support himself and his mother, Chiko applies for a teaching job. At city hall, soldiers force Chiko and others to join the army. Chiko is injured on a mission in Thailand. Tu Reh and his family are Burmese refugees who escaped to Thailand after soldiers burned their home and fields. When he comes across the injured Chiko, he wants to leave him to die, but his father takes Chiko to the village where he is healed. Tu Reh and Chiko come to an understanding. This title is realistic fiction at its best. The multiple settings, the characterization, and the dialogue are well done, and the reader becomes engrossed in another culture and gains a greater understanding of a country torn apart by its government's brutality.
The Hate-Mongering Tart - November 15, 2010Bamboo People has a unique design. The first half of the book is about Chiko, a young Burmese teen, and son of a doctor with liberal views. When his father is taken away by the government for alleged treason, Chiko worries about his mother, his neighbor, and his best friend and love interest, Lei. When the government comes to force him into the military, Chiko’s life is turned inside-out. He is an educated boy — one of few in his community who can read and write and speak English — and he always thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps. Now forced into life as a child solider, in a regime run by cruel officers, Chiko’s only hope at survival is holding on to the memories of Lei and his father, photos of whom he carries in his uniform pocket. Developing a friendship with fellow soldier Tai, a boy from the streets, and using his literacy to get close to one compassionate officer, Chiko might have a chance to make it out of this unthinkable situation in one piece. But when something goes wrong and Chiko’s group of soldiers is sent into enemy territory, all hope is seemingly lost. At this point the book shifts perspectives to that of the young man Tu Reh, a Karenni boy who has seen the Burmese destroy his people’s homes and kill his friends and neighbors. When he goes with a small fleet of men on a mission into the forest, he finally feels like he can do something about it. But what he doesn’t expect to encounter is a Burmese soldier, his age, on the brink of death. Tu Reh’s peh gives him the choice: kill him now and save him the suffering, or bring him to see the medicine woman in the forest and see if he can be healed. This story of war — a story shockingly set in today’s Burma along the Thai border — becomes a story of human compassion and survival against all odds. This book broke my heart, and it made me want to tell everyone about the struggle in Burma. Bamboo People is not only an important book, but an elegantly written story, with characters that feel completely real. Mitali Perkins writes Chiko and Tu Reh in a way that makes them three-dimensional, and forces you to let them into your heart. This book is a serious Newbery contender. Read Bamboo People. Please. And keep a box of tissues by your side.
Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian - December 8, 2010This is still an area of current events many young people may not be familiar with, and whether as a private read or a class assignment, Bamboo People is an excellent way to bring them right to the heart of the conflict. In addition to the war in Burma, there are a myriad of other issues that could take hours of class discussion time.
The general attitude among some teens is still that being a soldier might be cool (and we do in fact think our American military members are pretty darn cool). Chiko's experiences, however, will take away quite a bit of the perceived glamour. And in a time when many young men - and women - are filled with feelings of anger and helplessness, it is Tu Reh's story in particular that may open a dialogue about what it in fact takes to be a man.
Perkins as usual conveys culture, politics, and history in such a way that readers never feel like they are being instructed. Characters are real and easy to empathise with from their first introduction. A must-have for any middle or high school library.
Christian Library Journal - February 1, 2011Part one of Bamboo People, by Mitali Perkins, tells the story of Chiko, a Burmese boy who longs to be a teacher, but is captured by the military and forced to be a soldier. He makes friends with a street boy, Tai, who teaches him how to survive in the harsh training camp. Later, when Chiko is selected to go on a jungle mission, his leg is severely damaged in a mine blast.
Part two follows the story of Tu Reh, the Karenni "rebels" the Burmese are fighting against. Full of anger after witnessing his village burned by Burmese soldiers, Tu Reh is eager to kill a Burmese soldier on his first jungle mission. When they come across the injured Chiko, Tu Reh’s father makes him decide whether to leave him in the forest to be devoured by wild animals, "mercy kill" him on the spot, or carry him to the nearby healer. "God will show you the way" his father says.
Although Chiko loses his leg, his life is saved, thanks to the decision Tu Reh makes to carry him to get help? Even though it goes against everything in Tu Reh’s heart. Despite being enemies, these two young men find a connection with each other that neither expects.
Bamboo People deals with the harsh reality of today’s ongoing war in Burma. If anything, it deals too gently with the issue, although this makes it more palatable for younger readers. The characters, while likeable, are relatively two-dimensional. The message is good and the story educates readers about conflict in an area of the world with which they may may be relatively unfamiliar.
Bloomsbury Review - March 28, 2011Inspired by three years of living in Thailand and visiting refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, Perkins’ latest novel follows the lives of two boys on opposite sides of a war they have inherited. City-educated Chiko is abducted and taken far into the mountains to be trained as a soldier. Tu Reh is a Karenni boy soldier, a member of one of the many ethnic tribes that challenge the rule of the corrupt Burmese government. Their colliding paths become a matter of life and death. Chiko and Tu Reh are still children, learning as best as they can amidst inhuman, unjust conditions not of their making. But somehow, someone has instilled them with morals and goodness strong enough to counter the fighting and hatred … and they will prove to be the only hope of someday ending the violence.
CCBC Choices - May 31, 2011Chiko wants to be a teacher but lives in fear of conscription by the Myanmar government if he leaves his home. But with little money for food since his father, a doctor, was arrested for treating political resisters, Chiko risks applying for a government teaching job. That's when he's rounded up with a group of young men at the application center and forced into the army. Chiko survives the physical demands of military training with the help of Tai, a savvy boy from the streets. In turn he teaches Tai to read, something that infuriates their Captain. Part one of this riveting narrative ends with an explosion during a dangerous mission. Part two picks up the story from the perspective of Tu Reh, a Karenni teen who finds injured Chiko and takes him back to his people against his own better judgement. Tu Reh's tribe has suffered severly at the hands of the government army, and many of his fellow tribe members are furious he has brought an enemy soldier to their refugee camp. It's a battle against prejudice and hatred, including his own, for Tu Reh to see Chiko as an individual and not a soldier. When he does, he discovers that this young Burmese man is no less a victim of the Myanmar government than his own people have been. Mitali Perkins sheds light on the current political oppression in Burma (Myanmar) in this eye-opening story.
The Spring Book Review, Kutztown University - April 12, 2011Burma, an Asian country the size of Texas, is being torn apart by ethnic battles. Chiko is a teenage boy who can read and write in English and Burmese and wants to become a teacher. Tu Reh is a street-smart boy living on the streets with his sister. In a time of peace Chiko and Tu Reh would never have met and Burma would only be the place they lived rather than the place that forces them to become soldiers. The story follows the two boys as they deal with abuse by their officers and experience their first missions. This novel, aimed at a middle school to high school audience, explores a painfully tragic picture of life as a conscripted Burmese soldier. It is also a story of making friends and overcoming obstacles.
Puget Sound Council Childrens Book Reviews - May 1, 2011When Chiko, a studious city boy, is kidnapped by the government army and trucked far out into the countryside to be trained as a soldier, he cultivates an unlikely friendship that allows him to leverage his strengths in order to overcome the odds and outwit his brutish superiors. The story takes a narrative pivot, when TuReh another Burmese boy living in a very different situation, finds Chiko hurt and alone in the middle of the forest. Two young boys in Burma, from very different plots in life, find themselves making difficult, life changing decisions in the midst of a complicated war. Bamboo People has well developed characters and interesting narration but the abrupt ending is slightly disappointing. This is a coming of age adventure story that sheds light on complicated current events with the use of likeable characters, real friendship and action that will appeal to 5th graders.