The Secret Language of Stories AND a Free Writing Workshop!
April 9, 2012
THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF STORIES -The Verse Novel HOME OF THE BRAVE
Exploring HOME OF THE BRAVE
by Carolee Dean
In honor or April, which is poetry month, Caroline and I will be offering a free verse novel workshop at Alamosa Books on Saturday, April 14th at 2:00p.m. See "Upcoming Events" for more details.
Also in honor of Poetry Month, I will be discussing the verse novel, HOME OF THE BRAVE by Katherine Applegate. It is the story of a teenage boy named Kek, a Sudanese refugee who saw his father and brother killed in Africa and then came to America to live with his aunt. The spare verse is accessible for students ages 10 and up, yet the themes of relocation, ostracism, and political oppression make this book of interest for high school students as well, especially low readers (high interest-low readability). It fits well with themes of African studies. The variety of poetic and literary devices found in this story make it a good resource for covering those topics in preparation for SBA testing.
I will be using the 12 steps of my story analysis method to talk about the plot. Kek, a young Sudanese refugee receives a CALL to adventure to leave his refugee camp and come to America. As the story begins, he is making his CROSSING from the OLD WORLD of the camp to the NEW WORLD of Minnesota in the dead of winter by way of a "flying boat" or airplane. He is met at the airport by Dave, a man assigned to help him make the transition to America. Dave serves as a MENTOR as he gives Kek advice about adjusting to his new live. The boy was reluctant to come to America without his mother and hopes that she will soon join him. Dave takes Kek to live with Kek's aunt and cousin Ganwar who lost his hand the same night Kek's father was killed.
On their way to his aunt's apartment, Kek sees a cow standing alone in the snow and asks Dave to stop so that he can pet the animal. Back in Africa, cattle meant life to Kek and his family who were herders.
Kek faces many challenges in making the adjustment to America. The language is totally confusing to him. He uses terms like "the fast-car road" to describe the highway and "the don't-move belt" to describe the seatbelt. Nothing is like it is back home. He looks up to his older cousin, Ganwar, who has already gone through the male initiation rite and bears the scars on his forehead that prove he is a man. Kek very much wants to become a man, but does not know how to do that in this strange new place. Ganwar is a very flawed and embittered role model.
A PROBLEM arises when Kek tries to wash his aunt's dishes in the washing machine in the basement and ends up breaking them. He makes a PLAN to repay her by going back to the farm where he saw the cow and asking the owner, a woman named Lou, if he can have a job. At the MIDPOINT of the story he does just that. He asks Lou for a job. During the DOWNTIME he enjoys his new employment and even PURSUES a position for his cousin Ganwar. Kek names the cow Gol which means family. Gol symbolizes both his family and his search for manhood because of the responsibility he assumes in caring for the cow.
Unfortunately, Lou is getting old and she decides to sell the farm. She's not sure what she's going to do with the old cow. Kek becomes despondent with this news and quits going to the farm. Shortly thereafter he receives news that Dave was able to track down the people who made it to the second refugee camp and Kek's mother was not with them. He then has a flashback about what happened the night she disappeared. Their camp was attacked by gunfire and they ran. His mother hurt her leg and couldn't go any further, but instructed him to keep running and return for her when it was safe. When he returned, she was gone. This is the DEATH and TRANSFORMATION point in the story, because all hope seems lost. At first this desperation just causes Kek to run away, to try to make it back to Africa to look for his mother, but as he passes the farm and Lou's house, he wants to tell her thank you and goodbye, so he gets off the bus. Lou shows him pictures of her and her husband and the farm when they were young. Then she shows him a picture of her sister's house in LA. She says she is hopeful because even though her sister's yard is tiny in comparison to the farm, she can grow things year round. Kek realizes that like him, Lou must leave the home she has always known. He remembers his aunt's words, "Kek finds sun when the sky is dark," and he realizes that finding the sun wherever you are is one way to be a man. His transformation occurs when he decides to go back to work for Lou as he stays in Minnesota and waits for his mother and tries to make the best of his new life.
At the CLIMAX of the story Kek, with Lou's permission, walks Gol, the cow, all the way to the zoo. He and Ganwar stop traffic and end up getting a police escort. When they arrive at the zoo the "zoo boss" is reluctant to accept the cow. This is not the way animals are usually acquired. Kek finally persuades him and as Gol is taken into the petting zoo, he makes the analogy the she is going to her new land to begin again. The REWARD is that he has found a place for Gol, but another reward awaits him. In the epilogue, his mother finally meets him in America.
I have created a 17 page teacher's guide that focuses primarily on exploring the poetic and literary devices found in the novel. It is geared toward low readers and may be found on the Teacher Resources page at My Book Blog.
To learn more about the twelve step story analysis I use to teach writing and to plot my books, visit my blog at Carolee Dean Books.
Carolee Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools, libraries, poetry events, and teacher/library conferences. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and a master's degree in communicative disorders, and she has spent over a decade working in the public schools as a
Her first novel, Comfort,was nominated as a Best Book for Young Adults, was named the Best YA Novel of 2002 by the Texas Institute of Letters, and was on the TAYSHAS (Texas Library Association) reading list. Take Me There is a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
Her upcoming paranormal verse novel, Forget Me Not, will be published by Simon Pulse in October of 2012.
She conducts teacher trainings on inspiring reluctant writers including "The Secret Language of Stories" and "Random Act of Haiku."
Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. She's taught English and social studies to upper elementary and middle-school students in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. Back in New
Mexico, Caroline now writes middle-grade novels and picture books full time.
To find teacher's guides, writing activities, and information about author visits, go to my website.
Kimberley Griffiths Little is the recipient of the Southwest Book Award, The Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, and the author of the highly acclaimed, The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets, published by Scholastic Press. Look for her books at the Scholastic Book Fairs, as well as two more forthcoming novels in 2012 and 2013.
She lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer and their three sons. Kimberley is a favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting "The Creative Diary", a highly successful writing workshop and has been a speaker at many conferences.