Lucca and I picked up this book, Drita: My Homegirl, by Jenny Lombard, on a recent visit to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. While understandably a book cover showing the back of two elementary-aged school girls was initially an automatic “no” from my 10 year old son, we (that as probably me) decided to get it after reading the back cover:
“Lombard has created two strong and distinct characters, sensitively explores the effects of war on one family, and illuminates the power of friendship to overcome obstacles.”
It’s never easy to explain (who even understands themselves?) how 1.5M children were killed in the Holocaust, or the images of war on TV and in the news today.
This book isn’t that “heavy” per se, but it is really. Drita is a refugee from Kosovo, coming to the US with her Grandmother, mother, and baby brother, to reunite with their father who is already here. Maxie is a 5th grader who lives with her father and grandmother, having lost her mother in a car crash.
The two don’t become fast friends…at first. We see insights into both of their lives, Drita adjusting to a new culture, her mom suffering from severe post-tramatic stress syndrome; Maxie adjusting to her dad starting to date again.
Whoa, with all of those serious topics, it’s hard to believe that it’s a kids book, but that’s what’s so great about it. Things are “dosed” out, or explained, or come through a child’s eye, but in a supportive environment, so that they’re easier to understand, or so that we can see things through the characters eyes. Each chapter of the story is told in first person, but alternates from one girl to the other, so we see the same story or situation through different eyes.
For us, it’s not a book I would have given to my son and said have a nice read…we read it together, a chapter or two at a time, at bedtime, over the course of a few weeks, and loved it. But I always recommend broaching tough subjects together–so that we can answer questions, or look historical details up as we go, to learn together along the way.
And speaking of learning along the way, now that Lucca is 10, and we’ve been having these intercultural outings and discussions along the way, I realize pretty soon he may be the one leading the way…as seen from our first take of this review….I think my son just dissed my exemplary multicultural presence…