author: Mitali Perkins
publisher: Charlesbridge, 2010
main characters: Chiko and Tu Reh
The 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.”
This copy is from my school media center.