Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Drita My Homegirl

Biblio Bits Drita My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2006 (ISBN 9780399243806)

Reading Level/Interest Age 690 lexile/Ages 9-12

Genre Realistic fiction

Plot Summary
Drita is a ten year-old refugee from Kosovo who arrives in Brooklyn with her family. Her father, an engineer, escaped over a year ago and has been driving a taxi so he could bring his family to the safety of the U.S. Drita just wants to fit in and be liked by her peers, but things start out pretty lonely for her, with her limited English skills, strange-smelling lunches, and unfashionable clothes. To top it off, Drita's mother is in a deep depression about leaving home and the safety of her extended family .Maxie is an African-American girl who is in Drita's new class. Maxie is one of the homegirls of the fourth grade: she's funny and athletic and has a lot of friends, but she's often impulsive and gets into trouble. Maxie is being raised by her dad and grandmother; her mom died when she was just seven years old and Maxie really wants her back. Maxie is definitely not ready for her dad to have a new girlfriend. Maxie's teacher suggests an unusual social studies project: to study Kosovo, the homeland of the newest class member, and introduce Drita's story to the whole class. This sensitive story includes a lot more than just a book about two friends: it's about the things that we all have in common and about how our differences make the world a smaller place.

Critical Evaluation
This story includes a lot of "food for thought" without being too preachy about it, mainly because the characters and plot development are so well-constructed. The chapters are very accessible, alternating between chapters by Maxie and Drita. Chapters are short and the pace of the story is steady, which may make it a good pick for reluctant readers. Both characters have very distinct narrative voices and, just to underscore the shift in perspective, two different fonts are used in the text. The story of Drita's immigrant experience included many details that readers will find familiar (like any student at a new school) and also surprising. Lombard writes English as Drita hears it, when she is beginning to learn: "Ov curs, Drita. Tek va pass" ("Of course, Drita. Take the pass." p.37). While Maxie at first comes off as a smart-aleck, we quickly see that her antics are to cover the pain that she is hiding about her mother's death. Overall, this book was engaging and readable, a moving story of friendship and family.

Reader's Annotation
We all have things that are hard for us. Some things are obvious, like being a refugee from Kosovo and starting a new school with hardly any English skills. Some things are hidden, like when your mom dies and you don't tell anyone because that would make it real.

Author Information
This is Jenny Lombard's first novel, though she has written a nonfiction book for adults and several plays and TV treatments. She is a public school teacher in New York City and says that she got the idea for Drita's and Maxie's story when she realized that there were nine languages other than English spoken in her classroom. Since the war in Kosovo was constantly in the news at the time, Lombard began to wonder what it would be like for a refugee family. Lombard lives in New York City with her husband, son, and two cats. (Information in this author biography is from the book's official site.)

Challenge issues
Pretty wholesome story here, though some might be turned off by Maxie's behavior at times.

Booktalking Ideas
There are several books about friendship and its benefits and challenges, geared to this audience: Ruby Lu Brave and True (Look, 2004), Julia Gillian and the Quest for Joy (McGhee, 2009), Moving Day (Cabot, 2008) and Ivy and Bean (Barrows, 2006), and The Year of the Dog (Lin, 2006) to name a few. I would focus on Drita's point of view: Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night and leaving your home with only the clothes on your back...Going to a new school and not being able to talk to anyone or understand them...

Curriculum Ties
This book wants to be read aloud and discussed as a class. It would be great to read in a community where there is a large refugee population, or just to raise awareness about refugees and immigrant issues in general. How are Drita and Maxie alike? How are they different? How are their families alike/different? These questions could spark some good conversation. Perhaps this class conversation could lead to a classroom code of conduct for social behavior for all new students (making them feel welcome but not overwhelmed, introducing them to classroom culture, school culture, etc.). Or the class could come up with ideas about how to approach a non-English speaker, which may not sound like an issue for most people, but in Maine this is something we need to teach (and not just to kids!).

Why this book?
The cover of this book caught my eye and was recommended to me by a former youth services librarian.

MSBA Reading List 2007-2008.

Rockport Public Library owns?

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