A Girl Called Problem

A Girl Called Problem

by Katie Quirk
     
 

Thirteen-year-old Shida, whose name means "problem" in Swahili, certainly has a lot of problems in her life — her father is dead, her depressed mother is rumored to be a witch, and everyone in her rural Tanzanian village expects her to marry rather than pursue her dream of becoming a healer. So when the village's elders make a controversial decision to move

Overview

Thirteen-year-old Shida, whose name means "problem" in Swahili, certainly has a lot of problems in her life — her father is dead, her depressed mother is rumored to be a witch, and everyone in her rural Tanzanian village expects her to marry rather than pursue her dream of becoming a healer. So when the village's elders make a controversial decision to move their people to a nearby village, Shida welcomes the change. Surely the opportunity to go to school and learn from a nurse can only mean good things.

However, after a series of puzzling misfortunes plague the new village, Shida must prove to her people that moving was the right decision, and that they can have a better life in their new home.

For author pictures of Tanzania, a video depicting the life of a modern Tanzanian girl, discussion questions for each chapter of the book, and suggestions for further reading, please go to katie-quirk.com and follow the links for A Girl Called Problem.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Kasey Giard
Shida is not a child anymore. At thirteen, she is now a young woman and her mother constantly reminds her to conduct herself as one. No more tree climbing and running around alone. Soon she will be ready to marry, if any young man will associate himself with a girl whose name means "problem" and whose family is cursed. While her widowed mother sinks deeper into depression, the village leaders talk of moving the people to join a nearby community to share resources. Shida is excited. At last, she may have a chance to go to school, to become an educated healer, like the beautiful nurse who comes to her village sometimes. Everyone struggles to adjust to life in the new village. Many people do not like the idea of girls in school. Shida and her cousins find themselves the target of bullying from adults and students alike. To make matters worse, she is still expected to care for her mother's crops and cook and clean in addition to her studies. When crops suddenly fail and illness strikes a small child, the village is thrown into turmoil. Are the ancestors unhappy? Have they cursed the people for moving their village? If they return to their former home, Shida will lose the chance to attend school and help the nurse. In order to stay, she will have to convince everyone that there is another explanation for the terrible problems that seem to plague her people. Recommended. Reviewer: Kasey Giard
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Thirteen-year-old Shida, whose name means "problem" in Swahili, has been told all her life by her widowed mother that their family is cursed. When the elders of her village inform the residents of Tanzanian President Nayere's 1967 decree that they should move and share resources with a nearby village, Shida is excited for the change, thinking that she will finally have the opportunity to go to school and study under the village's nurse. Soon after arriving at the new village, however, troubling things begin to happen, and Shida's mother's belief in a curse seems more and more real. When tragedy strikes the family, surprising secrets are revealed, and the people must decide whether to remain in the new village or return to their land. Although the story has a slow start, readers will soon be immersed in the culture of this Sukuma village and will urge Shida on as she works hard to help her difficult mother and as she seeks the education that she will need to become a healer. Quirk strikes a good balance between traditional Sukuma tribal beliefs and more modern ideas about medicine and education. A glossary and help readers better understand the culture and setting in which the story takes place.—Sarah Reid, Broome County Public Library, Binghamton, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Thirteen-year-old healer Shida (Swahili for "problem") can't save 6-year-old Furaha ("happiness") from an untimely death in the Tanzanian village of Njia Panda that its inhabitants label cursed. Despite having penned this work of fiction as an outsider to the culture, Quirk's debut novel for children gives readers an intimate view of rural Tanzania in the early 1970s through details of daily life, folklore, family dynamics and spiritual beliefs. A budding healer, Shida is blamed for her father's death, which occurred at Shida's birth, and this weighs heavily on her. Since that time, her mother has wallowed in self-pity and refused to work. When President Nyerere asks Shida's village to become a model of ujamaa (familyhood) for the country by moving to Njia Panda and farming communally, Shida eagerly anticipates what she has never had: an education and a nursing mentor. After the move, however, the cotton crop mysteriously fails overnight, the villagers' prize possessions, their cattle, escape from their pens, and Furaha dies of fever. With the help of Shida and her cousin Grace, Babu, their grandfather and the village elder, unearths the truth. The novel offers a captivating introduction to Tanzanian life, culture and language (both Swahili and Sukuma), while the mystery of who has cast the "curse" keeps readers intrigued. A mesmerizing read that expands young readers' worldview even as the pages turn. (glossary, author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802854049
Publisher:
Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date:
04/19/2013
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
277,700
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile:
770L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Katie Quirk (katie-,quirk.com) wrote the middle-grade novel A Girl CalledProblem after living and teaching in Tanzania. She currentlylives in Maine and is working on a book about raising herson in India.

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