A child's perspective on war.

In 1998 the Serb military intensifies its efforts to expel Albanians from Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing forces many families to seek safety in the surrounding hills and mountains. The Kosovo Liberation Army fights back guerrilla style, struggling for an independent Kosovo. Some Albanian villagers support the freedom fighters. Others fear that armed resistance, which they have successfully avoided through long years ...
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Girl of Kosovo

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A child's perspective on war.

In 1998 the Serb military intensifies its efforts to expel Albanians from Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing forces many families to seek safety in the surrounding hills and mountains. The Kosovo Liberation Army fights back guerrilla style, struggling for an independent Kosovo. Some Albanian villagers support the freedom fighters. Others fear that armed resistance, which they have successfully avoided through long years of Serb repression, will only increase the death toll. And always there is terrible tension between Serbian and Albanian neighbors who once were friends. Eleven-year-old Zana Dugolli, an Albanian Kosovar, isn't sure what to think. She does know not to speak her language to Serbs. And every day she worries about her mother and father, her brothers, the farm, the apple orchard. Already she has lost her best friend, a Serb. Then Zana's village is shelled, and her worst nightmare is realized. Her father and two brothers are killed in the attack, and her leg is shattered by shrapnel. Alone in a Serb hospital, she remembers her father's words: "Don't let them fill your heart with hate."

Based on a true story, Alice Mead's stark, affecting novel about a place and conflict she knows well will help young readers understand the war in Kosovo.

Although Zana, an eleven-year-old Albanian girl, experiences the turmoil and violence of the 1999 conflict in her native Kosovo, she remembers her father's admonition to not let her heart become filled with hate.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As in her Adem's Cross, Mead places a human face on the Kosovo crisis by focusing on an Albanian family ravaged by war. Even after her father and brothers are killed and her leg is gravely injured in a Serb attack, 11-year-old Zana, the narrator, struggles to heed her father's advice: "Don't let them fill your heart with hate. Whatever happens." Zana's friendship with a Serbian girl, Lena, and her trip behind enemy lines to a hospital in Belgrade provide Zana with evidence of kindness to weigh against the brutality in the Serb faction, while her cowardly KLA uncle Vizar illuminates weaknesses among the Albanians. Mead puts the war into a context that young readers will understand. The family watches sports on ESPN and Zana's brother plays Nintendo; at the same time, they bury guns and food and sleep in their clothes, poised to retreat. Through Zana, the author stresses the random cruelty of the war in Kosovo, and her anger stretches to include foreign journalists: "How was it that foreigners could come take pictures of us when we were dead, but couldn't come to help us stay alive? I wanted to let the air out of their fancy tires so they would be stuck here, trapped the way we were." The ending is a little convenient (Zana helps save Lena's family from the vengeful hatred of their Albanian neighbors), but most readers will find the story powerful and hard-hitting. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
PW called this story about the Kosovo crisis "powerful and hard-hitting"; it focuses on an Albanian family ravaged by war. Ages 10-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
How quickly the world's attention moves on...a few years ago we were focused on the plight of the Albanians in Kosovo. Yet, stories of children in war zones are horrific wherever war is happening: there is a universal quality to the suffering of children. Mead writes about Zana, a young Moslem girl from a village in Kosovo who sees her father and brothers killed by the Serbs. She is wounded in the attack, with painful shrapnel in her hip, but worse, serious injury to a foot. Her mother goes into a serious depression with these deaths, even when she gives birth to a new son; she is incapable of giving Zana the attention she needs. Kindly medical personnel arrange for Zana to travel to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, for a necessary operation. After months there, separated from all she knows, she returns to the village, still recuperating. A volunteer medical worker from Great Britain obtains the crucial antibiotics for Zana when an infection sets in, and his kindness gives them all some hope. As the book ends, the NATO troops are driving out the Serbs, but in the chaos Zana and her family are threatened once again. Zana appeals to her friend Lena, a Serbian girl who lives in the same village, and Lena and her family do help their Moslem neighbors before they themselves have to leave. Zana is just about 12 years old, but this works for younger YAs, and perhaps even for older ones who wonder how children feel who are trapped in wars. Zana understands the political issues, the oppression, and the reasons to fight; but because she is a child who needs the love of her parents and the stability of a family life and village friendships, her suffering is even more intense. Mead is excellent atwriting about children in crisis—see also the review of her recent hardcover book, Year of No Rain, in this issue of KLIATT. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Random House, Dell, Yearling, 113p.,
— Claire Rosser
From The Critics
This is the story of a girl during the war in Kosovo. Her brother and father die, her house is bombed, and she spends months in the hospital because her leg is wounded in the bombing. She then meets an English doctor who helps her family go to England after many mishaps. My twelve-year-old daughter observed: "A really good book—it opened my eyes to what really happened there." 2001, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., $16.00. Ages 10 to 12. Reviewer: A. Braga SOURCE: Parent Council, September 2001 (Vol. 9, No. 1)
Children's Literature
The harsh realities of ethnic cleansing are vividly portrayed in Zana Dugolli's account of life in her small Albanian village when Serb soldiers invade. A mortar shell explosion leaves her father and two of her brothers dead and her leg shattered by shrapnel. As her mother withdraws and her remaining brother threatens to join the freedom fighters, Zana is bewildered by all the hatred and confusion around her. Alone in a hospital, as she tries to make sense of the events that have turned her quiet life into a nightmare, Zana tries to believe in the words of her father—"Don't let them fill your heart with hate." But how can she not when her family is without food, when medicine is withheld because she is the enemy, and when her best friend, a Serb, turns her back on their friendship. Starkly told, this chronicle, based on a true story, is deeply moving. Not as taut as some of Mead's other writing, it does draw the reader in and creates an awareness for and understanding of this ongoing tragedy. 2001, Farrar, $16.00. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
From The Critics
Set in Kosovo during the Albanian-Serb battles of 1999, this realistic novel brings war up close and personal, with its devastating effects on those really unable to comprehend what it's all about — and why. Eleven-year-old Zana, an Albanian whose best friend is a Serb, experiences graphically portrayed horrors she cannot understand: her father and two brothers are killed in a Serb-inspired explosion, one that shatters her leg; the neighborhood wise man is executed; bodies are burned; bombs explode. It's not an easy read, but it is an accurate one and a good one. Author Mead has spent considerable time in Kosovo and bases much of this novel on events she has seen or heard about from those who endured them. A useful historical forward opens this book and provides some background information for young readers. Genre: Warfare in Europe 2000, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 128 pp., $16.00. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Ted Hipple; Knoxville, Tennessee
Eleven-year-old Zana Dugolli loves her life in a small farming community in Kosovo, but existence in the late 1990s is becoming progressively more difficult as the dominant Serbs intensify efforts to expel Albanian Kosovars from their homes. Even Lena, Zana's Serbian best friend, is afraid to play with her. Injured in a Serbian attack that kills her father and two brothers, Zana finds herself in a Belgrade hospital, facing her worst fears alone. Can any semblance of a peaceful, normal life be restored to her beautiful, war-torn land? Mead effectively portrays what war might look like through the eyes of a young girl. Zana's account sometimes is disjointed, often self-centered. The hatred of former Serbian neighbors is inexplicable to her. Yet on both sides, acts of kindness occur, reminding her of her father's admonition: "Don't let them fill your heart with hate." Readers who devour accounts of World War II will see parallels in Zana's experience, a painful reminder that war is war in whatever time and place. Yesterday's events, however, do not have the glamour afforded by time and distance. With a dull title and rather grim cover adding to the challenge, this book will require "hand-selling." Mead is the award-winning author of Adem's Cross (Farrar, 1996/VOYA December 1996), also set in Kosovo. Her concern for the children of the conflict there shines through the sometimes-wooden prose of this title, and her efforts to put a human face on recent headlines are commendable. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Farrar StrausGiroux, 128p, Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Kathleen Beck SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
Kirkus Reviews
As in her novel Adem's Cross (1996), Mead portrays the horrors of the Balkan conflict, this time through the eyes of a young Albanian girl. There has always been the presence of the Serbian army in Zana's world, but in her 11th year, the real trouble begins. A neighboring farm is destroyed and the family massacred—and that is only the beginning. Shortly thereafter, there is a bombing and Zana's two youngest brothers and father are killed. Zana herself is badly wounded from the shrapnel, especially in her ankle and hip. The tale follows her through several hospitals, alone and terrified. She is finally united with her family, but the tragedy has left her mother with few coping skills. Inadequate medical care, sporadic visits from an English doctor who has befriended her, and little hope of recovery contribute to Zana's despondency. But when the village is destroyed and her neighbors threaten to attack Zana's good friend, who is Serbian, Zana finds the courage to defend her and stand against the vicious crowd. Her father's words "Don't let them fill your heart with hate" come back to her and she realizes that she has friends who are considered enemies. In an afterword, the author indicates that the story is based on a family she met when she visited the refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia; the forward gives a short history of the area and sets the scene. This difficult tale will give readers a sense of the sufferings of war and the emotional struggle needed to survive against a totalitarian state. (Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429937900
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 803,579
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • File size: 132 KB

Meet the Author

Alice Mead is the author of several novels, including the Junebug books and another story of Kosovo, Adem's Cross, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. She lives in Maine.

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Reading Group Guide

1. “Generosity is the first step toward peace” is a Buddhist saying that appears at the beginning of the book. Explain how this saying relates to the novel. How is it good advice for national and world citizens and leaders today?

2. Zana asks, “How was it that foreigners could come take pictures of us when we were dead, but couldn’t come to help us stay alive?” (p. 27) Discuss how Zana’s question displays anger and bitterness toward foreign journalists. Ask the group to debate why journalists feel it necessary to focus on such horrific devastation to human lives.

3. Papa says, “Listen, Zana, don’t let them [the Serbs] fill your heart with hate. Whatever happens. Promise me that. Will you?” (p. 13) Discuss moments in the novel when Zana cannot control her hatred toward the Serbs. How does hatred between the Albanians and the Serbs affect Zana’s friendship with Lena Goran?

4. Zana learns to control her anger at the end of the novel when she is reunited with Lena. Ilir is still angry and along with his uncle, he threatens the Goran family. Discuss how Zena helps the Gorans. How does Zana learn that friendship transcends all negative emotions? What does Dr. Rob teach Zana about friendship and dealing with anger?

5. Zana says, “Calling Albanians terrorists gave them the right to kill us anytime they wanted to.” (p. 16) Define terrorism. How might the Serbs be labeled terrorists? Describe how Zana and her family feel terrorized throughout the novel. How does terror play a role in Lena’s family leaving Kosovo?

6. When a Serbian policeman is shot, Zana says, “All Albanians wouldsuffer for the actions of one. That was how it was.” (p. 15) How does Zana’s comment relate to the treatment of Muslims in the United States after the events of September 11, 2001? Explain the term profiling. Ask students to discuss the injustice of profiling.

For more activities on Images of War, see these titles: For Freedom by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Lord of the Nutcracker by Iain Lawrence, Girl of Kosovo by Alice Mead, Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers adapted for young people by Michael French, The Gadget by Paul Zindel, and Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian.

Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, SC.

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