A Hare in the Elephant's Trunk

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In the little village of Duk Padiet in southern Sudan, a boy named Jacob Deng thrives on the love of his mother, the companionship of his sisters, the excitement of learning how to look after his uncle’s herds of cattle. The year is 1987, and suddenly in the night soldiers from the north invade the village, looting, burning, and killing. The war has arrived, and the life of Jacob will never be the same.
This novel is based on the real ...

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In the little village of Duk Padiet in southern Sudan, a boy named Jacob Deng thrives on the love of his mother, the companionship of his sisters, the excitement of learning how to look after his uncle’s herds of cattle. The year is 1987, and suddenly in the night soldiers from the north invade the village, looting, burning, and killing. The war has arrived, and the life of Jacob will never be the same.
This novel is based on the real life experiences of a Sudanese boy who, with thousands of other boys from the region, fled for his life and spent seven years walking through deserts, grasslands and forests, crossing crocodile-infested rivers, surviving life in massive refugee camps. The so-called Lost Boys of Sudan – as they were called by an American aid organization – numbered as many as 27,000, and while many died – from starvation, attacks by wild animals, drowning, or through the brutality of the military – many survived. Jacob never returned to his village, but though he was only seven years old when he had to flee, he somehow managed to live through an almost unimaginable ordeal.
Throughout the seven years covered in this story, Jacob resists the temptation to join the liberation army. Steadily Jacob finds himself more and more adhering to his mother’s advice that getting an education is crucial to escaping the cycle of violence that afflicts his country. Jacob’s struggle, then, is to persist in seeking out teachers and eventually a school where his ambition to learn about the world can be met. Through it all he learns about loyalty and love for close friends who have been thrust together with him on this extraordinary journey, and also about the guiding light provided by the memory of his mother.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Jacob Deng was 7 years old when the northern militia invaded and destroyed his village in Southern Sudan, sending Jacob and thousands of other boys on an exodus to Ethiopia. The “never-ending chain” of boys followed the rising sun to safety, braving lion and crocodile attacks, mosquitoes and malaria, poisonous snakes, scorpions, gunfire and bombs. After three years in Pinyudo Refugee Camp, the refugees were chased out of Ethiopia and walked on to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where Jacob began to sense his place in the world as a storyteller, translator and writer. Inspired by Jacob’s true story, Coates writes vividly and poetically, establishing a clear historical context for her inspirational tale. One sketchy map is included, but a series of good maps would have helped young readers better visualize Jacob’s journey. A good match with Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water (2010) and Mary Williams’ picture book Brothers in Hope, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (2005). From the beginning, Jacob Deng embodied the spirit of Wadeng, the faith that tomorrow will be better, and by the end of the tale, Jacob as storyteller and writer is poised to enter a wider world, where “there are as many books in the world as there are stars in the African sky.” (Historical fiction. 12 & up)
Children's Literature - Zachary Snow
When troops from the North attack the people of his village in southern Sudan, seven year-old Jacob Deng must flee, leaving his mother, sisters, and uncle behind. Guided by his older nephew Mongoor, Jacob walks through barren deserts in the midst of bloody political strife to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Sudan. Along the way, he grows up fast with his wisecracking best friend Oscar, their younger pal Willy, the mean-spirited Majok, and hundreds of other boys (not all of whom survive the journey). Though Jacob considers joining the Liberation Army, soldiers from south Sudan who engage in constant battle with their enemies from the North, he soon discovers that peace and liberation can be obtained through education rather than violence. Inspired by a number of teachers who are willing to stand up to the militant force for the sake of education, as well as the memory of his mother, Jacob uses his own intelligence to raise enough money to attend a Kenyan boarding school. But will his ambition and drive be enough, since Jacob has lost almost all of his family in the midst of the brutal Civil War? Author Jan L. Coates tells the true story of Deng, a former refugee who went on to establish the Wadeng foundation for displaced citizens of Sudan, in a realistic and emotional way that will appeal to young adult readers with its sympathetic young hero and his quest for a better life. Jacob's story, as well as the plight of Sudanese refugees in general, needs to be told to inform Western audiences of the relatively recent turmoil in the nation. Coates' book, a stirring piece of historical fiction, does this well. Reviewer: Zachary Snow
VOYA - Sean Rapacki
Civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s displaced more than 20,000 Sudanese boys from their homes, causing them to wander across their own country, as well as Ethiopia and Kenya, in search of refuge. The author has fleshed out the true story of one of these "lost boys", as they were referred to by Western media, in order to create a novel filled with both sorrow and triumph over adversity. This is the tale of Jacob Deng, driven from his home and most likely made an orphan at only seven years of age. It is the story of the hardships he must face over the next seven years of life as he struggles at first simply to survive and then later to find a way to pursue an education. Jacob's almost unrelenting optimism in the face of suffering might seem somewhat unrealistic to Western readers, but it is probably true that without such hope for a better tomorrow, or wadeng, Jacob would not have survived his journey across three countries. Proceeds from this novel go to the real-life Jacob Deng's charity, Wadeng Wings of Hope, providing funds for educating youth in southern Sudan, and the book contains afterwords by both the author and Deng, as well as a glossary of Sudanese terms. Reviewer: Sean Rapacki
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—In 1987, seven-year-old Jacob Deng's world explodes into chaos and confusion; his village in Southern Sudan, Duk Padiet, is attacked and destroyed by the Northern militia. The boy is suddenly left to wander the continent on his way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia and, later, Kenya. Jacob does not, however, wander alone. He is one link in a "never-ending chain" of boys. Lions, malaria, guns, and war threaten these "lost boys" at every turn. Throughout his tremendous and harrowing journey, Jacob thinks about Mama and strives to find those things that will lift him from the murk of war and tumult. And he learns to read. This novel, based on the life of the real Jacob Deng, provides insight into the struggles of the Sudan as well as a strong, clear voice. Coates gives an unflinching and poetic glimpse into the life of a boy who chose hope in the face of adversity. An interview with Deng is included.—Naphtali L. Faris, Youth Services Consultant, Missouri State Library, Jefferson City, MO
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780889954519
  • Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Limited
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 286
  • Sales rank: 101,484
  • Age range: 12 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jan Coates has woven Jacob's story into novel form so that young Canadian readers can learn more about this heroic youn man, his ordeal, and his hope for his homeland.  Jan in the author of Rainbows in the Dark (2005).  She lives in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Jacob Deng now lives in Nova Scotia, is married and has a young family. His foundation, Wadeng Wings of Hope, seeks to build schools for young children in southern Sudan.

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