Secrets in the Fire

Secrets in the Fire

by Henning Mankell, Ken Turner

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Based on a real-life land mine victim, this middle reader novel tells a story of recovery, hope and coming of age of an African girl who loses her legs to a land mine.
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Based on a real-life land mine victim, this middle reader novel tells a story of recovery, hope and coming of age of an African girl who loses her legs to a land mine.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist / RBB
[Starred review:] This docu-novel will grab readers with the truth of one child's terror and courage.
— Hazel Rochman
Toronto Sun
Suspenseful novel... a dramatic portrait of loyalty and loss, hope and courage that will touch readers of any age.
— Sandy Naiman
Booklist / RBB - Hazel Rochman
[Starred review:] Dramatizes the landmine horror, especially its devastating toll on children... this docu-novel will grab readers with the truth of one child's terror and courage.
Toronto Sun - Sandy Naiman
Suspenseful novel... a dramatic portrait of loyalty and loss, hope and courage that will touch readers of any age.
Children's Literature
Sofia Alface is a young girl living in Mozambique who, after losing her father and her village to bandits, loses her sister and both her legs to a land mine. However, instead of giving up hope that she can do something meaningful with her life after these terrible tragedies, Sofia courageously learns to walk again, learns to sew, and leaves such an impression on the people that she meets that by the end of the story, she has her own home and her own sewing business. This story has a tremendous impact on its readers because Sofia Alface is not a fictional character—she is actually a good friend of the author. This novel would be particularly good for middle school students who might be looking for a service-learning project. After reading about Sofia's plight and learning at the end of the book that every thirty seconds another person is killed or maimed by a land mine, students could not help but be moved to raise money for the "Adopt-A-Minefield" program. 2003 (orig. 1995), Annick Press Ltd, Ages 9 to 13.
—Angie Rogers
In this stark, fact-based narrative supporting the Adopt-A-Minefield program, Sophia, an "indomitable" young refugee of war-torn Mozambique, triumphs over emotional, mental, and physical pain. Sofia's father dies protecting Sofia and her sister, Maria, from bandits. After the attack, Sofia and Maria with their mother and brother walk to a refugee camp where Sofia sees hope and learns to sew. While playing, Sofia stumbles on a mine that kills Maria and takes off Sofia's legs. The camp's priest and a compassionate doctor arrange for new legs. While Sofia is hospitalized in the city, her mother invites an abusive man into their lives. Arriving home, Sofia realizes that she cannot live in her mother's hut, returns to the city, and seeks help from her doctor, who finds her a sewing job. Her elderly village sewing teacher comes to see her skill and offers her his hut and sewing machine. Sofia's mother announces that the abusive man was banished from their village for stealing. Sofia accepts her teacher's offer and builds an independent life. As with First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (Harper Collins, 2000), this shocking story depicts young people facing brutal violence. It speaks more openly, however, to the landmine issue, and its direct statements sometimes undercut horrific details simple enough for a middle school student to understand and compelling enough to hold a high school student's attention. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; 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; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, AnnickPress, 166p., Ages 11 to 18.
—Lucy Schall
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-A hard-hitting, eye-opening novel that brings readers face-to-face with the horrors of war. Although a work of fiction, it is based on the real-life experiences of Sofia Alface, a friend of the author. The story takes place in Mozambique, which is in the midst of a civil war (1975-1992). One night, most of the village population, including Sofia's father, are murdered by ax-wielding bandits. Sofia, her sister Maria, her mother, and her brother survive the attack and travel by foot to a faraway village. Just as they seem to be recovering from the trauma, disaster strikes again. Maria and Sofia are playing on a path when Sofia steps on a landmine. In that second, life is altered permanently. Maria dies, and Sofia loses both legs. This is one child's story of survival, strength, determination, and triumph. Through it, readers come to understand what happens to survivors of landmine accidents-physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Mankell's language and style are spare, but elicit a deeply emotional response. An appended "Message from Adopt-A-Minefield" gives facts and statistics, as well as the mission of the organization and how readers can help. This outstanding book has been adapted for film, and Sofia's inspirational story is continued in a second book, Playing with Fire, currently published in Australia (Allen & Unwin, 2002).-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

Annick Press, Limited
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Sofia is running through the night. It's dark and she's terrified.

She doesn't know why she's running, why she's scared, or where she's going.

But there's something behind her, something deep in the darkness that frightens her. She knows she has to go faster, she has to run faster. Whatever the invisible thing behind her is, it's getting closer and closer. She's frightened and alone and all she can do is run.

She's running along a path that twists between low trees and thornbushes. She can't see the path, but she knows it by heart. Her feet know where the path turns and where it is straight. It's the path she walks along every morning with her sister, Maria, that leads out to the field where they grow maize and greens and onions. Every morning at dawn she walks along it, and every night, just before dusk, she and Maria return with their Mama Lydia to the hut where they all live.

But why is she running there now, in the darkness of the night?

What is it that hunts her in the darkness a beast with no eyes? She can feel its breath on her neck, and she tries to run even faster.

But she doesn't have the strength. Her first thought is to hide. To get off the path, to curl up and shrink into the bushes. She leaps the way she's seen the antelopes leap, and leaves the ground.


Then she realizes.

That's exactly what the beast in the darkness wants her to do -- leave the path: the most dangerous thing of all.

Every morning Mama Lydia would say: Never leave the path. Not even by a step. Never take shortcuts. Promise me that.


She knows there's something dangerous in the ground. Armed soldiers that no one can see. Buried in the ground, invisible. Waiting and waiting for a foot to step on them. She tries desperately to keep hovering in the air. She knows she mustn't put her feet back on the ground. But she hasn't got the strength to keep hovering she hasn't got wings like a bird and she's being pulled towards the ground and the soles of her feet are already touching the dry earth.


Then she wakes up.

She's wet with sweat, her heart hammers in her chest, and at first she doesn't know where she is. But then she hears the breathing of her sleeping brother and mother. They're lying close to each other on the floor of the hut.

She reaches out carefully and touches her mother's back. Her mother stirs, but doesn't wake.

Sofia lies with open eyes in the silence and the dark. Mama Lydia's breathing is light and irregular, as if she were already awake and preparing the porridge for their morning meal. On her left side is Alfredo.

Before too long there will be another person sleeping on the floor of the hut. Mama Lydia is due to have a baby soon. Sofia has seen her fat before. She knows there can't be many days to go.

She thinks about her dream. Now that she's woken up, she's both relieved and happy, but she's also sad.

She thinks about her dream -- and about what happened that morning one year ago.

She thinks about Maria, whose breathing she can no longer hear in the darkness.

Maria, who is gone.


Sofia lies awake in the darkness for a long time. An owl hoots somewhere outside, and a wary rat rustles outside the straw wall of the hut.

She thinks about what happened that morning, when everything was as it used to be, and she and Maria were on their way to help Lydia weed the fields on the outskirts of the village.

And she thinks about all the things that happened before then.

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What People are saying about this

An important read for anyone who cares about people and the global landmine crisis.
Heather Mills McCartney
An important read for anyone who cares about people and the global landmine crisis.
— and her husband Sir Paul McCartney are Goodwill Am

Meet the Author

Henning Mankell is one of Sweden's best-selling authors. His works for children have earned him several awards, including the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Prize. Secrets in the Fire won the 2002 Sankei Children's Publishing Culture Award.

Anne Connie Stuksrud has published two short-story collections for young adults and is currently working on her third book.

Brief Biography

Mozambique, Africa
Date of Birth:
February 3, 1948
Place of Birth:
Stockholm, Sweden
Folkskolan Elementary Shool, Sveg; Högre Allmäna Läroverket, Borås

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