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The Storyteller's Beads

The Storyteller's Beads

4.1 6
by Jane Kurtz, Liz Van Doren (Editor), Michael Bryant (Illustrator)

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Running for their lives to escape the political upheaval in Ethiopia, two young girls from different faiths form an unlikely friendship.


Running for their lives to escape the political upheaval in Ethiopia, two young girls from different faiths form an unlikely friendship.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in the mid-1980s, a time when Ethiopia is hard-hit by drought and political strife, Kurtz's (Trouble) eye-opening novel charts the converging paths of two young natives fleeing from their country. Sahay, a Christian orphan, and Rahel, a blind Jewish girl, have been taught to be enemies, but discover they have much in common when they join a large group of refugees on their way to Sudan: both have suffered hunger and persecution, have been torn from their families and regret leaving their homeland. Through the girls' alternating points of view, Kurtz conveys how the fellow travelers' mutual mistrust of one another gradually grows into reliance upon each other for aid and consolation. When soldiers force Sahay's uncle and Rahel's brother to turn back, Sahay experiences her first pang of pity for the "blind Falasha" girl and offers to be her guide. In turn, Rahel soothes Sahay's lagging spirit with inspirational stories from the Old Testament. Besides presenting an historically accurate account of mass exodus from Ethiopia (additional information appears in an afterword), the story pays tribute to survivors who find the strength and courage to help others reach freedom. Ages 8-12. (May)
Children's Literature - Linnea Hendrickson
This exquisitely crafted, sparely told tale of courage and friendship is an outstanding first novel by the author of Only a Pigeon and other fine picture books. It is the story of two young women forced together to save their lives in the midst of the hardships of war and famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s. In eighteen short chapters, Kurtz spins a gripping and suspenseful survival story from the intertwined threads of the lives of Sahay, who is Christian, and the blind Rahel, who is Jewish. The texture of the story is enhanced by recurring imagery of dust, water, darkness, the sound of Rahel's flute, and the textures of cotton "gahbis" (cloaks), baskets, clay pots, amber beads, and remembered stories, especially the Biblical tale of Ruth and Naomi. An author's note provides historical and cultural context on the many groups of people that make up modern Ethiopia, while a glossary provides definitions and a pronunciation key for foreign words. Although firmly grounded in the realities of Ethiopian life, which Kurtz (who grew up in Ethiopia) helps the reader see, hear, feel, and smell, the story is also universal, and will provoke reflection on prejudice, tolerance, and identity.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
The Ethiopian famine of the 1980s is told in human terms from the viewpoint of two girls caught in the tragedy. Their lives intertwine when both are escaping political turmoil. Rahel is an Ethiopian Jew who was blinded as a child. Sahay has been taught to fear and hate the Jews yet when they meet they realize their survival depends on helping each other. Their struggle is set against a forbidding landscape and a political situation that is terrifying and confusing to the girls. Their resoluteness, their courage and eventual friendship make this a memorable story.
VOYA - Victoria Yablonsky
Two young girls face the drought, famine, and turmoil of war-torn Ethiopia in the 1980s. Sahay, a Kemant Ethiopian, has lost most of her family to political strife. Rahel, a blind Jewish girl, and her family face prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis. When both girls must leave Ethiopia, Sahay for escape and Rahel to seek Jerusalem, they lose everything and everyone but find each other on the journey. The two learn to overcome the cultural prejudices taught to them from birth by finding the things they have in common. Sahay leads Rahel on the dangerous path out of Ethiopia, and Rahel soothes Sahay with stories of her people and homeland. Both girls are the hopes of their families, and together they create their own story as they support each other and grow closer on the long and dangerous journey to Jerusalem. This is a moving story that makes the Ethiopian tragedy come alive through the adventures of these two courageous girls. The glossary of Ethiopian terms will aid in understanding the story and providing cultural context, but the historical and political background can be confusing. Young readers may need help in moving beyond the personal story of friendship and courage to a wider comprehension of its setting. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P M J (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 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-This harrowing story set in Ethiopia during the 1980s features an unexpected friendship between two girls of different religious backgrounds. Threatened by war, famine, and drought, Sahay and her uncle set out from their small Kemant village to find safety in the Sudan. Rahel, a blind Jewish girl, and her brother also flee the country as part of a group of Beta-Israel planning to make an aliyah to Jerusalem. As part of the same band of refugees, the girls make a long, difficult trek across the mountains. When the men are turned back at the border, Rahel and Sahay are left on their own to finish the journey. They find that their common danger and need for one another allow them to overcome the generations of prejudice that separate Jews (called falasha or "alien strangers" in spite of generations of residence) and other religious and ethnic groups in this part of the world. Throughout the ordeal, Rahel comforts herself and Sahay with the stories that she learned from her grandmother, tales from the Bible and Ethiopian tradition that help the girls believe that they will survive. This moving novel about friendship also illustrates the power of story. Ethiopian words that are clear in context and also defined in the glossary help particularize the setting. An afterword explains something of the complex relationship between the girls' two different cultures. This ultimately heartening novel is a solid addition to the growing body of middle-grade books for a multicultural world.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
Based in fact, this is an original, powerful story of two Ethiopian girls who become refugees in the 1980s. A year after her family was killed while she hid in a cave nearby, Sahay is routed from her home by her uncle, before enemies arrive to take their land. One of the Kemant people, Sahay fears the evil eye of the "Falasha." Alternating chapters introduce Rahel, a blind Beta-Israel girl who dislikes being called a Falasha, and who summons all her courage to convince her family to include her beloved grandmother on the journey they must undertake. Political events hasten the plans, and Sahay and Rahel are thrown together. After an extreme and terrifying journey, they reach a Red Cross camp in the Sudan where they search for other survivors from their region, certain they will die from sickness or malnutrition. Then Rahel learns of a plan to go to Israel, and convinces Sahay to pretend to be her sister. The story is beautifully told in words and phrases that enhance the exotic locale and situation of the two endangered girls, who are richly portrayed. Kurtz keeps the focus personal but never allows larger events to dissipate in this engrossing tale. (map, glossary, not seen) (Fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.25(h) x (d)
750L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

Meet the Author

JANE KURTZ lives in Portland, Oregon. She has written more than thirty fiction and nonfiction books for children, including Lanie and Lanie's Real Adventure from the American Girl Today series, Anna Was Here, and River Friendly, River Wild, a story in verse for which she received a Golden Kite award. Visit her website at  www.janekurtz.com.

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The Storyteller's Beads 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s. Jane Kurtz grew up in a remote village in the southwest corner of Ethiopia, although her biography does not say whether her family's being there was as missionaries, diplomats, military, charitable, Peace Corps, or what. Until 1974, people of various ethnic and religious groups, including Orthodox, Jewish, Muslims, and native religions, generally co-existed in a somewhat uneasy peace in the East African nation of Ethiopia, which basically was favorable toward the West, although prejudice and persecution did exist, especially toward the Jews (known as Beta Israel). However, in 1974, the last of a long line of 'Christian' Ethiopian emperors, Haile Selassie, was dethroned. The military committee which removed him promised better things, but by 1977 the government had turned away from the West and begun cooperating with the Soviet Union, and, as in most places where communism has been tried, things went from bad to worse. The problems were compounded during the 1980s by a war resulting from the revolt of Eritrea, a northeastern province seeking independence supported by neighboring Somalia and Sudan, and a great draught throughout the whole region. Persecution against the Jews increased. I remember reading and seeing news reports of that time period about massive air lifts by the Israeli government of Jews from Ethiopia to Israel. This book of children's fiction, drawn from true stories told by Beta Israel who emigrated to Jerusalem, tells about two girls, one a blind Beta Israel named Rahel and the other, Sahay, from the Christian Kemata ethnic group, who are fleeing to a refuge camp in Sudan. Becoming separated from their relatives, they must overcome the prejudices that each group has against the other and learn to help one another. While the author does not shrink from describing the horrors of their condition and the terrors of their journey, there is nothing in this book that is inappropriate for children. One thing that helps give them courage are the Old Testament stories that Rahel's grandmother has told her using the beads that she had given her. The book reinforces several positive lessons, such as learning forebearance with others, what it means to be a friend, and keeping hope alive in one's heart. Kurtz has written several factual books about Ethiopia, but this is her first novel.
BooksCanChangeYourLife More than 1 year ago
I liked this book, but I felt it could have been more engrossing. The characters were a bit flat but the story was interesting and well written. It's a quick and easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She made lanies doll and book a ameerican garl doll
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was great it was about 2 young girls who had to leave Ethiopia. They overcome prejudices and become great friends although their relgions said to hate each other.