Chiko isn’t a fighter by nature. He’s a book-loving Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. Tu Reh, on the other hand, wants to fight for freedom after watching Burmese soldiers destroy his Karenni family’s home and bamboo fields. When Chiko is forced into the Burmese army and subsequently injured on a mission, the boys’ lives intersect. Timidity becomes courage and anger becomes compassion as both boys discover that everything is not as it seems. Mitali Perkins delivers a touching story about hopes, dreams, and the choices that define who we are.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||11 - 14 Years|
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Teachers wanted. Applicants must take examination in person. Salaries start at—
“Chiko, come inside!” Mother calls through the screen door, her voice low and urgent.
On the road behind our house, horns toot, sirens blare, and bicycle rickshaws crowd the streets. A high cement wall and a barrier of bamboo muffle the noise, making our garden seem as private as a monastery. But it isn’t. I could be spotted from the houses nearby, and spies are everywhere. They would betray even an old neighbor for extra ration cards.
I scan the rest of the announcement quickly, my heart racing.
“Chiko! Now!” Mother startles the flock of green parakeets perched on the birdbath, and they fly away.
I fold the newspaper around A Tale of Two Cities and head for the house. I want to tell Mother about the call for teachers in the paper, but it seems like she’s getting more anxious by the day. So am I, even though I wish I didn’t have to admit that. I’m tired of hiding, of worrying, and worst of all, of remembering again and again the day the soldiers came for Father. Remembering how I’ve failed him.
“You shouldn’t be reading out there,” Mother tells me, peering out through the screen after latching the door behind me.
I take a deep breath and push my glasses back. It’s now or never. “No harm in reading the government newspaper. There’s a notice—”
But she’s not listening. “We’ll talk about that later, Chiko. How could you take one of your father’s books outside? Do you want to end up in prison, too?”
She’s right—I shouldn’t have brought the book out there. The government gets suspicious when a Burmese boy reads English books. But I don’t answer her questions. What can I say? That it already feels like I’m in prison? I take the novel out of the newspaper. The worn cloth cover is still warm from the sunshine. “Read widely, Chiko,” Father used to say. “Great doctors must understand human nature in order to heal.”
“Hide it right now, Chiko,” Mother says sharply. “Wait. Let me draw the blinds.”
The dim room grows even darker. I reach behind the large painting of a white elephant, and we hear the familiar click. The painting swings open silently, like a well-oiled door. Hidden behind it is the cabinet Father built to conceal his battered black medical bag, books, and papers.
The books are in the same order as he left them, and I slip A Tale of Two Cities into place. There are a dozen medical and college textbooks, but we also own the complete works of Shakespeare, a book about Buddha’s teachings, the Christian Holy Bible, a few slim volumes of British poetry, an illustrated Oxford dictionary, some Burmese books (like the Jakata tales and verses by Thakin Kodaw Hmaing and Tin Moe), novels by Indian and Russian writers like Rabindranath Tagore and Fyodor Dostoevsky,
The Arabian Nights, and a set of books by Charles Dickens. These are our family treasures—faded, tattered, and well read.
I’m one of the few boys in town who can read and write in Burmese and English. It’s only because of Father. Schools around here close down so often it’s hard to learn, but I studied at home.
Father’s favorite books explain the secrets and mysteries of the human body, from bones to blood to cells to nerves. I always loved stories the best—books about heroes and quests and adventures, books where everything turns out fine in the end. I tried to pretend to be interested in science, but Father wasn’t fooled; he used the novels as prizes after we studied science.
It’s no use remembering the good times we had. I think I miss the sound of him the most. His voice—reading, talking, or laughing—steadied the house like a heartbeat. These days I only hear the conversation of Mother and her friends. If this keeps up, my own voice might reverse itself and start sounding high and sweet again.
I remember the last time I heard Father speak—almost four months ago. “Take care of your mother, Chiko!” he shouted as six or seven army officers shoved him into a van.
“I will, Father!” I answered, hoping he heard.
But have I kept that promise? No! All I’ve done is hide, and that’s not good enough with our money running out. And it’s terrible to go without news of him. The same thought keeps both Mother and me awake at night, even though we never say it to each other. Is he alive?
Excerpted from "Bamboo People"
Copyright © 2012 Mitali Perkins.
Excerpted by permission of Charlesbridge.
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