Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave

by Katherine Applegate

Paperback(First Edition)

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Bestselling author Katherine Applegate presents Home of the Brave, a beautifully wrought middle grade novel about an immigrant's journey from hardship to hope.

Kek comes from Africa. In America he sees snow for the first time, and feels its sting. He's never walked on ice, and he falls. He wonders if the people in this new place will be like the winter – cold and unkind.

In Africa, Kek lived with his mother, father, and brother. But only he and his mother have survived, and now she's missing. Kek is on his own. Slowly, he makes friends: a girl who is in foster care; an old woman who owns a rundown farm, and a cow whose name means "family" in Kek's native language. As Kek awaits word of his mother's fate, he weathers the tough Minnesota winter by finding warmth in his new friendships, strength in his memories, and belief in his new country.

Home of the Brave is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312535636
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 12/23/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 19,271
Product dimensions: 5.22(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.75(d)
Lexile: NP (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Katherine Applegate is the author of several best-selling young adult series, including Animorphs and Roscoe Riley Rules. Home of the Brave, her first standalone novel, received the SCBWI 2008 Golden Kite Award for Best Fiction and the Bank Street 2008 Josette Frank Award. "In Kek's story, I hope readers will see the neighbor child with a strange accent, the new kid in class from some faraway land, the child in odd clothes who doesn't belong," she says. "I hope they will see themselves." She lives with her family in Irvine, California.

Read an Excerpt

Home of the Brave

By Katherine Applegate

Holtzbrinck Publishers

Copyright © 2007 Katherine Applegate
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8783-1



    When the flying boat
    returns to earth at last,
    I open my eyes
    and gaze out the round window.
    What is all the white? I whisper.
    Where is all the world?

    The helping man greets me
    and there are many lines and questions
    and pieces of paper.

    At last I follow him outside.
    We call that snow, he says.
    Isn't it beautiful?
    Do you like the cold?

    I want to say
    No, this cold is like claws on my skin!
    I look around me.
    Dead grass pokes through
    the unkind blanket of white.
    Everywhere the snow
    sparkles with light
    hard as high sun.
    I close my eyes.
    I try out my new English words:
    How can you live
    in this place called America?
    It burns your eyes!

    The man gives me a fat shirt
    and soft things like hands.
    Coat, he says. Gloves.
    He smiles. You'll get used to it, Kek.

    I am a tall boy,
    like all my people.
    My arms stick out of the coat
    like lonely trees.
    My fingers cannot make
    the gloves work.

    I shake my head.
    I say, This America is hard work.

    His laughter makes little clouds.


    The helping man
    is called Dave.
    He tells me he's from the
    Refugee Resettlement Center,
    but I don't know what those
    words are trying to say.

    He isn't tall
    like my father was,
    and there is hair on his face
    the color of clouds before rain.
    His car is red
    and coughs and burps
    when he tries to make it go.
    Doesn't much like
    the cold, either, he says.

    I smile to say I understand,
    although I do not.

    Sometimes Dave speaks English,
    the tangled sounds
    they tried to teach us
    in the refugee camp.
    And sometimes he
    uses my words.
    He's like a song always out of tune,
    missing notes.

    To help him,
    I try some English,
    but my mouth just wants to chew the words
    and spit them on the ground.

    We are like a cow and a goat,
    wanting to be friends
    but wondering if it
    can ever be.


    We drive past buildings,
    everywhere buildings.
    Everywhere cars.
    Everywhere dead trees.
    Who killed all the trees? I ask.

    They're not dead, Dave says.
    This is called winter,
    and it happens every year.
    In spring their leaves will come back.
    You'll see.

    He turns to smile.
    His eyes are wise and calm,
    the eyes of a village elder.
    Your family will be happy
    to see you, Dave says,
    but he doesn't mean my truest family,
    my mother and father and brother.

    I don't answer.
    I reach into my pocket
    and feel the soft cloth
    I carry with me everywhere.
    Blue and yellow,
    torn at the edges,
    the size of my hand,
    soft as new grass after good rain.

    Dave asks, When did you last see
    your aunt and cousin?

    A long time ago, I say.
    Before the camp.

    I can tell that Dave
    has many questions.
    I wonder if all America people
    will be so curious.
    My mouth is going to get very sore,
    stumbling on words all day long.

    We stop at a light
    hung high in the air,
    red and round
    like a baby sun.
    How was the airplane trip?
    Dave asks in English.
    When I don't answer, he tries again,
    using my words:
    Did you like the flying boat?

    I liked it very much, I say.
    I'd like to fly such a boat
    one day myself.
    When Mama comes,
    we'll take a flying boat
    around the world.

    Dave turns to look at me.
    You know, Kek, he says,
    we aren't sure where your mother is.
    His voice has the soft sting of pity in it.
    We don't know if she is—

    She's fine, I tell him,
    and I look out the window
    at the not-dead trees.
    She will come, I say,
    and this time
    I use my words,
    my music.


    We drive down a long road
    with many fast cars.
    Still there are buildings,
    but sometimes not.
    I see a long fence
    made of old gray boards.
    And then I see the cow.

    Stop! I yell.
    I feel regret in my heart
    to use such a harsh sound
    with my new helping friend.
    Please stop, I say,
    gently this time.

    What? Dave asks.
    What's wrong?

    Did you not see her?
    The brave cow
    in the snow?
    Dave glances
    in the looking-back glass.
    Cow? Oh, yeah. That used to be
    a big farm. Lot of land around here's
    getting sold off now.
    But that farmer's hanging on.

    I don't understand his words,
    but I can hear that he doesn't
    love cattle as I do,
    and I feel sorry for him.
    I twist in my seat.
    The don't-move belt across my chest
    pulls back.

    Oh, what the heck? Dave says.

    I have not yet learned
    the meaning of heck,
    but I can see that
    it's a fine and useful word,
    because he turns the car around.


    We park by the side
    of the fast-car road.
    Walking through the snow
    is hard work,
    like wading across a river
    wild with rain.

    The cow is near a fine,
    good-for-climbing tree.
    To say the truth of it,
    she is not the most beautiful of cows.
    Her belly sags
    and her coat is scarred
    and her face tells me
    she remembers sweeter days.

    My father would not have stood
    for such a weary old woman in his herd,
    and yet to see her here
    in this strange land
    makes my eyes glad.
    In my old home back in Africa,
    cattle mean life.
    They are our reason
    to rise with the sun,
    to move with the rains,
    to rest with the stars.
    They are the way we know
    our place in the world.

    The cow looks past me.
    I can see that she's pouting,
    with only snow and dead grass
    to keep her company.

    I shake my head. A cow can be trouble,
    with her slow, stubborn body,
    her belly ripe with milk,
    her pleading eyes that shine at you
    like river rocks in sun.

    An old woman comes out of the barn.
    She's carrying a bucket.
    Two chickens trot behind her
    scolding and fussing.
    The woman waves.

    Just saying hello to the cow,
    Dave calls.

    Let me know if she answers,
    the woman calls back,
    and she returns to the barn.

    We should go, Dave says.
    Your aunt is expecting us.

    A little longer, I say.

    I know cattle are important
    to your people, Dave says.
    Again he tries to use my words.
    A man I helped to settle here
    taught me a saying from Africa.
    I'll bet you would like it:
    A cow is God with a wet nose.

    I laugh. We wait.
    The wind sneaks through my coat.
    My teeth shiver.
    I take off a glove
    and hold out my hand,
    and at last the cow comes to me.

    She moos,
    a harsh and mournful sound.
    It isn't the fault of the cow.
    She doesn't know another way to talk.
    She can't learn
    the way I am learning,
    by slow, slow

    I stroke her cold, wet coat,
    and for a moment I hold
    all I've lost
    and all I want
    right there in my hand.


    It's growing dark
    when I say good-bye to the cow
    and we go back to the car to drive again.
    At last we park before a brown building,
    taller than trees.
    Its window-eyes
    weep yellow light.

    Under a street lamp,
    children throw white balls
    at the not-dead trees.
    Snowballs, Dave explains.
    A smiling girl throws
    one of the balls at Dave's car.
    He shakes his head.
    Welcome to Minnesota, he says.

    We climb out of the car.
    The snowball girl's face is red
    and her long brown hair is wet.
    Hi, she says. I'm Hannah.
    You the new kid?
    I'm not sure of the answer,
    so I make my shoulders go up and down.
    Catch, she says,
    and she throws a cold white ball to me.
    It falls apart in my hands.

    I follow Dave across the noisy snow.
    Two times I slip and fall.
    Two times I rise, pants wet, knees burning.

    Take it slow, buddy, Dave says.

    Tears trace my cheeks like tiny knives.
    I look away so Dave will not see my shame.
    How can I trust a place
    where even the ground plays tricks?

    Inside, we climb up many stairs.
    We walk down a long hall,
    passing door after door.
    Dave knocks on one of them,
    and behind it I hear the
    muffled voices of my past.

    Much time has come and gone,
    but still I know the worn, gray voice
    of my mother's sister, Nyatal.
    I hear another voice, too,
    the sound of a young man,
    a strong man.

    The door opens
    and my old life is waiting on the other side


    I'm hugged and kissed
    and there is much welcoming
    from my aunt.
    She's rounder than I remember,
    with a moon face to match,
    her black eyes set deep.

    My cousin, Ganwar,
    shakes my hand.
    I have learned about shaking hands.
    At the camp they taught us how:
    be firm, but do not squeeze too hard!
    Still, when Ganwar grasps my hand
    we are like two calves in the clouds
    pretending we know how to fly.

    The man's voice belongs to Ganwar,
    and he has my father's height now,
    though Ganwar is thin and reedy
    where my father
    was sturdy with strength.
    His eyes are wary and smart,
    always taking the measure of a person.
    Six long scars line his forehead,
    the marks of manhood
    I watched Ganwar and my brother receive
    in our village ceremony.
    How jealous I had been that day,
    too young for such an honor.

    I try hard not to look at
    another scar,
    the place where Ganwar's left hand
    should be,
    round and bare and waiting
    like an ugly question
    no one can answer.

    The night Ganwar lost his hand
    was the night I lost
    my father and brother,
    the night of men in the sky with guns,
    the night the earth opened up like a black pit
    and swallowed my old life whole.

    My aunt holds my face in her hands
    and I see that she's crying.
    I know her to be a woman of many sorrows,
    carved down to a sharp stone
    by her luckless life.
    She isn't like my mother,
    whose laughter is
    like bubbling water from a deep spring.

    I look into her eyes
    and then my tears come hard and fast,
    not for her, not for my cousin,
    not even for myself,
    but because when I look there,
    I see my mother's eyes
    looking back at me.


Excerpted from Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. Copyright © 2007 Katherine Applegate. Excerpted by permission of Holtzbrinck Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Part One,
Old Words, New Words,
What The Heck,
God With A Wet Nose,
Welcome To Minnesota,
Tv Machine,
Sleep Story,
Part Two,
School Clothes,
Once There Was ...,
New Desk,
Not Knowing,
How Not To Wash Dishes,
Not-Smart Boy,
Magic Milk,
Wet Feet,
Cows And Cookies,
Night Talk,
Part Three,
Ganwar, Meet Gol,
An Idea,
Field Trip,
The Question,
Grocery Store,
The Story I Tell Hannah On The Way Home,
Going Up,
White Girl,
Bad News,
No More,
Last Day,
More Bad News,
Sleep Story,
Running Away,
Part Four,
Traffic Jam,

Reading Group Guide

In this novel, told in free verse, an eleven year old African boy who has seen more than he should have seen and known great loss and sadness, opens our eyes to the horrors of war. Through his perceptions we also get a fresh view of our own county and ourselves, and we are prompted to ask questions and come to conclusions.

The combination of young Kek's innocence, the poetry of the telling, and the emotional impact of the story itself, compels readers to respond powerfully to the book, to the issues it raises, and to the telling itself.

You'll find many Literature, Language Arts, and Social Studies lessons in the novel - and many opportunities for discussion.


1. The background for Home of the Brave is the civil war that devastated the Sudan on and off from the 1950s to the 1990s and the ethnic war in the Darfur region of Sudan that has raged from 2003 to the present . The mere mention of the word "Darfur" in the media conjures up images of anarchy, destruction, and genocide. In order for your students to understand the plight of Kek and the millions of Sudanese people affected by the war, research and then discuss recent history of the Sudan as a whole and the Darfur region in particular. Questions to consider are:

- What is the ethnic make up of Sudan?
- Why were the wars fought?
- Who was fighting whom?
- What role did the Sudanese government play?
- What happened to the people?
- How did the world community respond?
- What were the consequences?


2. Katherine Applegate tells us the story of Home of the Brave as a first-person narrative free verse poem. Start your study of the poetry of the novel with a question for your class: How does the poetic form of the novel help us see the world through Kek's eyes?

On the very first page of the book, phrases like "flying boat," and "the helping man" not only reveal Kek's innocence and inexperience with the English language, but are also poetic. They make us see the airplane and Dave differently than if the author had used the words "airplane" and "relief worker." Poems use words carefully, each chosen for many reasons - its sound, meaning and rhythm. Ask your students to keep a list of such words and phrases that they discover as they read the novel. They should define them using conventional language, and make notes about how the words/phrases differ, even though they mean the same thing.

Have your students create poetic phrases. Make a list of objects, terms, and phrases they come in contact with in their everyday lives. Then have the students redefine them in poetic terms. For example, an iPod® could be "the singing box." Put the students' terms along with the ones they find that Kek uses in Home of the Brave together and create a class dictionary of poetic terms. Your students will now have a new resource to use for when they write their own poems and stories.

Social Studies - Immigration

3. This America is hard work. This is one of Kek's first realizations, and it is one of the themes of the novel. Have your students discuss what Kek means by this statement. Talk with them about why it is so hard even though many people think that Americans have it too easy. How is it especially hard for newcomers to the United States?

4. There are students from all over the world in Kek's ESL class. He ponders:

Of all the things I didn't know
about America,
this is the most amazing:
I didn't know
there would be so many tribes
from all over the world.
How could I have imagined
the way they walk through world
side by side without fear
all free to gaze at the same sky
with the same hopes?

America, the land of hope. To Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s it was called the "Golden Mountain." At the turn of the 20th century, Jews from Eastern European countries called it the "Golden Medina." In the displaced person's camp that Kek was sent to they called America "Heaven on Earth." Regardless of what it is called, poor oppressed immigrants envisage America as the place to go to escape oppressors, find riches, and create a new life.

There are many immigrants like Kek, Ganwar and Kek's aunt, whose plights are so dire that American relief organizations with workers like Dave, the "helping man" in Home of the Brave, bring here for humanitarian reasons. But countless others have to make their own way and cross our borders illegally to find the hope that America promises.

The issue of immigration is a topic that is being debated in our government and throughout our country. What are we to do? Have your students discuss the issues. Questions to consider are:

- Should we make it easier for people to immigrate to America or enforce stricter quotas?
- Do immigrants add to the economy or take jobs away from American citizens?
- Should illegal immigrants be allowed to stay in America and seek to gain legal status or be sent back to their home countries?
- After these and other issues are debated, your students should come up with a proposal to be voted on. They can campaign for their points of view with persuasive speeches and posters which can be hung up around the classroom. Then, hold a referendum. They should vote for what they believe in. The result should be put forth as a resolution and sent to your local congressional representatives: "Resolved, we the students of class___ believe________." They might want to extend the activity and bring the campaign to the rest of the school.

5. Kek puts on a t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.
In the bathing room
I look hard in the shiny glass.
I wonder if I look like an America boy.

Kek is no different than any other immigrant who comes to America. He has the need to belong, to feel accepted and to be an American. Is there such a thing as an "America boy?" Have your students discuss what they think an American is and what an American looks like. Ganwar tells Kek that he'll never really "feel like an American."

"...Because they won't let you." Who is the "they" that Ganwar refers to? What is the nature of his cynicism? Do your students agree with him? Do Americans try to keep out immigrants from the mainstream of society?

6. Read with your class Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus," which is engraved on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Discuss the meaning of the poem. Have them write compositions as to whether America is living up to the call of the poem.

Language Arts

7. Language helps us not only to communicate, but also to understand the world around us. We are helpless in a society, if we cannot speak its language. As someone learns a new language, there is more to master than just vocabulary and grammar. There are odd phrases that simply do not make literal sense. These are idioms, and we use them everyday.

When Kek is faced with idioms, his response is often funny to us and to others in the book. He is sometimes bewildered. Look at some of these instances in the novel:

- Page 60 - "The kids will eat you alive."
- Page 108 - "You need some time to get your feet wet."
- Page 115 - "Meantime, keep your eyes open."

Now, explore idioms with your students. How many can they list?

8. Each part of Home of the Brave begins with an African proverb. Proverbs have special meanings to the cultures from which they come, but they are universal in nature. Discuss with your students the meanings of the five proverbs found in the novel. Then ask them to bring in proverbs, sayings, or words of wisdom that come from their own cultures. Make a collection of the sayings on index cards and once a week during the course of the school term have a student select a card to read to the class.


9. My people are herders.
We move with the seasons,
...We cannot carry much with us,
and so our stories don't
make their homes
in heavy books.
We hold our stories in our songs.

Kek's people had an oral tradition. Their stories told of the stars and the wind, of love and betrayal, of war and regret.

Have your students create oral presentations of their experiences, thoughts and ideas. Then they should set them to music. They can use existing tunes or make up their own music using the styles they prefer:
rock, rap, folk, pop, R&B, ska, etc. Have students share them with their classmates and then travel around the school and perform for other classes.

Responding to Literature: Themes in Home of the Brave

10. Kek feels guilty that he ran and left him mother behind. But he also knows that the only reason he survived is that he ran. Ask the class to discuss the following questions: Does Kek think he did the right thing? What does Ganwar tell Kek about what he did? What did Kek's mother want him to do? What would your students have done in a similar situation? Would they run or stay behind with their mothers?

11. Hannah takes Kek to the grocery store to buy food for her foster mother.

The grocery store
had rows and rows
of color, of light,
of easy hope.
...I stand like a rooted tree firm,
my eyes too full of this place,
with its answers to prayers
on every shelf.
...I reach out and touch
a piece of bright green food
I've never seen before.
And then I begin to cry.

Discuss with your children Kek's emotional reaction when he sees the shelves lined with food. Do your students take this surfeit for granted? How much is too much? Do we need dozens of varieties of breakfast cereal and a half dozen kinds of cola?

12. Gol is a cow, but Katherine Applegate also uses her as a symbol. Ask your students how Gol represent Kek's past, present, and future.

13. What are the most important things that happen to Kek in his first year in America that make him begin to feel at home? Have your students prioritize the list below from the most to the least. They should add to the list other things they think are important.

- Clothes
- Friendships
- Teacher
- Trip to the mall
- Taking the bus
- TV
- Social worker

Students can also make a list of the hardest things that Kek has to adjust to in this year and place them in order of hardest to easiest.

14. As a final discussion, talk about why Katherine Applegate titled the novel Home of the Brave.

Cooperative Learning

15. To help the students in Kek's ESL class get to know each other they play a game called Interview. Your students can play the game too. Use a cardboard tube as a microphone. A students stands in front of the class and says five things about him/herself. Then each member of the class interviews the student by asking him/her a question. When you are finished, your students will have a better understanding of each other.

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