My 10-year-old son and I read a lot of books together. Usually we read for adventure and for laughs, but we’re currently working on the 2008 Children’s Sequoyah Masterlist, a group of 12 books thought to be the best of recent books by authors living in the United States. The award is named after Sequoyah, who is remembered as the father of the Cherokee alphabet.
The thing that really grabs my son’s attention is a true story about kids, especially if they’ve had to endure hardships. The hardest part about reading these books with him is explaining that all these horrible things really took place. That idea sometimes overwhelms him. He still lives in the mindset that adults can fix everything. I hate taking that away from him, but he also learns to appreciate the life he has and learns to be giving to others that have less.
Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan is one of those books. It’s really short and can be read within minutes, but the impact of the story is still with my child days later. Based on the tragic, real-life incidents in the Sudan where warlords massacred whole villages in the civil war that took place there, the book focuses on an eight year old boy named Garang Deng.
Garang became one of the leaders of the 30,000 Sudanese boys between 8 to 15 who became orphans as a result of that war. They ended up walking over a thousand miles to try to find safety. The fact that boys that age could endure the hardships and know enough to save most of them is astounding.
As I read the book to my son, I knew he was lost in that struggle, trying to imagine what he would do. That’s what he’s like. It wasn’t an adventure like we normally read. This was a real life-or-death situation.
Several of the boys died along the way. That fact is touched upon in the narrative but doesn’t weigh too heavily. Mary Williams, the author, has handled a truly difficult subject matter here and in a way that leaves young readers shaken but not despondent. Although only 40 pages long, the books is a real eye-opener about what goes on in the rest of the world.
The artist, R. Gregory Christie, does an amazing job with kid-friendly pictures. The acrylic medium really stands out on the page, and the colors are all warm earth tones that reflect the geography of that region. Emotions, despair and joy, are plain for the reader to see in the way the characters stand. The art complements the simple, hard-hitting text wonderfully.
If you’re working with your child in the Sequoyah Reading this year, you may find that the subject matter in Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan is hard to deal with. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions from your child. Thankfully, I knew enough about what had happened there to answer most of them. You might want to read up on that civil war and the general outcome. I know my son seemed less pensive when I could answer his questions and let him know that most of those boys were truly safe now, and over 3000 of them came into the United States.