Synopses & Reviews
Kek comes from Africa.
In America, he sees the snow for the first time, and feels its sting. Hes never walked on ice, and he falls. He wonders if the people in this new place will be like the wintercold and unkind.
In Africa, Kek lived with his mother, father, and brother. But only he and his mother have survived, and now shes missing. Kek is on his own. Slowly, he makes friends: a girl who is in foster care, and old woman who owns a rundown farm, and a cow whose name means family” in his native language. As Kek awaits word of his mothers fate, he weathers the tough Minnesota winter by finding warmth in his few friendships, strength in his memories, and belief in his new country.
Bestselling author Katherine Applegate presents a beautifully wrought novel about an immigrants journey from hardship to hope.
Katherine Applegate is the author of several bestselling series, including Animorphs, as well as The Buffalo Storm, a picture book.
Home of the Brave is Katherine Applegates first stand-alone novel. In Keks 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 doesnt belong,” she says. I hope they see themselves.”
Ms. Applegate lives with her family in North Carolina.
"In her first stand-alone book, Applegate (the Animorphs series) effectively uses free verse to capture a Sudanese refugee's impressions of America and his slow adjustment. After witnessing the murders of his father and brother, then getting separated from his mother in an African camp, Kek alone believes that his mother has somehow survived. The boy has traveled by 'flying boat' to Minnesota in winter to live with relatives who fled earlier. An onslaught of new sensations greets Kek ('This cold is like claws on my skin,' he laments), and ordinary sights unexpectedly fill him with longing (a lone cow in a field reminds him of his father's herd; when he looks in his aunt's face, 'I see my mother's eyes/ looking back at me'). Prefaced by an African proverb, each section of the book marks a stage in the narrator's assimilation, eloquently conveying how his initial confusion fades as survival skills improve and friendships take root. Kek endures a mixture of failures (he uses the clothes washer to clean dishes) and victories (he lands his first paying job), but one thing remains constant: his ardent desire to learn his mother's fate. Precise, highly accessible language evokes a wide range of emotions and simultaneously tells an initiation story. A memorable inside view of an outsider. Ages 10-14. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“American culture, the Minnesota climate, and personal identity are examined in this moving first-person novel written in free verse . . . Kek is both a representative of all immigrants and a character in his own right . . . Kek will be instantly recognizable to immigrants, but he is also well worth meeting by readers living in homogeneous communities.”—School Library Journal, starred review
“In her first stand-alone book, Applegate (the Animorphs series) effectively uses free verse to capture a Sudanese refugee's impressions of America and his slow adjustment . . . Prefaced by an African proverb, each section of the book marks a stage in the narrator's assimilation, eloquently conveying how his initial confusion fades as survival skills improve and friendships take root . . . Precise, highly accessible language evokes a wide range of emotions and simultaneously tells an initiation story. A memorable inside view of an outsider.”—Publishers Weekly
“This beautiful story of hope and resilience . . . is an almost lyrical story . . . Keks voice is particularly strong as he models the difficulties experienced by a new immigrant . . . The book highlights the importance of attitude to success, a life lesson worth repeating as well.”—VOYA
“The boys first-person narrative is immediately accessible. Like Hanna Jansens Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You, the focus on one child gets behind those news images of streaming refugees far away.”—Booklist
“. . . [Kek] relates the process of adjusting to his new life in poignant and lyrical free verse, a stylistic choice that helps set the tone of a character who of necessity thinks in images when he can't find the words to carry him from his old language to his new language . . . Keks observations about the weirdness of American culture and customs will be familiar to immigrants and will cause non-immigrants to see everyday patterns and material possessions in a new light; the evocative spareness of the verse narrative will appeal to poetry lovers as well as reluctant readers and ESL students.”—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB)
“. . . beautifully written in free verse . . . a thought-provoking book about a topic sure to evoke the empathy of readers.”—KLIATT
“In an immediate, first-person voice, we get a detailed, emotional glimpse into Keks adjustment to America and its ways. With exact and accessible language—as well as many evocative metaphors, as Kek tries to acclimate to his new life . . . —Applegate gives young readers a compelling account of life as an outsider in America.”—Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (blog)
“Keks experience is not simply that of an immigrant boy looking to be brave in a new situation. He teaches much, of course, of the things challenging a person recently introduced to a place and culture. He also teaches about preserving the valuable parts of ones own history and culture. But most important, his universal longing to be part of a family, to display bravery and courage, to be accepted, make him just like any young person. His poignant story communicates the shared longings of all young people.”—Childrens Literature Network
“Beautiful. Thank you for publishing this book. Thank Katherine Applegate for writing it.”—Karen Hesse “Moving . . . Kek is both a representative of all immigrants and a character in his own right.”—School Library Journal
, Starred Review
“Precise, highly accessible language evokes a wide range of emotions and simultaneously tells an initiation story. A memorable inside view of an outsider.”—Publishers Weekly
“This beautiful story of hope and resilience . . . is an almost lyrical story.”—Voice of Youth Advocates
“The boys first-person narrative is immediately accessible. Like Hanna Jansens Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You, the focus on one child gets behind those news images of streaming refugees far away.”—Booklist
“The evocative spareness of the verse narrative will appeal to poetry lovers as well as reluctant readers and ESL students.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Childrens Books
“. . . beautifully written in free verse . . . a thought-provoking book about a topic sure to evoke the empathy of readers.”—KLIATT
Kek comes from Africa. In America he sees snow for the first time, and feels its sting. Hes 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 shes 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 Keks native language. As Kek awaits word of his mothers fate, he weathers the tough Minnesota winter by finding warmth in his new friendships, strength in his memories, and belief in his new country.
Bestselling author Katherine Applegate presents a beautifully wrought novel about an immigrants journey from hardship to hope. Home of the Brave is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
When the flying boatreturns to Earth at last,I open my eyesand gaze out the round window.What is all the white? I whisper.Where is all the world?
The author of the bestselling Animorphs series (written under the name K.A. Applegate) delivers her first stand-alone literary novel: a beautifully wrought story about an African immigrant to America, who makes a journey from hardship to hope.
A deeply poetic and affecting novel about the contemporary immigrant experience.
A man I helped to settle here
taught me a saying from Africa.
Ill bet you would like it:
A cow is God with a wet nose.
Kek comes from Africa where he lived with his mother, father, and brother. But only he and his mother have survived. Now shes missing, and Kek has been sent to a new home. In America, he sees snow for the first time, and feels its sting. He wonders if the people in this new place will be like the winter—cold and unkind. But slowly he makes friends: a girl in foster care, an old woman with a rundown farm, and a sweet, sad cow that reminds Kek of home. As he waits for word of his mothers fate, Kek weathers the tough Minnesota winter by finding warmth in his new friendships, strength in his memories, and belief in his new country.
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 Keks 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 doesnt belong,” she says. “I hope they will see themselves.” She lives with her family in Irvine, California.
Reading Group Guide
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 Keks eyes?
On the very first page of the book, phrases like “flying boat,” and “the helping man” not only reveal Keks 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 Keks 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 Keks ESL class. He ponders:
Of all the things I didnt know
this is the most amazing:
I didnt 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 persons 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 Keks 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 hell never really “feel like an American.”
“…Because they wont 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.
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 dont
make their homes
in heavy books.
We hold our stories in our songs.
Keks 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 Keks 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
Ive never seen before.
And then I begin to cry.
Discuss with your children Keks 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 Keks 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.
- Trip to the mall
- Taking the bus
- 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.
15. To help the students in Keks 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.