Both works of fiction for older readers, Mahtab’s Story (by Libby Gleeson) and Boys Without Names (by Kashmira Sheth), these stories spoke to me right from their first arrival here at KPL.
I should say that I have a seemingly more than ordinary curiosity about stories set anywhere in the Middle East and/or India. This interest was first fueled by news events, and then by several titles by Deborah Ellis (who wrote The Breadwinner, Parvana, Parvana’s Journey, and Shauzia just to name several).
Kashmira Sheth’s Boys Without Names chronicles eleven-year-old Gopal and his family as they are forced to flee their rural Indian village in secrecy and under the cover of darkness, because they are too far in debt to the moneylender to ever get clear again. Upon their arrival in the big city of Mumbai, Gopal’s father goes missing (or does the moneylender have him?) and Gopal, desperate to help his family by earning money for basic living, ends up locked in a sweatshop from which there is no escape. It is common practice to purchase orphans or street beggars for what seems like a large sum of money, and then enslave them in horrible conditions as child laborers. Newbery Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson says that “Boys Without Names is one of the best books I have ever read.” While I can’t compete with Ms. Woodson’s literary evaluation skills, I, too, think this is an excellent choice for ‘tween-age readers, and would recommend it to any classroom teacher for a read-aloud as well.
Mahtab’s Story by Libby Gleeson is another tale of a family forced to leave their home, this time in Herat, Afghanistan; and journey secretly through the rocky mountains to Pakistan, and finally to far-away Australia, to escape the Taliban. Mahtab’s family, like Gopal’s, waits months and months for any solution to their situation. Mahtab’s father, too, goes missing in his attempt to reach safety and get established for his family. Confined to several detention centers along the way, the family is finally re-united! This family endures hardships and tortures that can only be imagined by those of us living in the Western world. This story, too, would make a good read-aloud for the ‘tween-age reader in a classroom setting.
These stories give good glimpses into the cultures and religious restrictions in each of these locales. The families in each book are strong, yet weak; determined, yet uncertain; and real enough to make the reader want to have a “happy ending.”