Whitman, Sylvia. 2013. MILK OF BIRDS. New York: Atheneum. ISBN 9781442446823 [Suggested Grade Levels 8-12]
In this moving novel, two girls develop a close relationship through their letters. K.C. is a typical American teenager more interested in her social life than writing letters to someone she doesn’t know in Africa. When her mom signs up for Save the Girls, a nonprofit organization that arranges pen pal sponsors for girls living in refugee camps, K.C. isn’t excited about the prospect. Since she struggles with reading and writing, K.C. initially sends money without answering any letters. Nawra is an “Internally Displaced Person” struggling to survive in a refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan. Even though her situation is desperate, Nawra is anxious to connect with her sister across the ocean and sends several letters detailing her harsh life in the refugee camp and thanking K.C. for her generous gifts. Once K.C. begins reading Nawra’s letters and responding, the girls’ friendship grows.
Even though K.C. and Nawra’s circumstances are very different, both girls open up about their pain and dreams for the future. Nawra’s faith in the face of poverty and brutality gives K.C. perspective about her own difficulties. In turn, K.C. becomes an advocate for the women and girls in Darfur by organizing a fundraiser. An author’s note discusses Whitman’s motivation for writing this story and lists organizations for readers interested in helping people like Nawra.
Share this novel to encourage students to participate in a pen pal program or become involved in nonprofit organizations. This book would also support social studies units about the political unrest in Africa.
Books about teenage pen pals:
Deckert, Tempany. IT’S YR LIFE. ISBN 9781741663976
Joyal, Lisa. SWAHILI FOR BEGINNERS. ISBN 9780329660819
Sullivan, Mary. DEAR BLUE SKY. ISBN 9780142426678
By Kimberly C. Kinnaird