Friday, August 23, 2013

Dara and the Magic Marble

Our students will never fully understand the idea of being a refugee in your own country, but there are books that can make the terrors and hardships a little more of a reality for them. In Minfong Ho's The Clay Marble, the life of a little girl as a Cambodian refugee is all too real. 

Dara's family hears there is food in the refugee camps near the border, and they truly don't have a choice. If they want to eat, they are going to have to go there. While Dara, her mother, and her brother don't have much, they at least have each other. While the refugee camp may have more food than they had at home, it also has more dangers. Shelling and bombing is an all too-real danger that rocks the camp like shrapnel-laden thunder.  But in the camp, they also have the opportunity to meet other families like themselves. When she meets a young girl named Jantu who not only shares her family's food with Dara's family, but also gives Dara the opportunity to think about things other than hunger, war, and death, Dara begins to see the real root of happiness: family.

This was a very short little story, and the violence of the camp and the war raging around them is incredibly subtle. You barely see any of the violence while the situations are clearly dangerous. For me, that makes this a good story for a 5th or 6th grade class to read with a teacher who can explain the situation in Cambodia and also make the story a little more exciting than it is at face value. In fact, I was a little surprised the story was so mild considering the subject matter. If it is taught well, however, with enough teacher supplement to compensate for a story that is a little slow and slightly anti-climactic, it could provide some wonderful teaching opportunities. I think at most, I would give this to a low-skilled 7th grade group, but it is a very young story and older students might find it boring. I do think an awesome supplemental project could be to make the clay village Jantu and Dara made while in the camp! Not a bad story, just very young and a little too subtle for the circumstances surrounding Cambodia in the 1980s. 

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