Education Department Common Read

“If there’s one thing I want you to remember about my book, is that this is a story about a special kind of courage. Home of the Brave is about a boy named Kek, refugee from the brutal war in Darfur, who finds himself all alone, without mother or father, in the very strange land of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.  It’s a world full of challenges, snow drifts, washing machines, skate boards, and of course, the relentless struggle to master a new language. But Kek finds friendship with a girl in foster care named Hannah, and he finds solace in the unlikely form of an aging cow named Gal. Kek comes from a tribe of nomadic herders in Sudan, and in his language, Gal means family.  To him a cow represents far more than a burger. She represents everything he’s lost and everything he longs for.  What Kek longs for most of all is the mother he’s lost in Sudan--the mother he hopes to reunite with. While he waits and hopes, Kek learns that there are many kinds of courage in the land people call ‘Home of the Brave.’”  

From a YouTube video summary presented by the author, Katherine Applegate.

Refugees Seeking Solace in Vermont: Panel discussion of Home of the Brave
Wednesday, October 29th,  5:00-6:30 in McCarthy Arts Center

Establishing Relationships with New Americans: A Teacher Workshop
Tuesday, November 11th, 5:00-6:30 in the Farrell Room, Saint Edmund's Hall

Wet Feet, Fries, and Cattle,  Home of the Brave through the Arts: Presentation and Workshop
Wednesday, December 3rd, 5:00-6:30 in the Farrell Room, Saint Edmund's Hall

Children's Picturebooks 

Bunting, E., & Lewin, T. (2006). One green apple. New York: Clarion Books. 

Hoffman, M., & Littlewood, K. (2002). The color of home. New York: Phyllis Fogelman Books.

Levine, E., & Björkman, S. (1989). I hate English!. New York: Scholastic Inc.

Recorvits, H., & Swiatkowska, G. (2003). My name is Yoon. New York: Frances Foster Books. 

Williams, K. L., Mohammed, K., & Chayka, D. (2007). Four feet, two sandals. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Williams, M., & Christie, R. G. (2005). Brothers in hope: The story of the lost boys of Sudan. New York: Lee & Low Books.


Blumberg, R. (2001). Shipwrecked!: The true adventures of a Japanese boy.  New York: HarperCollins.

Dau, J. B., & Akech, M. A. (2010). Lost boy, lost girl: Escaping civil war in Sudan. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Eggers, D. (2006). What is the what: The autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: a novel. San Francisco: McSweeney's.

Farish, T. (2012). The good braider: A novel. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.

Kadohata, C. (2005; 2004). Kira-kira. Waterville, Me.: Thorndike Press.

Lai, T. (2011). Inside out & back again. New York: Harper.

Levitin, S. (2000). Dream freedom. San Diego: Silver Whistle. 

Park, L. S. (2010). A long walk to water: Based on a true story. Boston: Clarion Books.

Preus, M. (2010). Heart of a samurai: Based on the true story of Nakahama Manjiro. New York: Amulet Books.


Kusserow, A. (2013). Refuge: Poems. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions Ltd.



                For Panther


Deng Majok sits inside his apartment,

heat cranked up to 80, curtains closed,

a pile of chicken boiling on the stove,

slides another Kung Fu movie into the VCR,

settles back into the smelly,

swaybacked couch, a Budweiser between his legs.  

He giggles.

In half an hour he’ll ride his bike

to Walmart, round stray shopping carts

from the cracked grey lot,

crashing them back into their steel corrals.


At first they dropped by all the time,

the church ladies, the anthropologists,

the students, the local reporter.

They all left elated, having found something real,

like yoga and organic food.


The first Thanksgiving, three families booked him.

Leaning hungrily across

the long white table,

they nibbled at his stories,

his lean noble life.

Over and over he told them about lions,

crocodiles, eating mud and urine.


He remembers joining

a black river of boys,

their edges swelling and thinning

as they wound their way

over the tight lipped soil, sun stuck to their backs.

He remembers dust mushrooming up

around a sack of cornmeal as it thudded

and slumped over, like a fat woman crying in the sand.


And the Americans came alive, with a sad,

compassionate glow, a kind of sunset inside them.


When he got off the plane

the church ladies took him to a store,

bought him fresh sneakers

soft and white as wedding cake.

The next day he walked through whole aisles

of dog food.


Two years later, November again,

he’s dropped out of high school -

he can’t take

the kids staring, the tiny numbers and letters

he can’t keep straight,

the basketball team he didn’t make

despite his famous height.

All night he’ll clean the bedpans at the hospital

as silent tvs splash their images

over the still white bodies and sagging pink mouths.

Now he looks like a too tall gangster,

all gold-chained and baggy-trousered.

The church ladies give him hushed looks:

we regret to inform you,  the path you’ve taken is not what we had hoped for.


He’s channel surfing,

listening to Bob Marley on his walkman,

his long legs awkwardly pushed out

to each side, the way giraffes

split their stilts

to drink water.

Africa’s moved inside him now,

all cramped and bored, sleeping a lot.


He cracks another beer

starts to float,

the reggae flooding the vast blue-black continent

of his body draped like a panther

over the sides of the sofa.


His cousin calls, she needs more money,

her son has malaria. She can’t afford school fees anymore.

His uncle gets on the phone to remind him to study hard,

come back and build a new Sudan.


Later he stumbles into the bathroom

to brush his teeth, inside him

groggy Africa flinches at the neon light,

paces, then settles in the corner

of its den, paws pushing into the walls

of his ribs with a dull pain.


The next morning he wakes,

stubborn Africa still shoved up against his ribs,

refusing to roll over, into the middle

of himself where he can’t feel it anymore,

into some open place

where he ends

and America finally begins.




(Anthropology and Humanism, Spring 2005)
A. Kusserow


SKULL TREES, South Sudan

Reprinted with permission from The Best American Poetry and The Kenyon Review

Arok, hiding from the Arabs in the branches of a tree,

two weeks surviving on leaves,

legs numb, mouth dry.

When the mosquitoes swarmed

and the bodies settled limp as petals under the trees,

he shinnied down, scooping out a mud pit with his hands

sliding into it like a snake,

his whole body covered except his mouth.

Perhaps  others were near him,

lying in gloves of mud, sucking bits of air through the swamp holes,

mosquitoes biting their lips,

but he dared not look.

What did he know of the rest of South Sudan, pockmarked with bombs,

skull trees with their necklaces of bones,

packs of bony Lost Boys

roving like hyenas towards Ethiopia,

tongues, big as toads, swelling in their mouths.

the sky pouring its relentless bombs of fire.   Of course they were

tempted to lie down for a moment,

under the lone tree, with its barely shade,

to rest just a little while before moving on,

the days passing slyly, hallucinations

floating like kites above them

until the blanched bones lay scattered in a ring around the tree,

tiny ribs, skulls, hip bones  -- a tea set overturned,

as the hot winds whistled through them

as they would anything, really,

and the sky, finally exhausted,

moving on. 

A. Kusserow

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