RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The lengthy Guatemalan Civil War is the inspiration for Skila Brown's latest children's novel. It's called "Caminar." The book is structured in verse, unfolding poem by poem. The story centers on a young boy named Carlos, who much learn to grow up quickly when his mother forces him out of the house. She tells him to run away so as not to get caught in the crossfire of warring government soldiers and rebels. Award-winning writer Meg Medina joined us to talk about this novel. She picked Skila Brown's "Caminar" as her weekend read.
MEG MEDINA: So this story is told by Carlos, a young boy who lives with his mother in a small village of Chopan. And government soldiers arrive one day asking even the youngest child in the village to report any communist rebel hiding in the jungle, warning them that these rebels are dangerous and killers. So a few days later, after the soldiers leave, the rebels do in fact appear. They walk through the village and hide in the nearby jungle, and unfortunately, this is what brings a horrible toll to all of the villagers. So these poems really tell the story of a young man surviving the slaughter of his entire village and the long walk that he takes among rebel soldiers to save his grandmother's village farther up the mountain from the same fate.
MARTIN: With that, would you mind reading one of the poems for us? And I think, Meg, if you don't mind reading "Guerilla Rain."
MEDINA: Sure, sure. So this is "Guerilla Rain." This is the arrival of the rebel soldiers.
(Reading) Guerilla Rain. They came in rain; the end of wet season when rain was no longer welcome, yet. It beat our roof, turned floor to mud, washed off the army camp. Guerillas. They came in rain. We huddled inside, waited for Earth to stop its slide. They came sacks empty, bellies empty, guns full, rebels. They marched right through our town, made their way into the jungle. And when the last of them had been sucked in by thick, green arms, the rain stopped.
So they're very evocative. They're just beautiful poems.
MARTIN: Lovely writing and so descriptive. It's also - we should say, it is a heavy topic - violent civil war and this young kid's village being slaughtered. Is there something about the use of these short vignettes, these short poems that makes this heavy stuff easier for young people to absorb?
MEDINA: I think that Skila did an amazing job in this novel largely because it is telling history that we don't normally tell. We're very squeamish about what we put forth for children, right We have ideas of what's appropriate for children and what is inappropriate, and certainly the massacre of a village we shy away from. So the first thing is I think that it's very brave to offer children world history, not just American history, not just the slice of who we are as a people, but also who our neighbors are. But the other thing that I think she did so beautifully is that she handled difficult things gently and with compassion to where the children are developmentally, meaning the readers. So there is a scene in this book where the village is massacred, right, by the military. But she reports it in dream and in magical realism, which for me, seemed completely appropriate culturally to this book and also completely appropriate for the age level of the children reading it because this is a middle-grade novel. Although I will say that any age can read this in terms of middle grade, young adults, adults and still connect with the level of writing and the ideas about the human spirit that are in the pages.
MARTIN: Meg Medina is the author of "Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass." She was talking about Skila Brown's novel "Caminar." Meg, thanks so much for sharing your weekend read with us again.
MEDINA: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks, Rachel.
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