a case study in writing effectively about place, home of the brave by katherine applegate (2007) details kek (a refugee from sudan) and the difficulty he has transitioning to life in minnesota.
one of the ways applegate emphasizes kek’s new place is by painting beautiful images. minnesota contrasts greatly with sudan, and it takes a while for kek to adjust to minnesota’s tall buildings: “At last we park before a brown building, / taller than trees. / Its window-eyes / weep yellow light” (p. 17). the pain kek feels in his heart, especially when he first arrives in minnesota, is reflected in poetic descriptions of a (chilled) landscape unlike kek has seen before. writers can think about the importance of painting a character’s emotions through vivid descriptions of place.
as a poet, i absolutely love books in verse and think it is great when authors expose children to poetry. applegate’s decision to write home of the brave in verse is one worth exploring. at times, i felt that the accessibility of the poetic language fit with kek’s efforts to learn English. it would not have been the same story if it had been told in wordy, complicated prose. something else i thought about in terms of the connection between poetry and oral language is this idea that poetry is an oral performance genre, one reminiscent of the oral language tradition kek remembers from his village. i hope that applegate’s decision to write in verse will inspire writers and writing groups to think about the importance of matching a genre to your story.
the pace of a story is another writing aspect i thought about while reading home of the brave. whereas applegate is masterful at charming the reader with powerful images and sharp lines as kek narrates his story, there were times when i felt the book’s pace seemed too slow. i thought the piece could have been tightened up a bit. and then i wondered whether the pace of the piece serves on one hand to stress kek’s difficulties with learning to accept his new place and on the other hand to symbolize the incremental but hopeful progress kek makes toward accepting both his new place and his new understandings about himself.
what did you think of home of the brave?