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by Icy Smith

illustrated by Sopaul Nhem


School Library Journal:

Gr 5–8— Young Nat narrates this harrowing story of his family’s experience during the Cambodian genocide of the mid-to-late ’70s, when a quarter of the country’s population “…died of starvation, torture, or execution.” The Khmer Rouge army evacuated millions of citizens to the countryside in an effort to create a classless society of peasant farmers. Subsisting on watery rice soup, Nat’s family walks for days until they reach a rice field where the children, men, and women are all separated. Along the way, the boy befriends Malis, a girl his age who cannot find her family. At one point, on the verge of starvation, he sneaks off and finds a frog and pulls its legs off to eat. “It tastes horrible, but it satisfies my stomach.” Days, months, and years pass until the Vietnamese Liberation Army finally frees them. Though Nat eventually finds his parents, who adopt Malis, the journey is treacherous. “We are shocked to see so many dead bodies along our route…we sometimes walk on top of the bodies to avoid stepping on a mine.” An author’s note gives background information about the Cambodian genocide. Bold, impressionistic oil paintings, mainly full page but some full spreads, speak volumes, and archival photographs are appended. This powerful child’s-eye view of war is harsh and realistic—like its subject—though accessible and thought-provoking.—Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools –Barbara Auerbach (Reviewed December 1, 2009) (School Library Journal, vol 55, issue 12, p132)


5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, Khmer Rouge, Teen