Started by the Florida Holocaust Museum, April is Genocide and Human Rights Awareness Month. In this list, I'm not including Holocaust books. Be sure to see last week's Yom HaShoah list.
Deogratias, A Tale of Rwanda Deogratias is a boy who knows two hot sisters, so when the older rejects him, he'll go for the younger. Just a teenage boy, trying to get some action, like teenage boys everywhere. But that was then, before. This is now, after. This is less a tale of what happened then, but more what happens now, to the survivors, to the guilty, to the multitudes of guilty. To those guilty of crimes. To those guilty of surviving when those he cared most about didn't. An introductory note to this slim and powerful graphic novel gives important context to the story.
Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian. In 1915, Vehan Kenderian's father is arrested by the Turkish police and his older brothers are executed in the family courtyard. Vehan and the remaining family members are forced out of their home and into a stream of other Armenians. He manages to escape and, somehow, survive.
This is Paradise!: My North Korean Childhood by Hyok Kang with Phillipe Grangereau translated from the orginal French by Shaun Whiteside. Starting with daily life in North Korea, that start to show how repressive life is, Kang's story then moves to the horrors and hunger brought on the famine of the mid-1990s. Kang's family escapes to China and, eventually, South Korea. The South Korea section are particularly interesting and moving, as Kang starts to realize how brainwashed he was about the realities of life outside North Korea.
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung. Ung's family lived in Phnom Penh until the Khmer Rouge took power and sent them to labor camps and trained Ung to be a child soldier. This harrowing memoir is gripping and makes the history and politics easy to understand for teens unfamiliar with the time period. Follow it with Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind which follows Ung's early years in the US after escaping Cambodia.
Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution by Moying Li. Li’s autobiography of her Beijing childhood starts with China’s disastrous Great Leap Forward and quickly moves through the Great Famine to the Cultural Revolution. The narrative focuses more on Li’s personal story and, with the exception of the death of Zhou Enlai, the history and politics are only brought into play when explanation is needed.
Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro by Eduardo F. Calcines. As he grows up in Castro's Cuba, Eduardo gets used to watching what you say, used to hunger, used to his father being gone at labor camp (for daring to apply for an exit visa), used to the jealousy as other families get their visa and his family is still stuck.
Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick. With the rest of the his homeotwn, Arn is marched into the countryside by the Khmer Rouge and assigned to a forced labor camp. He learns to play an instrument for the nicer assignment of playing revolutionary music. But, as the regime is threatened, he's forced to become a soldier. This novel is based on the life of Cambodian human rights activist Arn Chorn Pond.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. One day Ishmael, age 12, goes to town with some friends. While there, he village is attacked and his family flees. He never sees them again. He and his friends run from the war-- trying to stay in front of the fighting so they don't get caught, don't get killed. Still, a group of boys traveling together is a thing to be feared. Eventually, Ishmael is caught and forced to join the army fighting against the rebels in Sierra Leone. He's given massive amounts of drugs, a gun, a little bit a training, food, and a hatred and desire to kill the people who killed his family. Written for adults, this is one with high teen appeal. Although the content skews it for older teens, Beah was much younger when he lived it.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. When Russia invades Lithuania in 1939, they relocated large portions of the population. Lina's father has already been taken, then she, her mother, and brother are put on a train and taken to a Siberian labor camp. A moving story of a genocide that many still deny ever happened.
What books do you most recommend about human rights and genocide?
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