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The Milk of Birds Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (April 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 144244682X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442446823
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,112,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up-American eighth-grader K.C. struggles in school, her parents are divorced, and she feels like a failure next to her perfect brother. Nawra, 14, is illiterate and pregnant from a rape; she lives in an Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in Darfur. The girls get to know each other through a letter exchange organized by a charity working in Sudan. Their story is told through first-person narratives and their letters. Nawra describes the brutal violence taking place in her country and the terrible things that have happened to her and her extended family-homes have been destroyed, bombs dropped, and women and children have been forced to witness atrocities being inflicted on loved ones. Yet she is thankful to be alive and draws strength from her faith and the proverbial wisdom of her grandmother, which she routinely shares in her dictated letters. She is able to nurse her mother back to health and reaches out to help those around her in spite of her difficult circumstances. K.C.'s problems seem pale in comparison, but Whitman deftly puts both girls' concerns in the contexts of their very different worlds. K.C. becomes active at school in helping raise awareness and funds to help the people in the IDP camp. Nawra's flashbacks and the time lag between letters can make it difficult to understand the sequence of events, but the horrific happenings are easier to take in and process in the girls' back-and-forth exchanges. In the author's note, Whitman writes how she hoped her novel would be historical fiction by the time it was published. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Nonetheless, this powerful and important book has a lot to say to young people about seeing beyond their own struggles and opening their minds and hearts to others.-Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SCα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

There have been several books about the boy soldiers of Sudan, but the focus in Whitman’s debut novel is on a contemporary young Sudanese girl caught up in the horrific civil war. Living in a refugee camp in drought-stricken Darfur, Nawra, 14, is pregnant after being raped. She cannot read, but when she receives letters and donations through a charity from teenage K. C. Cannetti in Richmond, Virginia, a friend reads the letters and helps Nawra to write back and talk about her life. K. C. writes about her own problems—her parents’ divorce, the boy she likes, her shame about being in special ed—certainly nothing like the suffering in the camps, including hunger, and the complications that Nawra’s circumcision will cause while she is giving birth. Told both in letters and in alternating first-person present-tense narratives, this is really two parallel novels set worlds apart, and the constant switches sometimes get to be too much. But teen readers will be moved by the personal connections and by the stories behind news headlines. Grades 9-12. --Hazel Rochman

More About the Author

Please visit my website:

I write ... all kinds of things, for kids and adults, but most recently books for kids. I'm interested in American and Arab history and good stories. My first YA novel, The Milk of Birds, is being published by Atheneum in spring 2013.

I work ... at Marymount University as a writing specialist, which makes me the campus cheerleader for writing. I talk a lot with faculty and sometimes I teach. I've taught freshman seminars on learning about the Middle East and North Africa and on writing about cooking and eating.

I live ... in Arlington, Virginia, with my family.

I play ... with my kids, and a little basketball. I miss playing squash. I walk a lot and swim.

I like ... (in no particular order) the ocean, couscous, dogs, flowers from bulbs, photographs.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Christina (A Reader of Fictions) TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In The Milk of Birds, Sylvia Whitman touches on subject matter rarely seen in YA fiction, and I want to applaud her for that. This novel deals with tough subjects (divorce, genocide, rape, learning disorders, and more), but retains an overarching sense of hope. On closing the finishing page, I was sad that this our world, but also touched by the inspiring story within. Whitman handles all of this well, keeping the focus small, on the daily lives of these two girls, Nawra in Darfur and K.C. in Richmond.

Signed up to participate in the charity Save the Girls, K.C. initially wants none of it, too busy worrying about her parents' divorce and her plummeting grades. In fact, K.C. refuses to respond to Nawra's first few letters, until Save the Girls contacts her to find out why she's not been sending letters, which has been making Nawra feel sad. K.C.'s mom offers to write the letters if need be, but K.C. finally steps up to the plate and does it herself, unable to stand the idea of her mom's terrible imitation of her going out into the world.

I give you this small summary to explain what I liked best about The Milk of Birds. The scale of it and the portrayals are so honest. K.C. is an average girl, and, like most kids, the last thing she wants to do when she gets home from school is do more "homework," which is how the pen pal thing feels to her at first. Watching K.C. slowly lose her reluctance to write the letters is so moving, especially when, by the time the year of correspondence comes to a close, K.C. keeps writing letters for her last package, unable to say goodbye.

If you're hoping to learn a lot about the big picture in Darfur, The Milk of Birds isn't the place to get it. Through Nawra, Whitman offers a view to the life of one girl.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By shellvillepost on May 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had trouble putting this book down. It's a beautiful lesson in humility, linking two teenagers who form a special bond on different sides of the world. It's a book for laughing and crying, and I would especially recommend to young adult females who may be able to deeply connect with the characters as I did.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Caren Cowan on May 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent story! A girl with nothing who is thankful and a girl with plenty who is takes everything for granted. Pen Pals, one writer for money and the other for writing practice. An unlikely friendship that helps both girls. This is one of the most powerful stories I've read in a very long time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Teen Reads on May 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Nawra is a 15-year-old girl living in a refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan. She and her mother fled her village because it was invaded by the Janjaweed. She and several of her family members escaped from the village, but Nawra and her mother are the sole survivors when they arrive in a IDP (International Displaced Person's) camp many miles from her village. Her mother has turned mute from the trauma, her village has been destroyed, and her future looks bleak.

K.C. (Katherine Cannelli) is 14 and lives in Richmond, VA with her mother and brother. Her parents are divorced, but she visits her father and her stepmother often. She doesn't live in poverty, but her mother must work a full-time job in order to pay all the bills.

As a typical American teenager, K.C. is totally unaware of Darfur and its problems until a nonprofit organization called Save the Girls matches her up with Nawra. The purpose is for the two girls to write letters to each other every month for a year and share their life experiences. They become akin to Pen Pals, but K.C.'s letters to Nawra are accompanied by a monetary gift Nawra can spend on things she needs or wants. K.C.'s mother signed her up for the program. She also paid the money for the gifts.

These two girls from opposite sides of the world would seem to have nothing in common, and for the most part, that's true. But there are a few similarities: they are about the same age, neither one lives with their father (Nawra's father is dead; K.C.'s parents are divorced), and both of them have trouble with letters (Nawra is illiterate and must dictate her letters to a friend and K.C. is a terrible speller who employs a voice-activated computer program to help her write hers).
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