Katie Quirk, Author
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, April 2013
Suitable for Ages: 10 -14 (Adults too)
Themes: Educating Girls, Tanzania, Dreams, Multicultural, Mystery
Synopsis: Shida (Swahili for “problem”) is a 13-year-old girl living in Litongo, Tanzania. The Village elders call a meeting and Shida crouches in a mango tree listening to their announcement about moving their entire village to Njia Panda. President Nyerere has a dream for Tanzania and asks her village to become part of a new model for communal farming and living. Known as a budding healer in her community, Shida is excited about the opportunity to go to school and become a nurse. After the move, the cattle mysteriously escape from their pens, the cotton crop fails and her friend’s sister dies. And Shida and the other girls are taunted for attending school. The Litongo villager’s believe they’ve been cursed, and it is up to Shida, her cousin, Grace, and her grandfather (the village elder) to discover the truth.
Why I like this book: This is a debut novel for Katie Quirk, who was a teacher in Tanzania in the early 1990s and has a beautiful grasp of the tribal customs, the language, spiritual beliefs, and folklore. Quirk’s novel gives youth a fascinating peek into Tanzanian life, its culture and language. Her characters are believable and well-developed. Her plot is strong and there is even a mystery to solve. Quirk feels that Shida’s story is an important one for young people to understand because of how hard girls have to work in their communities, the lack of education and the desire of their parents to marry them off at a young age. This compelling novel will certainly hold the interest of its readers.
Resources: You only need to visit Katie Quirk’s website to find the author’s photos of Tanzania, a video depicting the life of a modern Tanzanian girl, discussion questions for each chapter of the book and suggestions for further reading. You may also want to check out Girl Rising, The Girl Effect and the Girl’s Education Collaborative (Tanzania).
Note: Oct. 11, 2013 has been designated at the International Day of the Girl.