cover image The Storyteller's Beads

The Storyteller's Beads

Jane Kurtz. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201074-4

Set in the mid-1980s, a time when Ethiopia is hard-hit by drought and political strife, Kurtz's (Trouble) eye-opening novel charts the converging paths of two young natives fleeing from their country. Sahay, a Christian orphan, and Rahel, a blind Jewish girl, have been taught to be enemies, but discover they have much in common when they join a large group of refugees on their way to Sudan: both have suffered hunger and persecution, have been torn from their families and regret leaving their homeland. Through the girls' alternating points of view, Kurtz conveys how the fellow travelers' mutual mistrust of one another gradually grows into reliance upon each other for aid and consolation. When soldiers force Sahay's uncle and Rahel's brother to turn back, Sahay experiences her first pang of pity for the ""blind Falasha"" girl and offers to be her guide. In turn, Rahel soothes Sahay's lagging spirit with inspirational stories from the Old Testament. Besides presenting an historically accurate account of mass exodus from Ethiopia (additional information appears in an afterword), the story pays tribute to survivors who find the strength and courage to help others reach freedom. Ages 8-12. (May)