The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson

Meli and her family are Albanians living in Kosovo.  They are in grave danger.  Her older brother, Mehmet is detained after leaving school one day.  He is finally returned home to his family.  So many people are being killed by Serbs that they are forced to flee their home, leaving their store and almost everything else behind.  The family is forced first into tents in the mountains where they are safe for a short time, sleeping in a single shared tent and living without running water or electricity.  Mehmet expresses interest in joining the Kosovo Liberation Party and the family leaves the mountains to keep him safe.  They then live with their uncle in the family’s small farm with many people living under one roof.  They live in constant fear of being discovered and turned out of their home with the tiny babies, elderly grandmother, and small children.  Eventually they are forced to become refugees and the family is forced to separate with Meli and her immediate family going to the United States.

Paterson tells a gripping story of heroism, courage and family ties in this brief novel.  As readers experience the fear and uncertainty through Meli’s eyes they will be moved by her story.  This book captures the emotions of war without allowing them to overtake the storyline.  Instead the book is about everyday people becoming heroes, small choices that mean living one more day, and endurance in the face of such hatred.  Paterson rights with an honesty and a tautness that makes the book easy to read but difficult to digest. 

This is an important book that is not just about the Albanians in Kosovo, but about all wars, all displaced people, and their courage and strength.  Paterson takes a single incident among many and makes it universal and true.  Highly recommended, this is a great book for classroom exploration and discussion.   Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC received at the ALA Conference.