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The Paper House [Paperback]

Lois Peterson

List Price: CDN$ 7.95
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Book Description

April 1 2012 Orca Young Readers

Life is hard for ten-year-old Safiyah in the Kibera slum outside Nairobi. Too poor to go to school, she makes a meager living for herself and her grandmother Cucu by selling things she finds at the garbage dump. After using scavenged paper to fix up the inside of the hut, Safiyah starts a mural on the outside. As word of the paper house spreads, Safiyah begins to take pride in her creation. When Cucu collapses after a fire, Safiyah stays at the hospital to help care for her grandmother. While Safiyah is away, her friend Pendo works on the mural, which upsets Safiyah. But when Pendo attracts media attention to the paper house, Safiyah and her grandmother are given a chance of a better life.

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"A wonderful story about the importance of community which will raise awareness about the conditions some people must endure, and how a situation, no matter how dire, can be changed if you really want change. Highly Recommended." (CM Magazine 2012-02-17)

"Readers will come away happy for Safiyah and at least a little more aware of conditions in one of the Third World’s more blighted locales." (Booklist 2012-04-15)

"Despite the dingy setting and omnipresence of poverty in Safiyah's story, this is not a sad tale; it is rather an uplifting story of a girl with pure and unselfish motives learning to trust others and being rewarded for her talent. Not that it glosses over the darker side: Safiyah's struggle is realistically portrayed, and her feelings of desperation and shame thoughtfully depicted. This is a solid and accessible offering for young readers eager to experience life in someone else's shoes." (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 2012-06-01)

"Young American readers will identify with many of the protagonist's daily problems (fights with friends, frustration with relatives), while challenges she faces (searching for potable water, finding medical aid for her grandmother) will educate them about life in poverty-stricken Kibera. There is an unfortunate lack of books for young readers about this part of the world." (School Library Journal 2012-07-01)

"An unusual story of life in a country that many readers from 4-8th grade would rarely read about. This is a story of struggle, love, and trying to make the best of your circumstances. It is also a story of how a community tries to support each other to survive. An excellent read that will keep readers caring about the characters and wondering what Safiyah is doing with her colorful pieces of paper. You can't help but cheer for Safiyah." (Southwest Ohio Young Adult Materials Review Group 2012-05-24)

"Safiyah is a heroine who through her own actions and passions enables change in her life and in her community, despite the limitations of her situation...Peterson has created a vibrant story full of emotion and descriptive richness, bringing awareness of life in an African slum and the daily struggles for survival that occur there." (Canadian Children's Book News 2012-08-01)

From the Back Cover

Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty to make a clean start. Life is hard for ten-year-old Safiyah in the Kibera slum outside Nairobi. Too poor to go to school, she makes a meager living for herself and her grandmother by selling things she finds at the garbage dump. The pages of the glossy magazines she finds at the dump are full of pictures of beautiful people doing things Safiyah can only dream about. But the magazines also inspire Safiyah to create something that may give her and Cucu the chance of a better life.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
2.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Only in Educational Context April 24 2013
By NebraskaIcebergs - Published on
The Paper House by Lois Peterson is a story of about one hundred pages with an important message about finding hope, even in the midst of the slums of Kibera. Unfortunately, the story less inspired me than many of the other recent multicultural selections that I have read. Over all, The Paper House was your average interesting but forgettable read.

From the very beginning, the story's setting falls flat. Yes, there are references to mud huts, heat and flies, and garbage heaps. These all do help distinguish the setting; however, the references are repeated frequently as stock phrases and few are expanded upon with sensory details. This results in descriptions that feel like those that anyone could lift from third-party research instead of ones that arose from first-hand encounters. The harder readers are pulled into the slums, the greater reasons they will have to root for the families trapped in its poverty. The visceral descriptions critical to this type of hardship-based fiction are unfortunately lacking.

The characters are more developed, but ultimately failed to captivate me. Safiyah and her grandmother have recently moved to the city of Kibera. While rummaging through the dump, Safiyah runs into Rasul who is apparently a gang leader. While I appreciate that Peterson shows a kinder side of Rasul, she never makes it clear why Rasul should even be considered a bad kid nor does she explain why he develops a friendship with Safiyah. The story does tell us more about Safiyah: She helps her grandmother when a nearby house burns down, creates a collage to brighten the outside of their home, fights with her friend about the arrangement of the collage, etc. Safiyah is a sweet girl trying to make the most of her poor circumstances.

According to Peterson's blog, her book inspired one student to raise money for the children of Kibera. The Paper House does contain facts about Kibera in its back pages and would make an ideal discussion book about third-world countries. I doubt though that average readers will find it engaging outside of an educational context.

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