Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Song for Cambodia

A Song for Cambodia By Michelle Lord

Title: A Song for Cambodia
Author: Michelle Lord
This book is based on a true story about a Cambodian boy named Arn who survived the war in Cambodia in 1975. With the Khmer Rough rule, Cambodia suffered greatly. Arn is separated from his family--both of his parents, grandfather, and 10 siblings--and forced into a children's work camp to work in the rice paddies. When the soldiers at the camp finally get sick of the silence and ask for volunteers to join a musical group, Arn remembers playing and listening to his grandfather's music and bravely volunteers to learn the khim (a wooden string instrument). In only five days Arn becomes the best student. Unfortunately, the nice old man with the sad eyes who taught him how to play, along with three other students who could not learn the khim, are killed by a camp soldier. Arn mourns their deaths but hold in his tears, for he could be killed if caught while crying. Arn learns to sooth his broken heart and pain while playing the khim and imagining being somewhere other than
the cruel camp. Arn plays the khim at the camp for four long years, until he is 12 years old, when South Vietnam invades Cambodia. Arn runs away to a jungle near the country of Thailand and is placed in the Sakeo Refugee Camp. One day, a flood sweeps through the camp and Reverend Peter Pond, and American volunteer, saves Arn from drowning. The two of them become friends even though they did not share the same language, and Reverend Peter decides to adopt Arn. The story ends as Arn learns to assimilate to the American culture and heal his internal wounds through playing Cambodian music. The afterword also reveals that Arn Chorn-Pong has founded many organizations to help rebuild Cambodia, to save other children of war, and to reintroduce traditional Cambodian music and arts. "Music saved his life. Now it is Arn's mission to save the music."
This was a very touching book (tear-jerker, for sure!). There's a lot of vocabulary that children need and should know in order to learn about social justice. Even though Arn is "saved" by an American volunteer, the book does not stereotype Americans as the saviors, but rather states the truth about how the war in Cambodia was broken out in the first place. There are subtle references to Cambodian culture such as: the religion, family life, musical instruments, food, and climate/geography. Children can learn about Cambodia and the war that Arn is a part of in this book. The book also mentions the Vietnam War several times. I think it is very important for children to realize that a war has a huge impact on both the people of the countries involved, as well as the people in countries that are bordering, or are close to the countries in the war. Arn's courage, dedication, and motivation to survive is also an important aspect of this book that children need to take away 
from the reading. Especially for children who have difficulties expressing their feelings or moods through words, a man as successful as Arn with such a tragic childhood story can be a hero to them.

Uses in the Classroom:
This book is both beautiful and wonderful in that it can teach children about wars, history, as well as how to deal with sadness, anger, and separation. Music can be incorporated into this lesson as well, because the book definitely would have children asking, "what a khim?" or "what do Cambodian music sound like?" Children can learn about the different sounds of different cultures and the importance of keeping the music alive for future generations. This book can also help children learn to appreciate their lives in America, where children do not have to fear soldiers separating them from their parents, or forcing them to work at rice paddies. This can be connected into a unit about wars that are currently going on and how the children in those wars may feel. This book has so much potential and can be incorporated to literally, EVERY SUBJECT! I highly recommend this book for grades 3 and up.

More Information: (other summary/comments on the book) (more about Arn Chorn-Pond and other resources related to Arn) (a video of Arn called "The Flute Player")

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