Bamboo People

Bamboo People

  • 1795

By: Mitali Perkins

A refugee and child soldier challenge the rules of war.

Chiko isn’t a fighter by nature. He’s a book-loving Burmese boy whose father, a doctor, is in prison for resisting the government. Tu Reh, on the other hand, wants to fight for freedom after watching Burmese soldiers destroy his Karenni family’s home and bamboo fields. When Chiko is forced into the Burmese army and subsequently injured on a mission, the boys’ lives intersect. Timidity becomes courage and anger becomes compassion as both boys discover that everything is not as it seems.

Mitali Perkins delivers a touching coming-of-age novel about hopes, dreams, and the choices that define who we are. Complete with extended material about Burma and its struggles, Bamboo People acts as not only an engaging story, but also as an important lesson about world governments and history. An intriguing, tension-filled read, this novel is sure to captivate readers interested in world cultures and politics.

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Mitali Perkins, author

Mitali Perkins is the author of several novels for children, including Rickshaw Girl, Tiger Boy, Secret Keeper (Delacorte), the First Daughter series (Dutton), Monsoon Summer (Delacorte), and The Not So Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen (Little, Brown).

Read more about Mitali.

Awards & Honors:


  • 2010 Indies Choice Book Awards - Most Engaging Author Honor
  • Recipient 2010 Indies Choice Book Awards - Young Adult Honor Book
  • Notable Books for a Global Society
  • Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year
  • YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults
  • IRA Teachers' Choices
  • Booklist Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2011
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • CCBC Choices
  • Asian/Pacific American Award Honor Book in the Children’s Literature category


Editorial Reviews:

School Library Journal, starred review

With authenticity, insight, and compassion, Perkins delivers another culturally rich coming-of-age novel. Two teens on opposing sides of ethnic conflict in modern-day Burma (Myanmar) tell an intertwined story that poignantly reveals the fear, violence, prejudice, and hardships they both experience. Chiko, a quiet, studious student whose medical doctor father has been arrested as a traitor, is seized by the government and forced into military training. Chiko is groomed for guerrilla warfare against he Karenni, a Burmese minority group living in villages and refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. After he and his patrol stumble into land mines, Tu Reh, an angry Karenni and rebel fighter, must decide whether or not to save him. Tu Reh's home was destroyed by Burmese soldiers, and he struggles with his conscience and his desire for revenge and independence. Both Chiko and Tu Reh are caught in a conflict that neither fully understands. Family, friendships, and loyalty have shaped their lives. But as young soldiers, they face harrowing situations, profound suffering, and life-and-death decisions. Both boys learn the meaning of courage. Chiko and Tu Reh are dynamic narrators whose adolescent angst and perspectives permeate the trauma of their daily lives. Dialogue and descriptions are vibrant; characters are memorable; cultural characteristics are smoothly incorporated; and the story is well paced. Perkins has infused her narrative with universal themes that will inspire readers to ponder humanitarian issues, reasons for ethnic conflict, and the effects of war. The author's notes provide helpful background information on Burmese history and the ongoing military regime's repression of minorities.


When 15-year-old Chiko is pressed into military service by the Burmese government, he finds himself involved in an ongoing war with the Karenni people, one of the many ethnic minorities in modern Burma. A scholar, not a soldier, Chiko soon gets wounded and finds himself at the mercy of Tu Reh, an angry Karenni boy only slightly older than he is. Will these two teens, who should be natural enemies, find a way to friendship? Perkins' latest novel—told in the individual voices of the two boys—explores that possibility while introducing a considerable amount of factual and contextual information about present-day Burma. Though occasionally didactic and a bit preachy, this is nevertheless a story that invites discussion of the realities of warfare rooted in long-standing antagonism and unreasoning hatred of "the other." A particularly good book for classroom use.

Kirkus Reviews

Well-educated American boys from privileged families have abundant options for college and career. For Chiko, their Burmese counterpart, there are no good choices. There is never enough to eat, and his family lives in constant fear of the military regime that has imprisoned Chiko's physician father. Soon Chiko is commandeered by the army, trained to hunt down members of the Karenni ethnic minority. Tai, another "recruit," uses his streetwise survival skills to help them both survive. Meanwhile, Tu Reh, a Karenni youth whose village was torched by the Burmese Army, has been chosen for his first military mission in his people's resistance movement. How the boys meet and what comes of it is the crux of this multi-voiced novel. While Perkins doesn't sugarcoat her subject—coming of age in a brutal, fascistic society—this is a gentle story with a lot of heart, suitable for younger readers than the subject matter might suggest. It answers the question, "What is it like to be a child soldier?" clearly, but with hope.

Friends Journal

Still the best way to start a drama is in the middle of the action. Bamboo People opens with an anxious mother calling her son Chiko inside. Their neighborhood had been torn apart by spying neighbors who would tattle in exchange for a ration card. Chiko has foolishly taken one of his father's books outside to read behind the lush bamboo that screens their house from the urban traffic of modern day Burma. These are the books that led to this father's imprisonment.

Mother latches the screen door behind Chiko. Chiko has the ambition of youth to "live large." Chiko's mother is ambitious for her son's survival. Burma's regime is described as repressive, but humanitarian values live on in this family. Even in his absence, the father's vibrant presence is conjured by Chiko's poignant memories. Author Mitali Perkins writes with eloquence: "His voice—reading, talking, laughing—steadied the house like a heartbeat."

The fast moving tale moves through early maturity for a young boy; a wrenching void in a mother's heart; and perhaps most movingly, in this miasma of terrors, unlikely but convincingly plotted aid from a stealth of neighbors. This is both a thriller and parable for our times.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

The career dreams of fifteen-year-old Chiko seem to be over when a group registration session for prospective teachers turns out to be an ambush for abducting new recruits into the Burmese army. The genteelly raised doctor's son is ill prepared to deal with the rigors of army life, and he quickly becomes a target for a sadistic officer. With the aid of Tai, an orphaned street boy who wants only to escape and protect his young sister, Chiko and his group of recruits toughen up and cleverly accomplish all of "Captain Evil's" nearly impossible assignments. Chiko, in turn, teaches Tai to read and write, a skill which ultimately separates the two young men; Tai is sent back to the city as a clerk, while Chiko is sent, unarmed, on a mission to wipe out a nest of rebelling Karenni, an ethnic group putting up fierce resistance to the ruling Burmese. Chiko steps on a land mine, and as he blacks out, the narration shifts to Tu Reh, a sixteen-year-old Karenni on a mission with his father to resupply rebels hiding in the jungle. They come upon critically wounded Chiko, and Tu Reh, charged by his father to decide how to handle the young prisoner, resists his initial impulse to shoot the enemy. Bringing Chiko back to the refugee camp for treatment, however, calls Tu Reh's loyalties into question among some of the Karenni. Political background is occasionally forced ("Father used to tell me about people like the. . . Karenni. The government is trying to get rid of them and take their land, but they have a right to be a part of our country. After all, they've lived here for centuries"). Tu Reh's narration sometimes takes on the tone of a B-movie: "It's time to act—time to grow up and become a man. A man for the Karenni." Most problematic, though, is the improbable tidying of loose ends, in which all outcomes are far too rosy for even the most optimistic readers to expect in a war story. Still, the political struggles of Myanmar (Perkins explains in an appended note her decision to use the term "Burma") are worth examining, and readers not ready for the harsher detail of boy soldiers in Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone will find Chiko and Tue Reh's adventures intriguing.


ISBN: 978-1-58089-328-2

ISBN: 978-1-58089-329-9

ISBN: 978-1-60734-501-5 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-227-4 PDF
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Ages: 10 and up
Page count: 288
5 1/2 x 8 1/4

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