I discovered Over a Thousand Hills, I Will Walk With You last summer. I was immediately drawn to it by its topic–an account of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and because of the narrative voice. The story is told by eight-year-old African girl. The books has received several awards from 2002 to 2007, including a major German children’s book prize, the Buxtehuder Bulle. Here is the fact sheet:
Jansen, Hanna; Elisabeth D. Crawford (translator). Over A Thousand Hills, I Will Walk With You. Carolrhoda Books, 2006 (USA); Andersen Press, 2007 (UK)
Issue/Topic: A survivor story.
Summary: This is the biography of a Rwandese girl named Jeanne d’Arc Umubyeyi (note: her name is known as Joan of Arcadia in its English form). Umubyeyi means She Who Offers Life. The story is written in the third person by Jeanne’s adoptive mother, though told by the little girl herself. The narrative is gripping and lively. The reader easily identifies with Jeanne, reading about her life with her biological family, in Africa, the chores and the tricks played on each other. That account is spiced up by the discovery of the Rwandese landscape: the fauna, the flora, the people, the drum lessons in school and much more. It is like traveling far away without ever leaving your chair. Life is peaceful until tragedy strikes: the president is killed, and Jeanne’s life then changes forever. She is Tutsi, which cause her family to be hunted down by Hutu extremists… I highly recommend this book, beautifully and simply written. I was in tears by the end, but the message of hope present throughout is ever inspiring and stronger than any pain.
Application: I would recommend Over a Thousand Hills, I will Walk With You to any avid or reluctant reader, partly because it is hard to put down once you start it. It would also be a perfect fit for a class reading, in the vein of Anne Frank Diary.
Age: 13 & up
About the author: Hanna Jansen was born in Diepholz, Germany, in 1946. Here are excerpts of her biography from her website: “Influenced by war since birth, Hanna Jansen has devoted her life to healing and restoring the human spirit. (…) Marrying later and life, Hanna and Reinhold Jansen, a pediatrician, shared a dream of giving a home to children who did not have one. In 1987, they adopted their first child, a four-year-old son from Africa. Since then, the Jansen’s have taken in twelve children, most of them refugees from war-torn countries.” Hanna was an art, German and literature teacher. She also wrote units of textbooks for a major publisher in Germany. She is currently working on her first novel for adult, and the theme deals with prejudice, racism and exclusion.
Hanna and her family live in Siegburg, near Cologne.