International Books: Never Fall Down

never fall downWhat are the potential benefits of using international books with children and young adults? Are there any downsides?  Can children get excited about reading books set in other countries, or books that are actually from other countries?

Genocide does not sound like the topic of a book for young readers… does Patirica McCormick pull it off?

Check out the author’s interview on NPR about her book Never Fall Down




48 Responses to “International Books: Never Fall Down”

  1. 1 Chad Lane November 20, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Does Patricia McCormick pull of the topic of genocide for young readers? Yes, absolutely. The topic of genocide is as real as any other topic out there. While the violence is localized, the effects of such an event are global. What happened in Cambodia then, genocide spurred by thoughts of power and revolution, is going to happen again. The events of Darfur would be an excellent way to tie this in to the present day. Humans do not learn from the past, they repeat it. I realize why many have reservations about including such a book in the classroom. It is certainly riddled with death and the notions of sexual violence, but is that enough to warrant shielding our children from the truths of history?

    • 2 James Schultz November 28, 2013 at 7:23 pm

      I agree that it is true that events of the past, like those of the Cambodian killing fields and the Khmer Rouge as well as the current Dafur problems, will be echoed in the future, so if we are to seek to minimize the effects and maximize the time between incidents than educating children to see the actions that lead towards those events and have empathy for those that suffer because of them is the best first step. Compassionate and well educated children become aware and active adults, which is the strongest social defense against tyrants and madmen.

      Thus I would say that we shouldn’t shield children from the realities of the human condition, but rather we should approach them with books like All Fall Down that allow for a opening up of the truth in a beneficial manner.

      • 3 Kate Schmidt April 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm

        Students should understand the disasters that happen around the world. Not everywhere in the world is like the Unites States and children should be aware. It is a heavy topic, but I feel that high school juniors and seniors could handle the topic. It would help with college preparation as students would have more well rounded view of the world and tragedies that are still occurring around the world.

  2. 4 Chad Lane November 21, 2013 at 12:04 am

    One of the things that struck me most about this piece of literature is the author’s use of broken english as opposed to grammatically correct english. When I first began reading I marveled at the way she used the broken english to help create a deeper sense of realism. At the end of the book there is a Q&A that briefly touches on why she chose to write through Arn’s broken english perspective.
    “I’d heard that voice for so long I found I could practically channel it. But I was afraid of using it for the book, afraid people would find it distracting or that it would fail to capture all the intelligence and wit that Arn has. After a chance meeting with an English teacher who made me realize that if I took the risk, readers would follow, I gave it a try. Once I got out of the way and let Arn’s voice tell the story, the writing flowed.”
    I feel that this would be an engaging way to transition students into some writing activities that force them to break out of their conventional shells and harness the creativity and realism they have inside.

    • 5 childrenslitblog November 25, 2013 at 11:47 am

      Excellent point Chad. The book would read differently if it was not written in the voice of Arn. Reading about these atrocities through the filter of the narrator is one of the key things that makes this narrative really work for me. I hear his voice and I am pulled into these events.

    • 6 Angela Gardner December 2, 2013 at 3:09 am

      I like your idea of having the students transition into a writing assignment from the book. Its a skilled way of students digging deep and getting creative about viewing another perspective. I too, I would have not felt or experienced the authenticity of the character without McCormick’s use of broken English.

    • 7 Kevin Forse April 28, 2014 at 3:33 pm

      Chad, I also found it very odd that the author chose to stick to this broken english to narrate the story. At first it struck me as odd and made me perceive Arn as unintelligent, but as I continued my reading and learned how smart he had to be to survive, I knew he was very wise for such a young boy. Also being written in this broken language put me in his shoes as I was reading. I believe that if it was in proper english, I would not have been as interested in the events, as I would have pictured a character other than a national Cambodian.

  3. 8 Tim Peake December 1, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Genocide. This action has become of some skepticism in recent years. I enjoyed Chad’s post about shielding our children from the truths in the world today and in our past. This book is a great way to introduce the topic of genocide to children, which can in turn lead into discussions of WWII history. As some parents are sensitive to this type of material, their children will be exposed to it at some point in life. With the selection of reading material such as this, they will have an opportunity to see it in a classroom with a learning purposed rather than the shock of hearing from peers or seeing it on t.v. This book gives you perspective of Arn and how he sees the world around him, it is of the utter most importance for children to see the world through other’s eyes.

    • 9 Julie Nicholas April 26, 2016 at 10:25 pm

      I agree. I have found that this subject may be classified as sensitive on many levels for our readers. It is great opportunity however to open the readers eyes to this subject and to educate them on sensitive topics such as genocide. I feel that it may depend on the grade level as to when you introduce the students to this topic, but then again some students know about topics such as this one at a much younger age then we were exposed to it.

    • 10 KaiLea Stiffler May 5, 2016 at 11:31 pm

      I agree that students should have some exposure to a darker topic like genocide in school. It is more controlled environment where they can ask questions and benefit from the reading than if they came across it on their own. Eventually, they will learn about events like the Holocaust and to have more resources available to them will be incredibly beneficial. I also agree that reading Never Fall Down offers a different perspective that is important for students learn about and understand in order to be better adults in the international society.

  4. 11 Angela Gardner December 2, 2013 at 2:58 am

    Genocide does not sound like the most featured topic for young readers but in Never Fall Down, Patricia McCormick does an exceptional job at delivering such a unforgiving act into light. Its history. Why not read about actual world history. Do we not teach our children/students about the Holocaust? Most young adults probably only know about human genocide through learning about the Holocaust, so its an injustice to education when we as teachers do not provide the full view of human genocide in this world. The voice of Arn is a significant component in McCormick’s story. Young readers are reading about a boy, a boy possibly their age. They are imagining what this young adolescent is going through, what matters to Arn is what matters to most boys his age. McCormick takes the horrific story of Arn and turns into an open diary for readers to engage in a full interpersonal experience. Reaching young readers about such a sensitive and horrific event, raises awareness in young readers. Awareness brings inspiration and change.

    • 12 Chad Lane December 3, 2013 at 1:19 am

      While reading, I never conceived the possible connections to world war 2, but multiple people have now made the reference. This certainly is a good way to create a feeling of global connection in a classroom; create a connection between the worldwide horrors of the past.

      • 13 Victoria Danna November 24, 2014 at 2:04 pm

        Initially, I never made the connection to WWII, but after reading these comments, I clearly see the connection. Reading this book with high school students will show students that unless we do something as a generation, this disastrous cycle will continue to go on. Thank you for pointing this out!

  5. 14 Wendy Usher March 23, 2014 at 7:57 am

    There is no doubting that “Never Fall Down” by Patricia McCormick is a based on a subject matter that is very controversial. However, I think that this book should not be banned for young adults to read in school. I think that there is a lot of value in having older middle school or high school students read this book. This book shares a young boys live in another country. Students should be aware of what other kids have to live through; those kids have to live those lives, those lives that people say are too controversial for students, that same age, to even read about it in the U.S.??

    • 15 Kevin Forse April 28, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more Wendy. Clearly, children in the United States have not been in the same position as Arn, but they make similar decisions as him to “survive” in their social settings every day whether it be through bullying, what they wear, and their points of view in the classroom. As Arn transformed from an innocent boy to a hardened soldier to survive, he also realized how he had changed internally and knew that he did not like the person he had become. In the book he was also able to help those in need and serve as a good role model, the best role model he could be, as often as he could. Kids go through tragic events and live incredibly difficult lives in the US, but by reading this book, their perspectives and outlooks could quickly change.

    • 16 Kate Schmidt April 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      I agree completely. It is a very controversial topic, but I feel students should be made away of what occurs in other parts of the world. Students should have a well rounded education and be knowledgeable about the world crises and what kids there ages are faced with in other countries.

    • 17 Shannen B April 26, 2016 at 10:30 pm

      I agree with you, Wendy. So often books are banned for issues that are obvious. However, we cannot ban students from reading about a story that often happens to other children their age. This opens eyes and ears of all ages. It should not be banned but supported in classrooms.

    • 18 KaiLea Stiffler May 5, 2016 at 11:34 pm

      I definitely agree that students should be aware of what others go through. Young people in the United States do not have the same experiences at the same ages as young people in other countries and they should be aware of these differences as well as the similarities. They should not be sheltered from the “taboos” of the world as there are children their age LIVING through the experiences and events that Americans consider taboo. It is important for students around the world to be exposed different perspectives of events in countries that are not their own in order to better understand each other.

  6. 19 Kevin Forse April 28, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    The events that take place throughout “Never Fall Down” are those that people should never have to be a part of, especially children. War, genocide, murder, rape, starvation, and violence are all elements that Arn must deal with, and accept, in order to survive. One method he uses to survive is to be malleable to rebel beliefs. He learns to play an instrument and obeys orders without question to make it through the rebellion alive. Although this is not directly comparable to students who will be reading this book, they are often faced with somewhat similar social environments where they must change their attitudes and actions in order to fit in. Arn is separated from his friends and family at a very young age, which could very possibly happen to young students also, so he uses music and other mental processes to overlook his hardships and find an escape. Many young readers go through tough times where they must also find a means of reflection or relief. Through this book, I believe that students would see how a young boy finds his own means of coping and survives because of this.

  7. 20 Kate Schmidt April 28, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Chad makes a great connection to WWII. While I was reading this I kept making connections as well. WWII was such a worldwide horror and I feel that this a topic that should be known by the world. Civil unrest and children soldiers are maybe not something every student can relate to, but I do feel students should be educated on events that happen in other countries. Not all countries live in as much peace as the United States and students should be knowledgeable about world events and crisis.

    • 21 Kelly Mason April 26, 2016 at 11:30 pm

      I think it would be a cool idea to connect the novel to events that students know to have happened in American history or in other countries. They could relate what was going on in the novel, at least on some level, and be more encouraged to continue reading. Sometimes, getting young readers excited about international books can be challenging because they think of those places and situations as so far away.

  8. 22 Lonna Hudson June 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    All I can think of this book is WOW. I HAD to finish reading it to see what happened and the title fit perfectly. If this book was used it would have to be with older students(although I think Arn is 11 when the story starts) maybe end of middle school, early high school because of the topic. It was a heart pulling issue and book. There are benefits of using international books- students are able to see what other children’s lives are like, along with the good and the bad. This book would be great to use when learning about genocide and could go along with WWII. A downside maybe that some students are not mature enough to handle the book, or it may upset them. I think that Patricia McCormick did a fabulous job of writing this book and of approaching a very touchy subject. Also her book is geared for young adult, not adults and that was a bold idea but they need literature that they can relate to.

  9. 23 Lindsay Burrier November 18, 2014 at 1:17 am

    My first instinct after reading this book was to keep it as far away from my future students as possible. The details in the book provoked extremely graphic imagery and thinking about this topic makes me sick to my stomach but after reading the comments from others I began to understand that that was the point. The emotions I was feeling while reading, should be felt by all readers. You’re supposed to be outraged by the heartless actions of the Khmer Rouge, and grieve for Arn’s lost family. If books did not stir up these kinds of emotions, nothing would be learned from them. Genocide is definitnely a touchy subject in the classroom but it is something that needs to be realized. It is unacceptable for students to leave a classroom completely ignorant of the world around them. This book, and other international books like it , would be one way to introduce children to the different cultures, people, and struggles in the world.

    • 24 Brooke Harman November 19, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      I agree with you completely. The images in the book are so graphic that as a future teacher my first thought was that I never wanted to share this book with my students. Genocide is a scary and horrible thing that the students aren’t going to understand. I believe that as a teacher its our job to make them aware that this is something that has happened in our world, and this book depicts what happens so well.

      • 25 Laura Poore November 20, 2014 at 4:16 pm

        I totally agree that it is our job as a teacher to expose our students to the realities of this world that we all live in. Although those realities might be harsh sometimes, it is a life that someone out there lives every single day. We need to be aware of that.

    • 26 Brandon Puhalski November 22, 2014 at 8:27 pm

      Lindsay, I really enjoy the unique perspective that you expressed, capitalizing on the emotions that this book evoked for you. I definitely think the “sick to your stomach” feeling that lingered in certain parts of the text gave it a stronger impact. I agree that it is unacceptable for students to leave the classroom ignorant to the grim histories of our world and that a book this explicit could leave students with a deeper understanding. In the classroom, I really think it comes down to the teacher being responsible, educated, and informed enough to know their students and know when they could use a book like this.

  10. 27 Brooke Harman November 19, 2014 at 3:16 am

    This book was definitely very graphic. I would not use this book with young children because of the idea of genocide and how scary and gruesome the topic is. The main character, Arn, is only twelve and has to go through things that most people wouldn’t even imagine. It would be really hard to decide to use this book in the classroom or not. Genocide is definitely something that students need to be aware of, but its a very touchy subject. This book shows students that even though they may have a good childhood others may not have such a good time. There are bad things in this world and they need to be aware of things that happen. Books like this book have so much emotion related to them that its hard not to get hooked.

    • 28 Lindsay Burrier November 19, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      I think you’re right Brooke! Arn’s story definitely caught my attention. It was hard to put the book down once I began reading. Normally this would be a good thing. Reader’s should be engaged and continuously wanting more but with this book I’m not sure. The graphic details McCormick included push a lot of classroom boundaries. That being said, the students who would be reading this book have probably played video games or watched movies with the same amount, if not more graphic detail. It’s easy to pull the trigger in the video game, but I doubt students have stopped to think what would it be like if they were on the others side of the gun. This story might introduce them to that perspective.

      • 29 Laura Poore November 20, 2014 at 4:11 pm

        I agree that most children have probably played a video game or watched a movie with extreme amounts of violence but students do know the difference between a video game and real life. Reading this novel really opened my eyes to the violence that Arn had to endure. I hope that my students would be impacted by the violence in this book and I would always be willing to have a conversation with them about the difference between video game violence and the extreme genocide that happened in Cambodia.

    • 30 Kate Edwards December 3, 2015 at 10:00 pm

      I definitely agree with you as well, Brooke! I’ve stated that I would not use this in my classroom as well, since I wouldn’t be comfortable discussing the topic of genocide. I think it depends on the maturity and grade level, but for younger students, I don’t think this would be a good book to use. However, this book did give me a new perspective about my life and how grateful I am to grow up in such a better time and place.

    • 31 Kristen Trawinski December 17, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      I agree with you as well Brooke that this book was very graphic! The book hits a lot of touchy subjects that may not be appropriate for all students. I think the teacher would have to decide to include this book in the class and get a permission slip to read and talk about it. It would also have to depend on the grade level as well. Never Fall Down did a great job at changing my perspective on life and it would be a good topic to talk about with students because of what Arn went through. It really made me appreciate and be grateful for having a good childhood.

    • 32 Kristen Trawinski December 17, 2015 at 10:03 pm

      I agree with you as well Brooke! I think this book was very graphic and is a touchy subject whee presenting it to children. Since the book is about a genocide, I think the teacher should send home a permission slip to have the students read and talk about the book. It also depends on the age and grade level the students are in. Never Fall Down provided a different perspective on life after reading about Arn’s life at only 12-years old. For me, it made me appreciate and be grateful for the childhood that I had and talking about it with other students will also change their perspective as well.

  11. 33 Victoria Danna November 19, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Although I greatly enjoyed this book, I am at a loss at whether I would include this book in my elementary (or middle) school class library or not. Genocide is a very touchy subject, and although I believe it needs to be addressed in schools – especially with older students – I believe there are less graphic ways to do so. Some may state that a less graphic book may lose impact, and I understand where they are coming from. There are pros and cons to both arguments. For some students, though, I believe this book may be too graphic and intense. At times, I even had to put the book down and take a breather. Children killing one another is not a pleasant subject. Again, I believe some students may enjoy this book, but others may take it the wrong way.

    • 34 Lindsay Burrier November 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      I agree Victoria! While it is important for students to be exposed to the “real world”, they are still children and it has to be approached delicately. That being said, the raw emotion and graphic detail portrayed in the story is definitely something that will stay with readers for a long time. Although I wouldn’t consider it a pleasurable reading experience, it was definitely impactful. I think good books should definitely leave a mark on their readers and this book definitely did, for better or for worse.

    • 35 Brandon Puhalski November 22, 2014 at 8:37 pm

      Victoria, I really respect your outlook on finding ways to address the atrocities of our world in a less graphic manner fore younger students. In younger grades, it is necessary that there is a certain extent of censorship that reflects the maturity of those students. The censorship that you seem to believe in for elementary and middle school grades could be a great way to introduce and enlighten students to touchy topics like Genocide, and it could help prepare them for addressing these topics in a more graphic manner, such as in Never Fall Down, when they are older and at an appropriate maturity level.

    • 36 Kate Edwards December 3, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      I totally agree with you, Victoria. I personally would not use this book for the grade levels that I’m planning on teaching, but I do think it’s important for kids to realize about how grateful they should be, and they should be exposed to reality. I personally think there are better international books that I would chose from to show kids about the world and gain a different perspective. For example, one of my classmates read the book Extra Credit, and I think that would be a much better choice for my classroom.

  12. 37 Laura Poore November 20, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    It is beneficial to use international books in the classroom because it gets students thinking about the world outside of their own country. We may feel safe when we go home after school and we don’t have to worry about some huge political power coming to our town and enslaving us all. The genocide in “Never Fall Down” is real. Allowing students to read this book would bring the problem into the forefront for them and make them understand how lucky we are to live in a country where this is not happening.

    • 38 Victoria Danna November 24, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      Laura, what great points you brought up! “Never Fall Down” is a great book to get students comparing their life to those of the less fortunate. Students must first, though, have the background knowledge and experiences to fully understand and sympathize with the characters of the story. Reading this book with a young, elementary student will have different effects than reading it with high school students.

      • 39 Shannen B April 26, 2016 at 10:33 pm

        Victoria, your point is extremely valid. This book is one that should be encouraged to share with all age groups. It is a topic that is so often shielded from a young audience, but children should not be sheltered from the harsh reality of the worlds. You can use this book for a variety of different grades and dive into this story in many different ways to face on the themes recurring throughout the novel.

      • 40 Stefanie Moscati May 2, 2016 at 1:06 pm

        Victoria, that’s a great point. It is definitely important to make sure elementary students are able to grasp and cope with the content that is portrayed in these types of knowledge. However, I also think it’s necessary to refrain from underestimating students. For example, the book is in Arn’s voice – who was a child. Just the language itself can speak to younger students. Why does he talk like that? Why can’t the rest of his family work for money? How did he have the courage to “survive”? These are all questions that younger students can work with to dig deeper into the novel. It would also be a great idea to integrate social studies. That way, the book is being read during Reading/ELA, but the topic of genocide can be discussed in Social Studies. There are so many genocides that are happening, that it would be a disservice to keep younger students from learning about it. In general, I do agree that this book would have different effects on younger students than high school students, but maybe it should be something that they are able to think about in order to learn more about the world around them and how their lives are similar or different to other childrens’ lives in different countries!

  13. 41 Brandon Puhalski November 22, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    I did not know much about Cambodia and the war that went on there, so I was fully engaged from the beginning of Never Fall Down. The story is told as Arn, and it took me a while to get used to his speech patterns of broken English, but once I got used to this, it made his journey much more captivating and real. Genocide is a rough subject for anyone to deal with, and the book sometimes became touchy, especially when it focused on how the children were tortured. Despite this, Genocide has been a brutal reality in our history, and I think that McCormick does a good job of conveying this topic in a way that could be approachable for certain young readers. It’s hard to conceptualize the fact that this was actually a true story, and it was amazing to see how Arn actually stayed alive. This could be a questionable read for many instances in the classroom, but when used at an appropriate level, it does present possible benefits while addressing the topic of world tragedy. There is no denying the importance of students understanding the atrocities that have happened in our world, but it iwould be up to the teacher to make a professional and responsible choice of when to utilize a book like this depending upon factors like the age and maturity of students.

  14. 42 Robert Fillis November 23, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    This story caught my attention since we talked about the genocide in Cambodia during my days in GEOG 102 and in World History, so this story definitely made that content relevant. I like how the overall theme was conceptualized through the eyes of a young child which makes it able to be read by a kid. While it was difficult and (sometimes) stressful to understand the choppy English in the story, it was a great story to read. The theme of genocide is a rough subject to discuss, especially with the history that we have seen from it during the Holocaust and in Africa and the author did a tremendous portraying it in a manner that young readers could read it without being scared which could put parents at ease. If it used at the right grade level, then this could be a very effective book in the classroom. Students today need to know about these horrible events that took place so that they can help society not repeat the same mistakes as the past made. History is learned so that we can change the world and not make the same mistakes over and over again.

  15. 43 Savannah Quinn November 29, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I agree that children need to be exposed to different events that occur throughout the world. With most students living in small towns it’s hard for them to understand life outside from where they are from. It was interesting to read about Cambodia and the war there. I also thought it was very brave to talk so openly about genocide. Although this is a heavy topic for children, it is something that is prevalent in the world and students need to learn about it.
    – Savannah Quinn

  16. 44 Kate Edwards December 3, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    I wasn’t prepared for this book to be so powerful and so authentic! At some points I didn’t think it could get any worse, but it does. It’s depressing to know what other human beings would do to one another. I personally wouldn’t use this book in my classroom, since I wouldn’t be comfortable discussing about genocide and some of the other topics this book includes, such as death, abuse, etc. I also think it depends on the grade level/age. Although I wouldn’t use it in my classroom, it was a interesting book to read since I was surprised to see how much I didn’t know about this part of history. It did give me another perspective about my life in that how lucky I am to have a grown up in a better time. It’s also a good idea for teachers to include international children’s books in the classroom to show them about different parts of history from another time and area, and how other people live. Children would get very interested in seeing how other people live and might be shocked by somethings as well. Although this book was very difficult for me to read and I would not use it in my classroom, it was very well written and I’m glad I chose this book to read for the international section.

  17. 45 Shannen B April 26, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    In this novel, Patricia McCormick uses her journalistic writing skills and knowledge to tell the story of a child victim. This heartfelt story should be part of a reader advisory conversation with students. When I first started reading this book, I thought that it would be a bore and I would quickly lose interest. I was very wrong- this book is a must read. It puts into a perspective that I never even thought about growing up, and allows me to see the troubles of life in a shocking light. “As a child, I never imagined good people in the world. . .”

  18. 46 Kelly Mason April 26, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    I think this book would be great to use for older grades; however, i would find it difficult to use if I were in an elementary setting. With that said, I believe that this book does a great job of presenting the harsh realities of genocide. It shows young readers of the things that are happening to people around the world and its helps them see through the eyes of someone their age. Teens tend to focus on their own issues rather than the ones of the people around them so this book could be used as a resource to encourage them to look around at how others are struggling. Although this is a tough topic, I would definitely use this for older readers, mostly in middle or high school but would not intend to have this in any elementary classroom library.

    • 47 Caraline Shellabarger May 2, 2016 at 12:06 am

      I agree that this book should be used with high school, maybe middle school, but definitely not for the elementary students. It is important for children to learn about perspective and realize that different people view things differently and experience different things therefore this book would be great for the older students to put themselves in the shoes of the people who experienced the genocide. This book could also be a good source because some students are not going to know anything about the genocide so this could be very educational for those students.

  19. 48 KaiLea Stiffler May 5, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    The biggest benefit of international books is that students gain a perspective about different issues and learn about topics that are not covered or discussed in their own country. On the other hand, having “taboo” topics discussed can be a downside if students have not experienced or exposed to them. However, if the teacher using the book discusses the topics before, during, and after reading, then students can definitely benefit from the knowledge offered. If children feel like they can relate to the story, then the country of origin does not matter because they can enjoy it.

    Patricia McCormick wrote Never Fall Down in a way that really allows students to be immersed in the story. The text and dialogue are both written in the way that Arn and his allies would have spoken or thought. Readers experience the story from the perspective of someone their age and in a way that they can understand; it is not written at the level that only adults would understand.

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