Cover image for The storyteller's beads
The storyteller's beads
Kurtz, Jane.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Diego, Calif. : Harcourt Brace, [1998]

Physical Description:
154 pages, map ; 19 cm
During the political strife and famine of the 1980's, two Ethiopian girls, one Christian and the other Jewish and blind, struggle to overcome many difficulties, including their prejudices about each other, as they make the dangerous journey out of Ethiopia.
General Note:
"Gulliver books."
Reading Level:
750 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.8 5.0 20137.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.9 9 Quiz: 18564 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Running for their lives to escape the political upheaval in Ethiopia, two young girls from different faiths form an unlikely friendship.

Author Notes

JANE KURTZ lives in Portland, Oregon. She has written more than thirty fiction and nonfiction books for children, including Lanie and Lanie's Real Adventure from the American Girl Today series, Anna Was Here , and River Friendly, River Wild , a story in verse for which she received a Golden Kite award. Visit her website at ."

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-7. Two young Ethiopians grow past their antagonism in this sensitive, from-the-heart tale of refugees fleeing a drought-and violence-stricken land. The only survivors of a massacred family, Sahay and her uncle set out for Sudan, joining, to Sahay's dismay, a band of Ethiopian Jews--the Falasha, or strangers, she has been taught to fear and despise. With them is Rahel, blind and accompanied only by her brother. After a grueling, danger-filled journey, the group's men are turned back at the border. The barrier between Sahay and Rahel falls when, moved by compassion, Sahay becomes Rahel's guide until they reach the refugee camp at Umm Rekuba. The inner strength Rahel draws from her flute, a small bag of Ethiopian soil, and especially, her grandmother's necklace (the stories of Queen Yehudit [Judith], Hirute [Ruth], and others are tied to the beads) helps both girls survive the terror, despair, anger, and grief of being uprooted. Ultimately, Sahay realizes that Rahel and her people are no longer "strangers," and they escape to Jerusalem in a clandestine Israeli airlift. Well versed in Ethiopia's cultures and history, Kurtz brings conditions in that strife-torn country into sharp focus--and, like Frances Temple in Grab Hands and Run (1993), Kurtz ends her penetrating story on a note more hopeful than happy. Afterword; glossary. --John Peters

Publisher's Weekly Review

Set in the mid-1980s, a time when Ethiopia is hard-hit by drought and political strife, Kurtz's (Trouble) eye-opening novel charts the converging paths of two young natives fleeing from their country. Sahay, a Christian orphan, and Rahel, a blind Jewish girl, have been taught to be enemies, but discover they have much in common when they join a large group of refugees on their way to Sudan: both have suffered hunger and persecution, have been torn from their families and regret leaving their homeland. Through the girls' alternating points of view, Kurtz conveys how the fellow travelers' mutual mistrust of one another gradually grows into reliance upon each other for aid and consolation. When soldiers force Sahay's uncle and Rahel's brother to turn back, Sahay experiences her first pang of pity for the "blind Falasha" girl and offers to be her guide. In turn, Rahel soothes Sahay's lagging spirit with inspirational stories from the Old Testament. Besides presenting an historically accurate account of mass exodus from Ethiopia (additional information appears in an afterword), the story pays tribute to survivors who find the strength and courage to help others reach freedom. Ages 8-12. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-This harrowing story set in Ethiopia during the 1980s features an unexpected friendship between two girls of different religious backgrounds. Threatened by war, famine, and drought, Sahay and her uncle set out from their small Kemant village to find safety in the Sudan. Rahel, a blind Jewish girl, and her brother also flee the country as part of a group of Beta-Israel planning to make an aliyah to Jerusalem. As part of the same band of refugees, the girls make a long, difficult trek across the mountains. When the men are turned back at the border, Rahel and Sahay are left on their own to finish the journey. They find that their common danger and need for one another allow them to overcome the generations of prejudice that separate Jews (called falasha or "alien strangers" in spite of generations of residence) and other religious and ethnic groups in this part of the world. Throughout the ordeal, Rahel comforts herself and Sahay with the stories that she learned from her grandmother, tales from the Bible and Ethiopian tradition that help the girls believe that they will survive. This moving novel about friendship also illustrates the power of story. Ethiopian words that are clear in context and also defined in the glossary help particularize the setting. An afterword explains something of the complex relationship between the girls' two different cultures. This ultimately heartening novel is a solid addition to the growing body of middle-grade books for a multicultural world.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.