Caitlin’s class chose pen pals from other countries. She picked Zimbabwe because it sounded interesting and was different than her other classmates who picked mostly European countries. Thus begins the beautiful friendship between Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda. Caitlin is a typical young teen in a high middle class home in small town Pennsylvania. For a while she just assumes Martin’s life is like hers, only he is in Africa with giraffes and lions. She couldn’t have been more wrong. Martin lives in extreme poverty. His family shares a one room hut with another man. His parents have the only bed and he and his siblings share a blanket and sleep on the floor under the bed. Martin runs into problems such as finding a picture to send Caitlin, stamps and even paper to write back to her. He must pay a large sum to attend school. Martin is a gifted student but cannot afford the tuition. When Caitlin sends him some cash, she has no idea how much that small amount of money will provide for Martin’s family. The friendship eventually keeps Martin’s family from starvation when his father loses his job. Young readers will learn, like Caitlin did, how teens live in other parts of the world and will understand through Martin’s letters the crippling poverty of Africa. This story is both beautiful and compelling. It is a great read for both male and female teens. It is one that should be taught in the classroom.
Some ideas for discussing with teens:
Discuss how Martin and Caitlin’s lives are different?
Compare how their lives are similar or different from your lives.
Martin would give anything to stay in school. How does that make you feel about your school? Do you take school for granted? Will you look at your life differently if you were in the same situation?
Think about what $20 could bring to a family in Martin’s community. What do you normally spend $20 on?
Discuss Caitlin’s reaction when she realizes how Martin’s family live.
Discuss the reaction when Caitlin and Lauren tried to join the African American Awareness club and the Break Dance Club.
Discuss Martin’s reaction to the boarding school.
Discuss Caitlin’s friends and boyfriend’s reaction to her friendship with Martin.
Discuss how Caitlin’s family helped Martin and his family.
Would you want to have a pen pal after reading this book?