Subject Area: Language Arts, Social Studies
It is 1998, and Zana Dugolli lives in a village in Kosovo, Yugoslavia, with her parents and three brothers. Farm life has never been easy, and Albanians like Zana's family have always been denied basic freedoms. Now, things are worse than ever, with the Serb police punishing and even killing Albanians. Zana's father has joined the Kosovo Liberation Army, a group of freedom fighters, and when their leader is assassinated, Zana's village literally explodes with hatred and fighting. Can Zana survive this terrible war?
Students will use Girl of Kosovo to enhance their understanding of the history and present situation in Kosovo and the rest of the Balkans, and to make universal observations about war and prejudice.
Standard: Makes connections between the motives of characters or the causes for complex events in texts and those in his or her own life.
Standard: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of literary passages and texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, biographies, autobiographies)
- News articles
- Computer with Internet access. Suggested educational and news Web sites: The New York Times Learning Network, Time for Kids, Education World, cnn.com, bbc.co.uk (keyword: Kosovo)
- Books related to the Balkans, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Slobodan Milosevic, etc.
Before starting this book it will be necessary to give students some historical background about Kosovo's history. Bring in related news articles, books from the library, and allow students to search news Web sites on the Internet. The crisis in Kosovo is very complex (the history of Kosovo can be traced back to A.D. 200); here are a few questions that can be used as a springboard for the discussion. You may choose to focus on other topics.
Have students work in groups and find the answers to the following questions:
- Where is Kosovo located? Using an overhead projector, point out where Kosovo is located on a map of Yugoslavia. (The shape of Yugoslavia has changed over the years, so you may want to consider touching upon the "old" shape of Yugoslavia vs. the "new" shape of Yugoslavia.)
- Who are the Serbs? Why do they hate the Albanians?
- Who is Slobodan Milosevic? What part did he play in the crisis in Kosovo? Where is he now?
- What is the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)? What is its mission?
- What is NATO? Why did NATO launch air strikes against Yugoslavia?
- Define the following words:
crimes against humanity
The Story of Kosovo
- Setting plays a key role in Girl of Kosovo, since the conflict between the Serbs and Albanians is over ownership of the land. Divide your class into six groups, and ask each group to research one of the six republics that made up Yugoslavia, as listed in the introduction. Ask each group to learn their region's location, its major cities and products, its history, and its present status.
- Once your students have given the background of all six regions, further discuss the events of the 1990s and President Milosevic. Who benefited from his rule? Who suffered, and why were they made to suffer? What do they think the future of this region is?
- Ask your students to think about the different settings in Girl of Kosovo. Where does Zana feel happy and safe? Which settings fill her with misery and fear? Do any of the settings in the book carry both positive and negative associations?
- Ask your students to explain why, based on their reading and research, the ethnic Albanians and Serbs both feel that Kosovo should be theirs. Why don't the Albanians simply move to Albania? Why don't the Serbs just agree to share the land? Challenge your students to think of similar examples both in current world events and in American history.
- Finish the exercise with a journal or creative writing exercise. Do your students feel basically safe at home? At school? In the community? Why or why not? How would they feel if an armed, hostile group occupied their community?
A Matter of Perspective
- Start by asking your students what the narrative perspective is in Girl of Kosovo. Once they have provided that it is the first-person-limited perspective, ask them to brainstorm how the story might have been different if it had been told in a different perspective. How would the narrative change if it were told from the third-person-omniscient perspective? How would it be different if it were told by another character's first-person-limited perspective?
- Based on clues from the book, discuss the perspectives and beliefs that the other characters in the book have towards the events that take place in Kosovo. Examine Zana's mother, her father, Ilir, Luan, Uncle Vizar, Lena, Lena's parents, the Serbian police, and Dr. Rob.
- Ask your students what their own opinions are about the events described in Girl of Kosovo. Where do their sympathies lie? Can they make any absolute judgments about right and wrong in this story? Challenge them to play devil's advocate to their own beliefs. (Explain the phrase devil's advocate — arguing the less-accepted viewpoint.)
- Finally, bring the discussion to a close by asking your students to imagine how peace might finally come to the Balkans. How do the opinions of the characters in Girl of Kosovo prevent the peace process? What would need to change?
What occurred to the Albanians in Kosovo is an example of ethnic cleansing. Can your students think of other historically similar situations? This discussion will require research (books, articles, the Internet). (Some answers may include: the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman-Turks; the Holocaust in Europe/Nazis; the Cambodians during the reign of the Khmer-Rouge; the Indonesian invasion in East Timor; the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda.) Does history repeat itself?
Meet a Young Immigrant
Meet Vedron. He was born in Vogosca, Yugoslavia, and now lives in Paterson, New Jersey.
Other Stories About Children Caught in the Balkan Conflict
Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo
by Zlata Filipovic
Zlata's diary begins like a typical 11-year-old, with birthday parties, piano lessons, school stories, and a happy life with friends and family. But Zlata's life completely changes as her home city of Sarajevo is destroyed by war. She writes about hiding during bombings, the death of friends, and constant fear and hunger, as well as her hatred of this terrible war.
by Alice Mead
The author of Girl of Kosovo has spent a lot of time working with children in Kosovo, and this is another story based on her experiences there. The Albanians in Kosovo are heavily persecuted, but 14-year-old Adem tries to live a normal life. But when his sister is gunned down by Serbians after reading a protest poem, Adem is wracked with guilt as he struggles to understand why people hate and abuse each other.
Other Books by Alice Mead
Junebug and the Reverend
Junebug in Trouble
Crossing the Starlight Bridge
Year of No Rain
Walking the Edge
Teaching plan by Beth Doty and Jennifer Kushner.