Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
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Unforgettable story of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Glimpses into daily lives of several families who live in rural Nigerian town. Town populated by Christians and Muslims, who live peacefully sharing friendships, birthdays, family events. A long afterword by Italian journalist Viviana Mazza details true stories of several girls kidnapped by Boko Haram and the "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign that made their story international news.

Positive Messages
Positive Role Models & Representations

Ya Ta has everything taken from her -- her family, her home, even her name. She remains defiant (just coming to the line that would get her killed if she crossed it) and, in the end, brave enough to make a run for freedom.

Violence

Men, women, children are slaughtered. Men and women are beheaded, have their throats slit. Children are murdered; girls are lashed, beaten by captors for being disobedient. Women and teen girls are raped by Boko Haram soldiers. Teens are given as "virgin brides" to soldiers. While these acts are rarely described in detail, even reading that they occurred could be disturbing to some.

Language
Consumerism

Ya Ta and her family listen to BBC Radio and along with the news, listen to features about movies (Frozen) and Oscar nominations for 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and Philomena.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, by Nigerian novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is based on the real-life experiences of girls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Told in short chapters by a teen girl nicknamed Ya Ta, it begins as she plans a new life at a boarding school far from her home in rural Nigeria. But the town is attacked by Boko Haram, and she and the other women and girls are taken captive, with little hope of escape. Although the kidnappers routinely commit unspeakably violent acts (men and women are beheaded and have their throats slit, children are murdered, girls are lashed and beaten, and women and teen girls are raped), the narration rarely describes any in detail. This is a powerful fictional story that may inspire readers to learn more about (and even become advocates for) teen girls held captive around the world.

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What's the story?

As BURIED BENEATH THE BAOBAB TREE begins, the narrator (known only by her family nickname of Ya Ta) is living in a small town in rural Nigeria, dreaming of new shoes for church on Sunday and winning a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school. She has two best friends, Sarah (also a Christian) and Aisha (a Muslim who's left school to be married). Her dream of winning the scholarship does come true, but it's followed by the nightmare of Boko Haram attacking her town. She, Sarah, and Aisha are taken deep into the forest, where the Christian women and girls are given a choice: Convert to Islam or die. Ya Ta and Sarah choose life. They are given new names and are forced to attend classes on the Quran, where Ya Ta is often lashed for being a bad student. Eventually both are given to soldiers as "virgin brides." Ya Ta (now called Salamatu) is brutalized by her husband, while Sarah (now Zainab) seems to have fallen under the spell of hers. 

Is it any good?

This simply told but emotionally intense story about one girl shines a bright light on the plight of untold thousands of other kidnapped women and girls. While Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree may be set in a world far from that of its readers, they'll quickly find they have many things in common with Ya Ta, including anxiety about doing well in school, a first crush, and problems with a best friend.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the real-life plight of girls like the ones in Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree. So many girls are kidnapped by groups like Boko Haram and forced into slavery or marriage by their captors. Is there anything the governments of the world can do to stop this from happening?

  • Why do you think the Christians and Muslims in Ya Ta's hometown lived so peaceably together? What lessons can we learn from how they interacted with one another?

  • Do you think it's possible for someone like Ya Ta, who's survived such a brutal and terrifying experience, to rebuild her life and reach the goals she had once set for herself?

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