The Day of the Pelican Book Poster Image

The Day of the Pelican



Harrowing fictionalization of the war in Kosovo.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Depicts the horrors of war and gives a factual accounting of the war in Kosovo through fiction.

Positive messages

Hate is never right. War is horrible. The fact that this was a very recent war, and that the characters discuss the lack of aid from America makes it more disturbing.

Positive role models

Meli's father holds firm to the belief that hate is never right, and sacrifices all to keep his family together.


Real-life violence among the Serbs and Albanians includes abductions, beatings and killings of children and adults; families robbed and burned out of their homes, reference to rapes. The Serbian police are corrupt and violent. Families live in fear and hiding. Children nearly starve in refugee camps. Young teen boys are recruited into the military. "Clinton's" America bombs Kosovo. A Serbian soldier holds a gun to a baby's head.

Not applicable

A few uses of the word "bastard."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One occurrence of an adult smoking cigarettes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book, by the author of Bridge to Terabithia, doesn't hide the violence and horrors of war at a very human scale. The story is about a fictional family called the Lleshis, but the multiple descriptions of violent acts and the family's fear and many ordeals make the book feel quite realistic. Paterson does not shy away from depicting the brutality. Readers ready for the material will benefit from discussion with parents about the role the United States did play.

What's the story?

Meli Lleshi is an Albanian girl growing up in Kosovo, going to school and helping her family. Her dad owns a grocery store. When her 13-year-old brother is abducted by the Servbian police and beaten, Meli is afraid it is her fault. When he returns to them, the family must flee. The Serbs are killing whole families just for being Albanian. Meli's parents, her siblings, grandmother, cousins, and aunt and uncle survive with little food and water. Life in the hills is like camping at first, but the danger grows, and winter cold sets in. Meli's brother now wants to join the Albanian freedom fighters and kill Serbs, and his parents know that to save him, they will have to take him far away.

Is it any good?


This historical drama is too harrowing for younger readers. This time the author's tale of loss centers on war and all the violence of war as it affects a very real-seeming family and others they know who are slaughtered and threatened. Meli makes a strong and resilient heroine who does her best to help hold her family together, but there's no "happily ever after" feeling when they reach the United States; the family loses everything and is still very poor and adjusting to American life.

One bright spot is that despite all that this family has seen and experienced, Meli's father still holds firm to the belief that hate is never right, and keeping his family together is worth all kinds of sacrifices. His resolve seems to have a positive impact on his son who was close to becoming a freedom fighter. An important book, but not an easy read.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the role of religion and ethnicity in this story. The Lleshi family is not religious, and yet they are persecuted along with the other Albanians. Was religion really the cause?

  • What role did the United States and NATO play in this war?

  • Meli's family came to the United States to be safe. They had to be  "sponsored" by American citizens before they could come. What does that mean?

Book details

Author:Katherine Paterson
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Clarion Books
Publication date:October 19, 2009
Number of pages:160
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 14

This review of The Day of the Pelican was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

For kids who love historical and family fiction

External sites

Top advice and articles

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written bya 5th grade tea... April 9, 2011
This is an excellent read-aloud book for teachers or parents to share with 5th graders. It provides a springboard for discussing real-world conflicts and recent history. When reading it aloud to students, the reader can edit on the fly, omitting any language that is objectionable, without sacrificing content. 5th graders find Meli a sympathetic character, and are rightfully outraged by the atrocities visited upon the Lleshi's and other Kosovar Albanians by the Serbs. They independently connected this ethnic violence to what they had learned as 4th graders about the Holocaust.
Educator Written byCSM Screen Name... February 2, 2010

Books makes little know "war" personal

I've always heard of Serbs and Albanians not getting along but in this short story we learn of the hate they each had and reasons for it. The Serbs did terrible things in this book. Also a look at how American intervention was received.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Educational value
Teen, 15 years old Written byleeannle December 7, 2011

the greatful family

it is one one my best emotional book i have ever read in my life and it very sad the leshi family were very poor . they were in the war and in america people judged them by where they live and speaking skills
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models