A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know this inspirational story offers a positive message about reining in consumption in a world where many have so little. The protagonist's life is in danger in a few tense situations; he also receives hate mail from people who disagree with his politics. Younger kids may be distressed that he leaves his own family for long periods, which upsets his children. While the publisher recommends the book for age 8 and up -- and there's not much inappropriate content -- younger readers may be bored by the mostly adult action and confused by the regional and international politics (even a glossary doesn't make things like "warlord" or "refugee" easy to understand). Middle-grade readers (age 10 and up) will likely find it more engaging.
What's the story?
Thwarted in his attempt to get to the top of Pakistan's K2, mountain climber Greg Mortenson lost his way coming back down the second-highest mountain in the world and ended up in a small, isolated village. After bonding with the villagers, he promised to return and build a school -- and he did, despite many obstacles. He continued to visit the region as director of the Central Asia Institute, building additional schools and public work projects, despite dangers such as a kidnapping and death threats. In this edition adapted for middle-grade readers (a picture book version for even younger readers called Listen to the Wind is also available), black-and-white pictures and a section of color photographs help young readers connect with the villagers and their children. It also features an entertaining and enlightening interview with Greg's daughter, Amira.
Is it any good?
Some people may tempt karma by picking apart a book about a man's selfless pursuit to help others, but not this reviewer; sure, the writing is prosaic, but the story certainly isn't. THREE CUPS OF TEA's best moments offer insight into other cultures and ways of life -- such as when Pakistani hunters kill an ibex and hand cubes of fat out to the children, "who sucked on them like candy."
Greg's ability to make friends and forge relationships -- strangers give him $20,000 checks, and men make 20 trips carrying 90-pound bags of cement to help him -- form the book's heart. The book avoids didactism, even when it might be helpful to include additional context to help American children born into a world of iPods and Wiis grasp the poverty and stark lives of children in other countries. Perhaps on some level they'll relate to the quiet power of Greg's Pakistani mentor, who spent hours with the Koran despite not being able to read. Being illiterate "is the greatest sadness in my life," he tells Greg. "I'll do anything so the children of my village never have to know this feeling."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about ways that kids can make a difference in the world (the book offers several avenues for involvement). Do you have to do as much as Greg to contribute?
In an interview with Greg's 12-year-old daughter Amira, she says that compared to children in Pakistan, "we are spoiled ... We have so much more than them and we're still picky." After reading the book, do you agree? Are there ways to cut back on consumption?