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Dear Henning Mankell,
Here in the States, especially as children, we tend to take a lot for granted. Sure, we may hear about poverty and disease in school or briefly spot an article in the newspaper about an epidemic or war, but for most of the time it seems like it is happening a whole galaxy away. Secrets in the Fire made it real for me. I was right there with Sofia, as the bandits slaughtered her village, killing even the dogs. I cried when you described the horrific scene of two young, once joyful girls, lying ripped apart by a land mine, and I felt Sofia's frustration at having to learn to walk anew and her feeling of helplessness. Altogether, I was struck by your eye-opening and inspirational story.
I was also angry about how such a thing could happen, how humankind, even after the war had ended, could leave behind such killers as landmines. Upset, I spoke about the story and the landmine situation to a group of my friends. After passing your book around, we decided that we would like to do something to help, so we sold pieces of jewelry, home-made scarves, and baked goods. In the end, we raised more than $1,100 which we donated to the charity you recommend at the back of your book, Adopt-A-Minefield, for the clearing of land mines to prevent accidents like Sofia's.
Another mind-expanding experience resulted from reading Secrets in the Fire was an opportunity I had to discuss this story with other people who it had affected. My older sister's teacher, who originally suggested I read your book, invited me to join a conference held at the local university by Texas Teachers as Scholars. I only joined for the section where they studied your book, but from the time I was there, I could tell that the moving story had really struck a chord with the intellectual adults. To tell the truth, I was extremely nervous about being around all those teachers, and barely being able to see over the table did not help much. But once I warmed up to the company and topic I really enjoyed the discussion. They were interested in my views and I asked such questions as "What if Sofia had been doing a cartwheel and lost her hands instead of her legs--how would her life have been different if she had not been able to sew?"
This great experience had a tremendous effect on me and made me think about what was going on elsewhere, not only about land mines and war torn countries, but other happenings in the world. I now actually take a second to stop and think when I hear stories on the news about people in desperate conditions and wonder what I can do to stop the suffering.
Later, when I took a trip with my family to South Africa, I saw poverty and terrible conditions similar to those described by you, and I felt that I was able to relate to what people were going through because I had read your book. Joining Sofia on her journey reminded me not to take things for granted, and be thankful for what I have. It also connected me with other parts of the world, and inspired me to try to help. I hope that other people will read your book and be impacted in the same way. Maybe if enough people become aware of the land mine problem, we can prevent what Sofia went through. Thank you for spreading the empathy.
Danielle Strasburger, Grade 7
© The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. (Used by permission.)