What teachers and students have to say about Bullets, Blood and Stones:
As an intermediate teacher, I’m always looking for a novel that will not only be of interest to my students, but also challenge the way they view themselves and their place in society. Donna White’s “Bullets, Blood and Stones: the journey of a child soldier” was an ideal fit on both counts. The reading level was perfect for intermediate students and given the option to buy the Kindle version (for the text to speech option), it allowed all of my students to follow along. Student interest was high due to the fact that characters were relatable, the story was well planned and the astonishing “real life” events occurring in the story were a perfect teaching opportunity of the contrasting lives of children in other parts of the world. Discussions around what motivated the characters and what they had to do in order to simply survive were exactly what I was looking for. In addition to being a novel that generates student led discussions, Mrs. White has provided chapter by chapter discussion questions and summative “additional” activities that really make it easy to work this novel into a formal novel study. The questions and activities are perfect, they are written from the perspective of both an author and teacher, and quite honestly, saved me a lot of time. They were the basis of my novel study, and with a few additions, the teacher resources section became the novel study I’m always looking for when doing a novel. Thank you Donna White, for writing a novel and accompanying teacher resources that are perfect for an intermediate teacher looking to challenge their students and make them take a good long look at the world around them.
Bullets, Blood and Stones is one of my favorite books at the moment. Its story and imagery is so opening, it caught my eye at the first sentence. It's such an emotional book. I've shed small tears while my class read through the book. ~ Ulyssia, grade 8 student
I love the book! ~ Jake, grade 8 student
I, first of all, would like to praise your book. In my opinion, the characters make the story, instead of the other way around. The development of your characters is clear, though you've still managed to keep them realistic and in-character. Charlie, Bruce, Scott, and even the background characters, like Theo, are all interesting and lovable in their own ways. Though this probably wouldn't be a book I'd just pick up and start reading on my own, I'm definitely glad we could read it as a class. ~ Cinnamon, grade 8 student
Bullets, Bloods, and Stones was a fabulous book. It hooks you in the prologue and keeps you on an emotional roller coaster. ~ Ryan, grade 8 student
It's awesome. I think this because there is always something happening next and I never get bored of it. Honestly when we read it aloud I want it to go on FOREVER! This book is so intriguing because it raises awareness to a terrible thing that still happens today. Overall this book is always on edge and even though it's fiction it's based on a true cause that should never happen in our world, but it still does. ~ Natalie, grade 8 student
This was a great book overall. I enjoyed it all the way through and did not want to stop reading. Scott was a character I really thought I could connect with as I am in the teen demographic. The characters also were pretty un-predictable; just as I thought I knew them, how they react, how they handle things bam, they did something I didn't expect. The stones were a great subject and idea to segue in and out of different situations. I find this book was a wonderful rollercoaster of emotions and I would give it a 4.5/5. ~ Nick, grade 8 student
I received an advance copy of “Bullets, Blood and Stones” a while ago, and asked my students if any of them would be interested in reading the book. They were a little skeptical at first, but I read the first two chapters aloud, and piqued their interest. This was in June, and I pointed out that there would be no marks assigned to the book, that they would have to read the book entirely on their own time, and that they would have to come back to school the day after the Grade 8 Farewell ceremony in order to discuss it. As it was, twenty-four students met with Donna and me at the end of the month, and what ensued was monumental.
Donna was looking for feedback on the novel, and she received a lot of very positive comments. I had worked a lot with that particular group of students, and they had a very good working knowledge of what made for effective writing. They commented on how the writer was able to establish credibility in earlier scenes in order to suspend disbelief later on (they loved the scene where Bruce lays down in bed and says, “I’m so tired,” then a voice beside him says, “Me, too.”) and they loved the way that Bruce’s character evolved while never really changing. A prolonged debate took place regarding the ending of the novel, and several students and I felt that it required a more “Disney-like” ending: where everything ends happily ever after and Kony turns out to be just a misunderstood, lonely man. One boy in the group disagreed, and pointed out that, after reading about Kony and the LRA on the inter-net, a fairytale ending would be trite and would demean the efforts of Charlie to overcome the evil in his country. He maintained that real villainy isn’t defeated in two hundred pages, and that what made “Bullets, Blood and Stones” so effective was that the book never preached a simple solution to a complex problem. I was very proud of my students for coming to such a mature realization.
Another important comment also came out of that meeting. Several girls in class had read the Hunger Games trilogy earlier in the year, and commented that “Bullets, Blood and Stones” was a better book. I asked why, and one girl said that it was because Donna’s book was so realistic. “Even with the magic stones?” I asked. “Well, yes,” she replied. “You knew that the stones were powerful because of what happened to Scott in the cave. And everything else was so realistic that I started to believe that there really were stones with the power to transport you to other places.” That’s what happens when children read “Harry Potter” and when young adults read “The Lord of The Rings.” Good literature should wrap you up in a different world, and make it seem like you had always been there.
That realism comes at a cost, though. There were several scenes in the novel that I found to be disturbing, and I asked the students about them. When asked about the scene where the soldiers cut off the minister’s lips, one of the boys suggested that, although he sees a lot of violence in video games, this sort of violence sickened him, and made him understand that war was not a romantic endeavour. Nobody felt that the violence was gratuitous: it served a specific purpose within the context of the novel.
An entertaining part of our discussion was when we talked about the writer dangling a carrot at the end of the chapters. Many of the students told me that they had a hard time putting the book down, and several of them finished it in one day or over the weekend. One student, who didn’t participate in this original discussion, informed me that her step-mother borrowed the book one day, then remarked at breakfast the next morning that, “It was horrible!” My student was surprised. “What do you mean it was horrible? I liked it,” she said. “No,” replied her step-mom, “I meant that what the LRA has done to these children is horrible. The book is fantastic! I couldn’t put it down!” It says a lot about a book when adults and young adults stay up all night reading it!
I’ve often asked my students to do research around a novel, especially when they have been reading historical fiction, and they have found that it adds another dimension to the story. “Bullets, Blood and Stones” was no exception, and several of my students commented that they started reading about Joseph Kony, Uganda, and the Lord’s Resistance Army to see if the writer was telling the truth. They were impressed when Donna was able to tell them first-hand accounts of her travels in Uganda, and many of them expressed a desire to find out more about what was happening in central Africa. It was good to see how effective the book was in informing the students of the tragedy of war.
Since that first book club meeting with my students, I have met with other groups and individuals to discuss the book. Our talks are always entertaining, and the comments are always very positive and appreciative. I had another literature circle meeting with some grade nine students, and their first question was, “When does the next book come out?” They felt that the book was better suited to a slightly older (high school) audience because of the world issues discussed, but they also felt that they would have enjoyed the book as grade eight students. They also commented on the use of Acholi throughout the book, and how the author had revealed the meaning of the Acholi words without dumbing it down or providing footnotes. “I felt like I knew Acholi by the time I finished the book,” one student noted. Then she added that, “I also got a sense of the rhythm of the language, and I could almost sing the words that Charlie was saying.” That was an interesting insight!
In retrospect, two very important realizations came out of these literature circle discussions. Firstly, I realized how proud I am of my students and their ability to analyze fiction. They are a wonderful group of dedicated learners, and I feel blessed for having been able to work with them. My second realization, though, is that “Bullets, Blood and Stones” is a wonderful vehicle for teaching literature: it suspends disbelief, it foreshadows effectively, it creates dramatic tension, and it delves into human nature in a bold and honest manner. The novel uses a reluctant hero, Bruce, who is a foil to the guy (Scott) who wants to be a hero, but learns that the true nature of heroism is sacrifice. And, at the end of the day (or, the end of the year) it is especially rewarding to teach such a wonderful novel to such a wonderful group of students.