A Girl Called Problem

GirlCalledProblem9780802854049_p0_v2_s260x420A Girl Called Problem

Katie Quirk, Author

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Historical Fiction, April 2013

Suitable for Ages: 10 -14  (Adults too)

Themes: Educating Girls, Tanzania, Dreams, Multicultural, Mystery

Synopsis:  Shida (Swahili for “problem”) is a 13-year-old girl living in Litongo, Tanzania.   The Village elders call a meeting and Shida crouches in a mango tree listening to their announcement about moving their entire village to Njia Panda.  President Nyerere has a dream for Tanzania and asks her village to become part of a new model for communal farming and living.  Known as a budding healer in her community, Shida is excited about the opportunity to go to school and become a nurse.  After the move, the cattle mysteriously escape from their pens, the cotton crop fails and her friend’s sister dies.   And Shida and the other girls are taunted for attending school.  The Litongo villager’s believe they’ve been cursed, and it is up to Shida, her cousin, Grace, and her grandfather  (the village elder) to discover the truth.

Why I like this book:  This is a debut novel for Katie Quirk, who was a teacher in Tanzania in the early 1990s and has a beautiful grasp of the tribal customs, the language, spiritual beliefs, and folklore.  Quirk’s novel gives youth a fascinating peek into Tanzanian life, its culture and language.  Her characters are believable and well-developed.  Her plot is strong and there is even a mystery to solve.  Quirk feels that Shida’s story is an important one for young people to understand because of how hard girls have to work in their communities, the lack of education and the desire of their parents to marry them off at a young age.  This compelling novel will certainly hold the interest of its readers.

Resources:  You only need to visit Katie Quirk’s website to find the author’s photos of Tanzania, a video depicting the life of a modern Tanzanian girl, discussion questions for each chapter of the book and suggestions for further reading.  You may also want to check out Girl Rising, The Girl Effect and the Girl’s Education Collaborative (Tanzania).

Note:  Oct. 11, 2013 has been designated at the International Day of the Girl.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

21 thoughts on “A Girl Called Problem

    • Yes, Kate really knows the culture. It is an important read for middle graders wanting to learn how challenging it can be for kids in Africa and other third worlds countries to attend school. Also enjoyed the humor.


  1. Very much look forward to reading this one, Pat. One of the most striking things of my time in various African nations was the desire for and appreciation of education.


    • I really enjoyed this book Joanna. You would be able to relate even more. It is a beautiful story about customs, traditions and hardship. But, it also includes a mystery that kids will get caught up in. I was very impressed with the authenticity of Katie’s book.


    • Beth, I happened upon Katie Quirk’s book through another blog I had not visited before. Her book was very meaningful to me because of the work our niece is doing in Kitenga, Tanzania to build a school for girls, a library and dorms. The school will open in January. Katie has been in touch with our niece who was thrilled to have a MG book to suggest to her many supporters who have children in their teens. Katie knows Tanzania, and so her book is just superb!


    • Michelle, I thought you might like this one. It is a very well-written and fascinating story. I hope you read it. It’s important for kids to understand how important it is to educate girls. I can’t remember if you saw the PB I reviewed last Friday about the “Rain School.” Your boys might enjoy the simplicity and the strong message.


  2. Lovely subject. It would be a lesson to most mzungu children to learn how hard African girls have to work and study and what’s more – they want to. And, girls belong to the collective that is the family and the village. There are many plusses in this, as loneliness is unusual in village life and peer pressure and materialism is also not so prevalent.


    • Thank you for your additional insight! The girls and women are supported by the collective in the story. I could see the plusses too. But, educating girls makes them even more valuable to their villages.


    • Darlene, this book meant a great deal to me as I read it. Our niece has build a school, library and dorms for girls in Tanzania, where this story takes place. The author did magnificent job of capturing the culture. Has “Amanda” traveled to Africa? So much there to write about. And, thank you for mentioned this book on twitter. Also will check out book you recommended “The Paper House.” Read the review. Thank you for the suggestion, I appreciate them.


      • That would be quite an adventure with so many possiblities. Funny we SKYPED with my husband’s niece and her family this afternoon. She really is making a difference. I mentioned her organization at the end of the review — the Girl’s Education Collaborative — which is in Tanzania.


  3. Pingback: PPBF/International Day of the Girl | Clarbojahn's Blog

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