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by Allan Baillie
Illustrated by Di Wu

With chilling authenticity, Australian Allan Baillie tells the story of a courageous act committed against the ruling totalitarian regime in Burma. While this one-sentence description might lead one to think of an adult acting courageously, the hero in this story is a never-revealed school child.


One day, a Burmese General and his troops roll into a small town. They stop before a school, and the general remorselessly orders the tanks to demolish the school's fence and play equipment while the children watch. The troops roughly round up everyone in town to hear the General. The General issues his commands and view of the townspeople's future: "You are my people now. I have the tanks and soldiers, and you have nothing. I make all the laws, [and] punish who I wish . . . You will give me half of everything you make, and at school the children will learn only of my heroic battles and my glorious victories."


At the word "victories," a small sandal – a thong – is apparently kicked off a foot or thrown at the General. It hits him in the head and knocks off his hat. The General angrily demands to know who did the dastardly deed. He screams in rage and threatens a horrible punishment. The General orders all the children to be brought forth – for the thong is obviously that of a child. Which child has only one shoe?


When the children and their teachers come forth, they are all barefoot.


Giggles are heard in the crowd, and even some soldiers grin. The General breaks his baton in frustration. The General and his troops leave the town, the laughter echoing in his thoughts.


This is a stand-up-and-cheer book that leaves the reader empowered.


Baillie's taught, tension-filled text depicts the gravity of the situation. He wastes few words on description, describing only the General's clothing embellishments denoting power and authority. This description is immediately contrasted with the tossing of the "small, battered thong."  Baillie's choice of a battered sandal is masterful. This choice emphasizes the General's false perception of the townspeople's weakness, belied by the teachers' and students' courage.


Illustrator Di Wu's pencil and watercolor depictions deftly complement the text, portraying the tropical environment, the serenity of the town, the General's ominous presence, the townspeople's fear, and their glee when the troops leave. The troops are sufficiently military looking and threatening. Each person in the town, from Buddhist priest to elderly to school children, looks afraid. Most have traditional dress – longyi plus shirt for the males, sarong plus blouse for the females.


The book is touchingly dedicated "in memory of Dr. Than Lwyn." Dr. Lwyn, a human rights activist who fled Burma for Australia, actively campaigned against the military regime in power in Burma. Lwyn, a practicing psychiatrist, was tragically murdered not long before the book was published.[1]


Baillie, Allan. 1994. Rebel. Illustrated by Di Wu. New York: Ticknor & Fields / Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-69250-4.


[1] "Human Rights Campaigner Killed in Australia." The Advertiser/Sunday Mail, August 26,1992.




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