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The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis The sympathy evoked by Deborah Ellis' simple unadorned prose is breathtaking in its achievement. She manages in a few short pages to elicit from the reader a response both empathetic and overwhelming, as we read of the plight of Africa's millions besieged by the AIDS virus. By telling it at a particular rather than a general level, we see through this one family how the disease affects all of Africa. As with "Parvana" and its sequels, we were shown how the people of Afghanistan lived in war, through the eyes of one family, and in particular one daughter, Parvana. And so in "The Heaven Shop", we see how death stalks the family through the eyes of the young daughter, Binti. Binti's mother has died, and the whispers say AIDS. Both Binti and her brother and sister help their father in his shop, building coffins. A booming business, it is not long before another funeral business opens within the community, and as Binti's father becomes weaker and slower, the family realise that he is soon to die as well. When death comes it is horrifying as the three children are now AIDS orphans, part of a growing community within the Sub Saharan area of Africa. Ellis shows the fate that awaits such children as they are first stripped of their possessions by marauding relatives, and then farmed out to less than happy uncles and aunts. All three are taken by families where they are treated as servants, rejected because of their brush with AIDS, and loathed as they take the food meant for their cousins. For Binti this is particularly hard as she once had stature as a radio star, but as deprived as she finds herself, her one thought is to get the family back together. It is this indomitable spirit which pervades every corner of this wonderful story, as Binti and her brother find a grandmother who although poverty stricken, and the carer for nine other children, takes them in. Each step along the way reveals another chapter of Africa's story, and this story is underpinned by the statistics and information given at the end of the book. An interview with the author, Deborah Ellis, completes this exceptional offering from Allen and Unwin. Teaching this novel to a class would be inspirational, as they learn of the lives of children their age in another continent, and the book could well be compared with "Chanda's Secrets" by Allan Stratton, and "Playing with Fire" by Henning Mankell, both novels for younger people, set in Africa, dealing with AIDS. Fran Knight, William Light R-12 School, SA "The Heaven Shop" is one of those inimitable novels, like the author's own "Parvana", where a serious humanitarian issue is illuminated in a microcosm and made accessible, yet powerful and poignant, by a child's voice. Binti is a thirteen year old child radio star and she feels special. She has a poor but contented life with her father, a coffin-maker; an older, resourceful sister, Junie; and an artistic brother, Kwasi. Their mother had died years earlier from an illness that is reputed to be tuberculosis. Binti's father is now ill but Binti doesn't realise how severely until he is rushed to hospital and dies on the floor of the overcrowded ward. People are reluctant to name the cause as AIDS. Grasping relatives take all the children's possessions, as well as forcing the children to work for them. Junie runs away to make money `entertaining men', Kwasi is sent to prison and Binti finds her way to her selfless grandmother's hut on the mountain of Malawai, where her skills are not really useful in looking after the many mostly HIV positive `cousins'. The only girl her age, Memory, has been raped and has a child, Beauty. Binti is helped by an AIDS counsellor to release Kwasi from prison and, reunited with Junie, they set up a coffin-building business. Teaching Applications: - This novel would complement a study of AIDS, AIDS orphans, property grabbing and contemporary Africa. The Author Notes at the end give information about AIDS.

- Prediction: Junie warns Binti that because today is wonderful, don't expect tomorrow to be wonderful. Things go wrong. Students predict what might happen before reading further. - A character study of Binti as a prefect and radio-star who, when she becomes an AIDS orphan, eventually feels like there's nothing left of her, should generate thoughtful responses. - Personal Development/Health: Grief and depression are dealt with in the novel but Jeremiah, the AIDS Counsellor, advocates a positive view. Relate this attitude to this and other situations. - Read also "Chanda's Secrets" by Allan Stratton (A&U). In both these novels death by AIDS is hidden because of shame, but ultimately needs to be named. Joy Lawn, former teacher, now Children's Literature Consultant, QLD Author Deborah Ellis has said that courage interests her, when people have courage, and when they don't. It's no surprise then that her books to date deal with children who are forced, through circumstances beyond their control, to be courageous. Ellis has written about refugee children in Afghanistan, children of war-torn nations and children living through the Bubonic Plague in The Middle Ages. In her latest book, "The Heaven Shop" she has again chosen a subject which many will find confronting and unsettling; AIDS orphans in Africa. The title refers to an increasingly busy coffin shop, The Heaven Shop, which is owned by the main character's (Binti) father. Binti is the child star of a popular radio program in her hometown in Malawi, where she lives with her father and two siblings; her mother has died some years ago after an illness. Binti loves the feeling of importance that the radio shows gives her and her life it seems, is a good one; she has a happy home, enough food to eat and her father's business is doing well. As the story progresses, her life begins to unravel to the point where she is living in a poverty stricken village where most of the adults have died of AIDS, and the orphaned children are trying their best to care for each other. The reader will quickly come to know Ellis's beautifully portrayed characters, and as quickly as you begin to feel close to them, they begin dying of AIDS or contracting HIV. Heavy subject matter for a book aimed at upper primary to lower secondary students but in typical Ellis style, the book is written with a no nonsense approach that describes the AIDS crisis in real terms yet also manages to put very human faces and lives to what often can be just a story on the news to many. "The Heaven Shop" is a compelling story and excellent for generating discussion regarding the AIDS epidemic which is wiping out whole towns in Africa. The back of the book contains information about HIV, a map of Africa showing places mentioned in the book, notes about Deborah Ellis and a question and answer section with the author. Although this is a work of fiction it is based on children and families that Ellis met whilst travelling and researching in Malawi and Zambia. A highly recommended read for upper primary to secondary students, but many adults would also find this a thought provoking and eye opening read. Megan Daley, Anglican Church Grammar School, QLD When I closed this book at the end I have to say I had tears in my eyes and a sharp captured breath in my throat. I found this entire book to be profoundly fulfilling though often heartbreaking in content. " The Heaven Shop" tells the story of Binti a young girl from Malawi who has a successful radio career as a character in a radio play. She sees her value and 'special-ness' in her success at the radio station and lives quite superficially on this success to determine her feelings and self-worth. Life in Malawi is plagued by secrecy and much ignorance surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic and sadly Binti finds herself as an AIDS orphan with no-where to go. Binti finds eventual sanctuary with her old grandmother Gogo who along with a much extended family teach Binti the real value of life beyond the superficial. There are many sad elements to this book in regards to this devastating disease. The Heaven Shop ends on a very positive note, yet there is always a feeling of sadness threaded right the way through the story. This is a very shallow and short summing up of the story but I don't wish to spoil it for readers in the future.

This book is extra special as it contains an interview with Deborah Ellis at the back. I see this as most important as it directs the reader back to the fact that what Ellis has written about is not technically fiction, that it is actually based on problems and issues most pertinent to the inhabitants of many African countries. Also included are statistics and facts on the HIV/AIDS epidemic that are current and saddening. This book would be a fantastic resource for SOSE English or Health classes. Many people still class HIV/AIDS as a disease which affects certain types of groups within our society and this book illustrates that HIV/AIDS has no boundaries from infant to old person of any is also a wonderful reminder on the importance and validity of family whether blood relatives or not. I think many students in families of different social make-ups could relate to this. Age range: 11 years and over. Francesca Thomas-Massey, Queechy High School, TAS Readers of Deborah Ellis will find in "The Heaven Shop" many of their favourite aspects of her writing, in a completely different setting. The child heroine, Binti, is reminiscent of Parvana and Shauzia: a female in difficulty. In Binti's case, she is an AIDS orphan, living in Malawi. From being a happy child radio star, Binti finds herself mourning the death of both her parents, separated from her brother and sister and living with relatives who regard her as a burden. Her quest to find her siblings brings her more than she had expected and we see her come to understand true generosity and compassion through her quest. Binti is drawn sympathetically and realistically. She is not painted as the perfect child. The sights and smells of Malawi are brought alive through Deborah Ellis' use of language and we are drawn into a culture that is probably little known by most of her readers. This is a short, but engrossing tale which is bound to appeal to 10-14 year olds. It could be well used in any unit on identity or children from other cultures, as well as the obvious tie-in to any teaching on AIDS. Barbara Wilson, St George Christian School, NSW Another Deborah Ellis! For those who know Parvana, Shauzia and co, the theme of children suffering in circumstances that are not experienced in Western countries will have a familiar ring. With "The Heaven Shop" we've moved now to Africa - to Malawi in fact - and the context is the AIDS epidemic. Binti, the youngest and most outspoken of three siblings left orphaned by the deaths of their mother (prior to the story) and their father (following a protracted illness), is deprived of everything she holds dear: family, schooling and her beloved radio show which provides not only opportunities for her dramatic career but, more importantly, needed additional finance. Binti gradually comes to realise that her parents, like so many millions of others, had succumbed to AIDS and that her sister Junie is HIV positive. Through the story Binti's growing maturity brings her to the conclusion that there are also things in her life to be proud of, apart from her aborted radio career. "She had stood up to Aunt Agnes, even though it had meant a beating. She could carry water and cook nsima and look after the small children who needed her. And she was learning to really act, to actually become a character in a play, not just do what the director told her to do." (p.178) The conclusion of the novel, as with Deborah Ellis' other books, is one of resignation and yet also of quiet hope. "Her father had been right. There was sorrow, but there was laughter, too, and belonging, and being needed and wanted...By the time the others were tired of planning, she'd have supper ready. They would eat together and go to sleep. And tomorrow, they would all make it through another day." (p.179) The Heaven Shop, by the way, is the name the reunited siblings give to their coffin shop, a business which, sadly, will always have customers.

A gentle, thought-provoking novel, "The Heaven Shop" is recommended for junior high YA fiction and particularly useful for units dealing with transition, natural disasters, and growth and relationships. Julie Davies, Sutherland Shire Christian School, NSW


The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis

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The Heaven Shop by Deborah Ellis