For Ages
14 to 99

"Evocative and hopeful," says Newbery Honor-Winner Rita Williams-Garcia of this intense survival story set during the Armenian genocide of 1915. 

It is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling into violence.
     Beyond Anatolia, in the Armenian Highlands, Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York. Sosi, his twin sister, never wants to leave her home, especially now that she is in love. At first, only Papa, who counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, stands in Shahen's way. But when the Ottoman pashas set in motion their plans to eliminate all Armenians, neither twin has a choice.
     After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, they flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam. But the children are not alone. An eagle watches over them as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood.     

A YALSA Best Fiction Nomination
A Notable Books for a Global Society Award Winner    
A CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book of the Year
A Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year with Outstanding Merit

“I have walked through the remnants of the Armenian civilization in Palu and Chunkush, I have stood on the banks of the Euphrates. And still I was unprepared for how deeply moved I would be by Dana Walrath’s poignant, unflinching evocation of the Armenian Genocide. Her beautiful poetry and deft storytelling stayed with me long after I had finished this powerful novel in verse.” —Chris Bohjalian, author of The Sandcastle Girls and Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

“A heartbreaking tale of familial love, blind trust, and the crushing of innocence. A fine and haunting work.” —Karen Hesse, Newbery Medal–winning author of Out of the Dust
“This eloquent verse novel brings one of history’s great tragedies to life.” —Margarita Engle, Newbery Honor–winning author of The Surrender Tree

*"This beautiful, yet at times brutally vivid, historical verse novel will bring this horrifying, tragic period to life for astute, mature readers." —School Library Journal, Starred

"A powerful tale balancing the graphic reality of genocide with a shining spirit of hope and bravery in young refugees coming to terms with their world."—Booklist
“The emotional impact these events had on individuals will certainly resonate.”—Kirkus Reviews

An Excerpt fromLike Water on Stone

Three young ones,
one black pot,
a single quill,
and a tuft of red wool
are enough to start
a new life
in a new land.
I know this is true
because I saw it.

We track our quills
when they fall.
With eagle eyes
we can see
from the sky
who picks one up
from the ground,
or rescues it
from the crook
of a bent branch,
the quill's mottled color
blending in
with the peeling bark.

It was the girl
who picked up my quill.
She and her mother
worked side by side,
plucking frothy white
beetle bodies
from leaf and stalk.
They crushed them
between fingertips
and used this insect blood
to turn their carpet fibers
the richest red.

When my feather dropped,
the girl, the older one, Sosi,
almost full grown,
her body budding,
stirred from her work.
The little one, Mariam,
napped on a carpet beside her.

Sosi, named for plane trees
that stand tall on this land.
Her short, quick inhale as she saw it
tugged the air around me.
She wiped her red-tipped fingers
on her apron before reaching up.
"Look, Mama, a new mizrap for Papa."
A nine-beat song
pulsed through my wings.
A musician?
What luck!

If my quill could pull laments
from the strings of an oud,
I thought, then
my heart might heal.
"That quill is for your brother,"
the mother said.
"It's time that Shahen
learned to play."
A young musician?
More luck.

Far beyond this beetled field,
where river cut through mountain,
a curly-headed, big-eyed boy
shivered when she spoke.
Sons hear as eagles see.

Fast green water flowed
along the distant bank.
An arc of giant stones
rose from the riverbed,
bending the current's
forward force.
Water seeped back
behind these stones,
forming a still pool
for Shahen,
his face reflected in the water,
so delicate,
like Sosi's.

His thumb and fingers
curled round
a flat, smooth stone.
He bent his hand
tight toward his arm.
One fierce flick of his wrist
sent the stone to water.
It skipped nine times
like the beat of a song.

Ripples spread
through the top of the pool,
then sank
into its surface.
Then, to no one,
to the air,
perhaps to me,
Shahen said,
"No one plays oud in America."
My musician, what luck!

Come on, lucky stone.
Give me seven.
Not nine, not eight.
One for each of them,
none for me.

Anahid, Sosi, Mariam,


Eight? It can't be eight.
Not the eight arches
of the Palu bridge.
I can't be stuck here
with a fool for a father.
In a land ruled by Muslims,
priests just baaaah like sheep.
My fate isn't here, sitting in church,
learning of what was, not of what could be.
My fate isn't here, grinding wheat into flour.
That's enough for my brothers,
big dolts with no dreams.
Come on, stone. You're the lucky one.

Anahid, Sosi, Mariam,


Pah! Stupid eight.
Stupid, like Papa,
who keeps his head in song.
If he stopped playing the oud,
if he looked instead of listened,
if he stopped thinking we are all the same,
that Christians, like us, could ever be free
deep inside an empire
ruled by Muslim Ottoman Turks,
then he would know.
From the Balkans
to the Caucasus
and down both sides
of Arabia, they rule.
But other empires
close them in:
Austrian, Russian,
Persian, and British
meet them at each edge.

They have no place for us,
not in their hearts.
Papa should know this.
He was alive in 1895,
when Sultan Hamid
first gave the orders to kill us,
not me.
He knows we pay
double taxes
and cannot vote.

He knows Turks call us
gavour, infidel.
Now it will be even worse.
Armenian families will shun us
because Anahid's groom is a Kurd.
What sort of Armenian father
blesses a love match
with a Muslim
for his first-born girl?
So what if she didn't
have to convert?
It's Kurdish beys
who take the tithe.

If he opened his eyes,
if he stopped thinking
of the world as a song,
with disparate parts
always blending,
he would know
that my keri, my uncle, is right.
All the way
from New York,
Mama's brother
knows the truth.
We should marry
our own.

If I go to New York
to live with my keri,
my face will be bristled at last,
no longer the little one,
the little brother,
twin to a girl,
with a fool for a father.

There I'll grow tall.
The bristles will come.
I'll live in a tower
that touches the sky.

Come on, pink stone,
perfect, smooth, and flat.
Cut me out.
Make it seven.

Stone spins and cuts the surface.

Papa, big spray;
Mama, less;
Kevorg, closer;
Misak, smaller;
Anahid, Sosi, Mariam.

Stone sinks into water.

I will do it with care.
As the proverb says:
Measure seven times.
Cut once.
That's how I will do it.

I'm going to America.

Feet up.
Feet down.
Heels hit house.
Feet up.
Feet down.
come home.

Time to play the bird game.
Time to play the bird game.
Feet up.
Feet down.
I sit.
I wait.
Feet up.
Feet down.
He's here!

Shahen's on the ground,
his arms spread wide.

"Time to play the bird game?"
"Yes," he tells me.
He always says yes.

My wings pull back.
Meg, yergoo, yerek,
one, two, three,
flap, flap, flap.
I fly.
My heart goes first,
from the roof
into Shahen's arms.
He catches me.
He holds me high.
He spins me
round and round
like the mill wheel.
I fly above.
I am his little dove.

Fly, little bird.
Fly over hills.
Fly straight through the straits to the sea.

She giggles. We spin.
Her curls catch the wind.
My fingertips press to her ribs,
to help me remember her laugh
and the smell of the mint by the stream
and Sosi, on tiptoes,
stringing the loom with strong cotton cords,
tying tight knots at its base,
Mama rolling rice into grape leaves,
packing them snug
into the black pot to simmer,
my father and brothers dusted with flour,
their faces white like clowns
when the mill work is done.

From New York,
I will be able to see across oceans,
past pashas in Topkapi Palace
and drum-capped Ottoman soldiers,
their Muslim guns pointed toward our land,
through a maze of Turks and Kurds,
with Anahid among them,
to my family here in Palu.

I land Mariam
back on the roof's edge.
Her tiny feet kick.
She leans out again,
leading with her breastbone.

Meg, yergoo, yerek.

Built low to the ground,
this roof was safe,
even for those without wings.
The mill house roofs ran up the slope
like stepping-stones,
each roof set for its own tasks:
carpet making, laundry,
cooking, feasting, music.
Stone steps set tight
into outside walls
led up to all the rooftops.

That night, on the roof,
the father used my quill
to pull sweet sounds
from the strings of his oud,
its bulging belly nestled between his arms,
so like a young human mother
making room for a coming child.
Eggs in nests are far more simple.

His soaring sound pulled me from the sky,
like gravity must for those who can't fly.
I lighted on a branch near their roof.
The father stopped playing.
Beside him, Shahen lay on his back,
staring past me and the treetops.
The father reached down.
He touched Shahen's forehead
with my quill and said,
"This fine new mizrap, this gift from an eagle,
the noblest of birds, is a sign, Shahen.
It's time for me to teach you."
With the pluck of a young one aching to leave the nest
the imp rolled to his side and replied,
"No one plays oud in America, Papa."
"A good Armenian carries the music of home
close to his heart, wherever he is, son."
"You mean I'm going?"
I tipped my head under mantle of wing
lest they hear me whistle.

We eagles sing no soothing songs.
Our throats can only whistle.
Instead, we hunt them down,
take them from others.
I craved soothing song that summer.
I had lost my mate and hatchlings
and war was in the air.

Hate makes jagged spikes of light,
and blame can crack the sky.
As pierced with wounds
from sharp white teeth,
the Ottoman air had ruptured.
Massacres would come again
as the drum-capped rulers
spread their hate.

I confess. I had my own hate
for the drum caps that summer.
I kept it
like an egg in a nest,
warming it,
feeding it once it hatched,
so it grew ever stronger,
the drum caps' hate
like food for mine.

Before the time of humans,
we eagles had no need for hate.
We do not feign to own the land.
We keep it safe around our nests
from hawk and falcon
so that our young can fledge.
And to hunt is to fight,
is to kill, I know.
But its purpose is pure.
How else could we feed our young?

That long-gone night,
I stopped my distant flights
across this land of seas.
Instead, each day,
I flew over their mill,
built into a small stream
that fed the eastern branch
of the mighty Euphrates River,
hoping for snatches of music.

Mama teaches me how
to bargain for fabrics.
First, fingertips feel
texture and weight,
face and voice silent.
Never take first price.
See what the Turks have to offer,
but buy Armenian cloth if you can.
Never show which one you love.
Go to see each merchant's wares.
Compare and think and breathe in spices:
hot bite of cayenne,
fenugreek for basturma,
warm, strong taste of earthy cumin,
deep red paprika to make a paste,
crisp allspice for manti stuffing,
mahlap's bitter almond nip.

We buy a bolt of woven wool
tight with pattern and warmth.
Mama says the silks I love
will wait till I'm a wife.

Silks instead of Mama,
silks instead of home.

I search for Vahan in the market,
beside his clocks and chimes.
Arkalian clocks
keep time for miles.
Beirut, Konya, Van.
Baron Bedros, Vahan's father,
works the tiny tools and gears
inside the clocks' bellies.

Vahan paints their faces.
His long-lashed eyes meet mine.
Mama sees and pulls me from him,
back to the Turk to pay,
pinching my hand,
as her voice stays honey sweet.
"Sosi jan, a woman never looks."

Fatima Bey Injeli comes into the stall behind us.
"Special price for you today,
gavour, infidel?
As though you need it,
already with all the best land."
Mama places the bolt between them.
Her left hip juts out like a ledge.
She stares straight ahead, lips sealed.
The Turk from the shop says to Fatima,
"The gavour are clever with their money,"
as he drops a coin
into Mama's open palm.
"Tesekkur ederim." Mama thanks him,
nose up, lips drawn tight
like a hard, wrinkled pit.
"I can buy my cloth from others if you like."
The Turk bows his bald head low,
the fringe of hair around his crown
like an upside-down, bristle-black smile.
"No, madame. You must come again
with your lovely daughter.
The bolt and the price pleased us both."
"Good day, then," Mama says,
pulling me from the stall,
past the other vendors,
past the crowd,
over the bridge,
squeezing my hand,
"The bee gets honey from the same flower
where the snake sucks her poison."

She lets go
only when we reach our orchard
spread along the river's edge.
"I said nothing to that snake
only because your father
holds her husband, Mustafa, dear.
As if I didn't have enough to worry me
with you making eyes at clockmakers' sons
before fathers have even spoken?
And Shahen, always wet from the river.
He played with Turkish boys again, you know.
The pair of you will be my end.
And the nerve of that vendor,
insulting us
as we give him good money!
Sosi, look around you.
This is Armenia.
Fat Turks from Constantinople
rule for miles and miles,
making Muslim villagers brazen.
Kurds and Turks may live here too,
but these are our lands.
Your father planted these very vines
with cuttings from my father's arbors
when he was leaving boyhood,
the age of you and Shahen now.
His grandfather's grandfather
planted the olives,
his father,
the apricots.
Nothing came free.
Not the millstones.
Not the earth.
Not the sheep.
Not the wheat.
Generations of sweat.
Don't you ever forget."

Grapevines heavy with fruit
bend over straight wood frames.
Silver olive leaves
shimmer behind them.
Apricots blush in the sun.

When she's near me,
Sosi keeps her head bent
to try to spare me shame.
But I know she's taller now.
Everyone knows.

Kevorg used to call us
twin persimmon pits,
Jori and Joreni,
like the two smooth brown seeds
he pulled one day
from the soft, sweet flesh
of a yellow-orange fruit.
Now he's silent.

I'll catch up this fall.
Before the persimmons
ripen again.

At the river,
I'm the smallest.
But water evens us out.
I swim the currents like a fish,
faster than the fastest Turk,
gliding in the waves.
I always win.

My stones skip
far beyond the others.
Bounce, bounce,
ba, ba, ba,
like the beat of a hand on a drum.

But best is when I float.
My weightless body
from one rocky bank

I circled above,
watching Shahen
swim in the river
with the young drum caps.

Farther up the river,
a small, fat frog, at water's edge,
caught bugs with his tongue.
A heron soon ate him.
I swooped down and grabbed a fish.
That's when I saw him,
that boy, the drum cap
with the toothy grin.

He was with the man
with the red drum cap
and the stiff white beard
trimmed and combed and polished
so it spread out and down,
like the feathers of a tail.
That man shot my mate.

The instant the bullet hit,
she was gone.
Her flight stopped.
Wings limp, she fell.

The man
clapped the boy
on the shoulders
where wings
would have sprouted
were he a bird.
They laughed.
They watched her fall,
as did I, from our nest,
my talons balled into fists
so as not to harm the chicks.

For forty days,
my mate had stayed there
on the nest
till this brood had hatched,
three eggs this time, with me
bringing all the food
and fresh pine sprigs.

One by one,
the young emerged,
in the order
they were laid,
their egg tooth
through the shell,
their eyes
partway closed,
no true feathers,
just gray-white down,
and open mouths,
open shut,
open shut.

She would never leave them,
in those early days.
It takes two full weeks
for eaglets to hold
their heads up
for feeding.
Open mouths,
open shut,
open shut.

She was bigger, swifter,
as are all females of our kind.
But I was good for my size.
That year I brought
so much food
no chick
would need
to eat the other,
so ample
were my hunts.
Young rabbit,
marmot, skunk,
which she shredded
and fed
into their open mouths,
open shut,
open shut.

But eagles suffer
when they cannot fly.
As the young
grew strong
and their wings
and black-tipped feathers
replaced their down,
the young ones'
appetites peaked.
It was time
for her to fly again.
I pushed her
from the nest
as I had done before.

She flew straight
into a bullet.

The man and boy
ran across the earth
to where she fell,
the man's red hat
bobbing with each step.

They did not
slash her gut
to find sustaining
blood and muscle.
they plucked her,
starting with her wings,
her glorious wings,
the father
on one side,
the son
on the other.

Each spread
the fingers of one hand
across her skin
to hold it taut
and took feathers
with the other,
one at a time;
taking hold
they snapped their wrists
in one direction
along the axis of its anchor
and then
to the opposite side
in an arc
to pull it free.

Feather by feather,
they plucked her
the father's
red hat bobbing
up and down
as he worked, laughing
with his son, rousing
hate inside me for all
the drum-capped ones,
the Turks.

They didn't eat her,
as a hunter would.
They laughed
as she fell
to the ground.

They took her quills,
pulled them from her
and left her naked
for the vultures,
a thing we eagles

Under the Cover