Three of the books in my stack currently are heavy or over-sized (G.R..R. Martin: I’m looking at you), but there are several skinny options making an appearance in my bookbag this week.
First, Michel Chikawanine’s Child Soldier (written with Jessica Dee Humphreys and illustrated by Claudia Dávila); he begins by introducing himself and saying that the “story you are about to read is true”.
It is a story aimed at young readers, who may be shocked to learn that an estimated 250,000 of their peers are soldiers.
Half of this number are involved in Africa, but their experiences are shared by many on other continents as well, and the supplementary material also draws attention to the impact of other kinds of violence and crime on children everywhere.
It’s clear that this book could be immediately and powerfully put to use in classrooms, and the pages illustrated in colour seem as though they would be particularly appealing to young readers. (There are alsosix pages of supporting material at the end, including definitions and resources, whereas some terms – like genocide – are defined in the story proper.)
Yet there are pages interspersed, which are illustrated in the same style but include a few panels coloured in sepia or neutral tones, with maps or text, which also offer direct and concrete geographical and political commentary. This is presented in basic terms, so that generations of history are encapsulated in a couple of pages, and it situates readers in time and space succinctly.
Sometimes these panels contain no image, only a comment from the author which reveals a concept requiring additional explanation. “Looking back, I see it was unfair that I had been raised to think I was great because of my gender insetad of my deeds. But Congo, like most of the world, suffers from ‘boy is best’ thinking. Although my dad was smart, modern and understanding, he was still a product of his upbringing and his culture. I guess we all are.”
Perhaps younger readers would be pulled more completely into the story, for it is announced almost immediately that things are going to change, and a sense of tension lurks from the start; I find that I can only read a few pages at a time. Michel Chikwanine’s story is presented in the simplest manner, and it is tremendously affecting told in this way.
There is some grim reading in the November issue of “The Walrus”, but it, too, ends on a note of promise. “In a way, it’s harder to read about the brutalization of livestock than of humans, because we don’t put humans in Happy Meals,” writes Jonathan Kay, in his review of Project Animal Farm by Sonia Faruqi.
“Project Animal Farm penetrates our psychological defences, because Faruqi’s compendium of horrors is interwoven with the deadpan story of her own bizarre, mortifying, often hilarious interactions with a rolling cast of characters.” This one is on my reading list, thanks to the review.
I usually start reading “The Walrus” at the back (or the front) and then turn to the front (or the back) and read up to the feature article. This month, I began at the back, with Seth’s cartoon, and I loved what came next: the photographs taken by Joseph Hartman of the studios of Canadian artists (accompanied by a short piece by Kyle Carston Wyatt about the nature of the ‘studio’ and the photgrapher’s fascination with it).
Margaret Drabble’s books are often too heavy to slip into a bookbag easily, but Jerusalem the Golden does. It is just over 200 pages, and she is one of my MRE authors (MustReadEverything), so I am happy to bring her along.
This is the story of Clara Maugham. “She stayed indoors for the rest of the summer, lying on her bed, trying to read.” Readers meet her long after that summer, zip backwards to well before that summer, and then settle firmly on the other side of it once more.
“Her desire for such a life was so passionate, and her gratitude to Walter for this glimpse of it was so great that she could have kissed him in the street, and later that day she did in fact allow him to undo her brassiere strap without a word of protest.”
Passion and gratitude, bassiere straps and protest: Margaret Drabble’s novels are quietly subversive.
What’s in your bookbag these days?