July 07, 2015

Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War

by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine
Illustrated by Claudia Dávila
Kids Can Press
48 pp.
Ages 10-14
September 2015

In 1993, when co-author Michel Chikwanine was five-years-old, he was kidnapped with other boys by members of a rebel militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo and forced with drugs, fear and psychological and physical torture to serve them.  Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War, written with Jessica Dee Humphreys–who also co-wrote with Roméo Dallaire the chilling They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children (Random House Canada, 2010)–is Michel’s story, and conveyed with sensitivity, insight and memorable aplomb to inform but never scare.  Told in graphic novel format, courtesy of the bold art of Claudia Dávila, whose illustrations have enriched children’s picture books and graphic novels by herself and others, Child Soldier goes beyond Michel Chikwanine’s horrific experience.  Instead it encapsulates that story with relevant geography and history of the country and with Michel’s escape and further ordeals for his family, including those involving his father’s activism and death, the disappearance of his sisters, life as refugees and immigration to Canada.  Ultimately that young boy, small in stature but big in bravado, learned from his father, and put into practice, that “If you ever think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.”

The book’s addenda are rich with information about Michel, child soldiers and what is being done to help, making it a worthwhile addition to Kids Can Press’ global issues series CitizenKid.  But, Child Soldier is more than just a non-fiction teaching tool in an accessible graphic novel format.  It’s the story about a young boy forced by evil men to train as a killing pawn but whose critical experiential learning was about the goodness and value in caring and doing for others.   It’s a worldly lesson Michel Chikwanine continues to promote and live.

(A version of this review was originally written for and published in Quill & Quire, as noted in the citation below.)

Kubiw, H. (2015, July/August). [Review of the book Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War, by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine]. Quill & Quire, 81 (6): 48.

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