October 12, 2017


Written by Deborah Ellis
Groundwood Books
144 pp.
Ages 10-13
October 2017

The premise for Sit is simple.  There are eleven short stories based on chairs and other places upon which the young protagonists sit, rest, work, deliberate, speculate.  Each begins with a name, descriptor of the seat and usually the place.
Jafar was sitting on a work bench in the furniture factory. (pg. 11) 
Miyuki was sitting on a tatami in the evacuation centre. (pg. 72) 
Mike is sitting on his heels on the floor of his cell. (pg. 91)
Except for two scenarios to which the protagonists return in somewhat different settings, each story is unique.  Still all are touching and deeply personal and insightful about the human condition and humanity, all told based on where we sit and why.

The first story, The Singing Chair, is the story of Jafar, a young boy who works in a furniture factory in Jakarta in order to pay off his family's debt.  But his life is more than this because after work he attends a school for working children and he is learning to read and write.  Jafar returns in the final story called The Hope Chair which focuses on the school and the overwhelming hope it gives him to write himself a bigger and better story.

More stories of a contemporary setting but which transport young readers to global locations include an escape from Taliban rule in Afghanistan to an equally reprehensible "safety" (The Hiding Chair) and Miyuki's story of entering the danger zone after the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in order to rescue her mother's donkey (The Glowing Chair).  Still a little different is the story titled The Question Chair in which a Berliner named Gretchen is thrown into intense contemplation about the experiences of the Jewish people and the Germans during World War II after sitting on a toilet at a concentration camp museum outside of Krakow.

Some stories read as more local but of worlds perhaps unknown to many readers and sadly familiar to others. There is the Mennonite community in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy (The Plain Chair) and a prison in which a young man in solitary confinement finds hope from an anonymous source (The Freedom Chair).  Even The Day-off Chair has a little girl on a street bench trying to find calm in her angry world, one in which harm is expected. The Time-Out Chair, represented by the pink chair with dinosaur on the cover, is the chair to which seven-year-old Macie is relegated for her multitude of "sins" but where she finds solace in her imagining of a forest house. The only other stories in which the protagonists are revisited are The Knowing Chair and The War Chair which focus on children in a family in transition.  From a food court table and chairs to a swing outside the neutral location for the family custody switch, Barry and his little sister Sue are pulled along in their parents' conflict. Regrettably this story may be all too familiar to some children.

As very different as the stories are in situation, each is a story with a young person struggling either with others or with themselves in order to survive emotionally and/or physically the trials of their lives.  What they learn of others and themselves in the process of sitting is extraordinary.  For Deborah Ellis's young people, sitting is but a starting point for new life stories.  Given the choice of remaining seated, condemned to a suspended existence, or getting up and moving forward, Deborah Ellis's young people choose life in whatever form is available.
Maybe she would live.  Maybe she would ride a great train of suffering for a long, long time, but there might be one day when that train would stop, and she could have a belly full of food and a face full of sun. (pg. 117)

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