Recommended for ages 10+
In 1993, Michel Chikwanine was a 5 year-old boy living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He admired his father, a human rights lawyer, and loved his mother, who took care of children from all over the neighborhood who needed food or care. He was surrounded by friends and family, played soccer, and goofed off with his friends.
His father talked to him about the world as they listened to the news on the radio together; he had no idea that he would become directly involved in world events so soon, though.
On the way home from school one day, he was kidnapped by rebel militants and forced to become a child soldier. He was drugged and forced to kill, tortured and starved, until weeks later, he was able to escape and return to his family. But how do you return to a life when, at the age of 5, your childhood has been taken away?
This heartbreaking, yet inspirational biography is Chikwanine’s story, told in graphic novel format. Michel provides a brief background on his country, so that we may follow the history of conflict that has led to a society that creates child soldiers. We see his parents struggle to give Michel his life back and the risks they take as activists to fight against this happening to another child, ever again: his father is jailed, his home attacked, and his family separated as they escape to protect Michael and his siblings.
The story is told, both in words and pictures, in a way that will grasp younger readers’ attention. They can see themselves in Michel’s childhood: playing games, enjoying friends and family, attending school. The story, while horrific, never becomes too graphic for younger readers – it’s important, because we need younger readers here to know this is happening to children their age and younger. It’s also important for children to see that adults can take care of their children; we see Michel escape on his own, but adults in his village return him to his family, and his family takes action to protect their son.
Child Soldier is ultimately an inspirational story: Michel’s childhood has been taken from him, but he rises from the ashes and recreates himself, becoming a young man with a mission. He is a human rights activist with a story to tell and motivates young people to action. A graphic novel is a wonderful and powerful way to introduce a discussion on human rights in the classroom, and Child Soldier includes discussion questions and information, information on how to get involved and help, and primary sources for further research to facilitate these discussions.
Over the last two summers, I’ve noticed more books on child soldiers showing up on summer reading lists for kids in grades 4 and up. I’m glad to see this subject being addressed in the schools, and hope that this book is on next year’s summer reading lists.
Child Soldier is a book in Kids Can Press’ Citizen Kid series, a collection of books about global issues that seeks to make our kids better global citizens.
Child Soldier is on sale on September 1, but you can take a look at the book trailer here and see some of Claudia Davila’s beautiful artwork.