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Review: Child Soldier

This title offers young readers a glimpse of a turbulent region that is in another part of the world—but it’s not for sensitive readers.

Child Soldier: When boys and Girls are used in War
By Jessica Dee Humphreys & Michel Chikwanine. Claudia Davila
Kids Can Press. 2015. ISBN 9781771381260
hc, $17.95. 48pp.
Grades 5 and up

child_soldierThis is the true story of Michel Chikwanine, whom at the age of five was kidnapped by rebel soldiers while playing with his friends. Though Michel does escape and is returned to his family, he only does this after a terrifying ordeal, in which he is forced to kill his best friend and is put in the front lines of battles.

Although he returns to his home, the unrest in the Congo does not improve, and the family relocates to Canada—though not all the members make it.

The story, though told in a child-friendly way, is a difficult read. It depicts horrors that are mostly unimaginable to the typical American teen. Michel is part of a warm and loving family. His father is a strong advocate for peace and tirelessly works against the rebels, though ultimately it lands him in jail and costs him his life.

Michel shows great strength of character and continues to do so as he attempts to follow in his father’s footsteps.

The artwork has a great mix of dark and light, as the happy and idyllic times with Michel’s family or his friends use lighter colors, while events with the rebel soldiers use a darker palette. The artist also captures the innocence of youth, such as the scene where a five-year-old Michel, wide eyed, holds a gun with a bayonet attached.

This title was nominated for an Eisner Award this year, in the Best Publication for Kids (ages 9-12) category. It is a well-deserved nomination.

This year, I suggested this title to our 7th grade students who just finished reading Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water in class. Another novel in verse that this title can be paired with is The Red Pencil by Andrea Pinkney Davis. In addition, the graphic novel War Brothers by Sharon McKay is a good match.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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