Started/Finished: October 9, 2015
*Category/Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Multicultural, Format-Graphic Novel
Published: September, 2015
Awards: None YET
Themes: Social Terrorism, Social Activism, Surviving Abuse
Rating: 5 Stars
Age/Interest Range: 7th Grade and Up
At a quick first glance, this book may just look like a non-fiction picture book. Slow it down a bit, and the juxtaposition of format and implied content (via the title) makes this book interesting out of the gate.
Through graphic novel format, Michel Chikwanine tells his story of how he was kidnapped, in 1993, at 5 years old from his village in Democratic Republic of Congo. He was abused, forced to take drugs, and forced to kill; He was being trained to be a child solider for a rebel militia.
Yes, you read that correctly: He was 5 years old when this happened.
Michel does survive this most horrific situation. Six plus years after his abduction he, his mother, and littlest sister are allowed to move to Canada. Yet, as one can imagine, he does not come out the other side unscathed. He does, however, use his experience to make the world a better place. Chikwanine’s father once told him, “If you ever think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.” This book is only one way Michel is a mosquito. In addition to working on a college degree and with others to research the root causes of poverty and conflict, he speaks all over the world to further educate on the realities of child soldiers.
So why the 7th and Up Age/Interest recommendation? First of all, that’s my own personal judgement call. Although the pictures aren’t as graphic as the words used to describe the abuse and torture Michel faced, I can’t in good faith think the child soldier concept can be learned about properly without the help of an adult. While reading, I found myself googling information about topics I was not aware of. I had a hard time grasping such a atrocious concept, and THE REALITY of it. And I’m an adult.
For this book to be the tool that Chikwanine intends it to be, it would best be used with the help of an adult. That being said, I totally think there is a place for this book in a high school library and classroom.
Overall Literary Merit: HIGH
Classroom Possibilities: The book provides a unique example of how such an extreme story can be told through such a basic format. The advantages that this provides could start a quality high school classroom discussion, or provide an interesting kick-off for a Memoirs unit. Additionally, this title could be a useful supplement to any high school required text that includes the subject of social injustice. The additional information, tools, and primary resources located in the back of this book provide a variety of credible resources for further inquiry.