Michel Chikwanine was five years old when he was abducted from his schoolyard soccer game in the Democratic Republic of Congo and forced to become a soldier for a rebel militia.
Against the odds, he managed to escape and find his way back to his family, but he was never the same again.
As part of Kids Can Press’ Citizen Kid series, Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys have written a graphic novel called Child Solider (illustrations by Claudia Dávila) that shares Chikwanine’s story. Book Time asked four questions of Chikwanine. Here are his answers:
Q. I like that the book was in graphic novel format. What was the benefit of telling your story that way? Drawbacks?
A. Thank you. The benefit of writing the book in graphic novel format was that the novel was able to appeal to a wider audience and especially the younger audience who might not necessarily have the reading capabilities or interest in reading a word-heavy novel about such a heart-wrenching topic. I also think the images will help young readers visualize the story even more, especially when the words and images are a bit complex for them. The only drawback that comes with telling my story in this format is that we had to be sensitive about the age group we were targeting so some of the complex historical background of the story was left out. However, Claudia Davila and Jessica Dee Humphreys helped me tell the story in a way that everything felt the same, that the reality wasn’t taken out.
Q. There was a lot of brain washing going on by the soldiers who kidnapped you – telling you your family didn¹t love you or want you. What made you realize they were lying? What made you run when others didn’t?
A. My father is central figure in the novel just as he was in my life. I was always a terrible kid, but I knew that my father love me. So no matter how much they tried to tell me my family wouldn’t like me, I knew my father better than them and I had this belief that no matter what I did, he would always love me. As for running away, that was an impulse that came out of the fear I had for my father. Even though I defied his rules, I only defied them to a certain extent. When I felt that I was away from home for longer than I had ever been, I felt lonely, afraid and lost. But this fear of father and my need to get back home filled me with adrenaline and when I saw my opportunity, I ran, no thoughts, just instinctively felt that I should go back home.
Q. Can you tell me about your studies? Where do you go? What do you take? What is your end goal?
A. I’m an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto. I enrolled at the university in 2009 as a part-time student taking one class per semester because of my busy schedule at that time. However, I was having a hard time connecting to any of the degrees that were being offered, whether it was the international relations program or the peace and conflict program. Thankfully, in 2010, a good friend of mine and professor at the university suggested I focus more on the African studies program. So currently I’m specializing in African studies.
I love the program because it has allowed me to analyze the people, ideas and institutions of Africa through many different avenues. This has added purpose and context to my story, which has been extremely helpful, especially because I want to go back and help fill the void of knowledge that’s on the continent. I hope to inspire other African people in the diaspora to go back and help build institutions and organizations run by young Africans to help them move forward.
Q. What do you hope the book will accomplish? What can people – young and old – do to help?
A. I hope the graphic novel helps parents and teachers discuss such a difficult topic with young people. If the book can manage to engage different groups of people into conversation about how as a world we should respond to different issues that are going on, then the novel has done its job.
I chose to write this graphic novel because I wanted us to start discussing the causes of conflict and poverty around the world, I wanted to make sure young people understand the things they see happening in many parts of the world have histories behind them, that sometimes our own societies are implicit in it. So the graphic novel serves as a starting point for parents and educators to discuss this history and this context of a reality that many people around the world live in.
The second part of the graphic novel has an educational resource and suggestion for what parents, teachers and young people should do after reading this story.
Ultimately, I believe that to make an impact on the issue of child soldiers, we are going to have to address the other issues that lead adults to use children as weapons of war. In order to do this, I think we are going to have to invest in the education and production of knowledge in many parts of the world. I know that sounds naive, but truly the impact education can have in many communities is great.
So for young people, I hope they learn about the context of world issues and ask critical questions of why these things are still happening. Additionally, I hope they are inspired to understand and research about the link between world issues and politics, because ultimately, the power to make an impact on these issues will come through politics. For adults and young people alike, I hope we vote for leaders that make moral and informed decisions when it comes to international issues as well as local issues.
Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qslC7jniHtk and http://www.kidscanpress.com/products/child-soldier for more information.
Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys
Kids Can Press, http://www.kidscanpress.com/products/child-soldier
Michel Chikwanine was five years old when he was abducted from his schoolyard soccer game in the Democratic Republic of Congo and forced to become a soldier for a rebel militia. Against the odds, Michel managed to escape and find his way back to his family, but he was never the same again. After immigrating to Canada, Michel was encouraged by a teacher to share what happened to him in order to raise awareness about child soldiers around the world, and this book is part of that effort. Told in the first person and presented in a graphic novel format, the gripping story of Michel’s experience is moving and unsettling.
But the humanity he exhibits in the telling, along with Claudia Dávila’s illustrations, which evoke rather than depict the violent elements of the story, makes the book accessible for this age group and, ultimately, reassuring and hopeful. The back matter contains further information, as well as suggestions for ways children can help. This is a perfect resource for engaging youngsters in social studies lessons on global awareness and social justice issues, and would easily spark classroom discussions about conflict, children’s rights and even bullying. Michel’s actions took enormous courage, but he makes clear that he was and still is an ordinary person, no different from his readers. He believes everyone can do something to make the world a better place, and so he shares what his father told him: “If you ever think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.”
Editor’s Note: I will not read this book to my six year old, not yet at least. I want my son to still view the world as a great place – he has lots of time to figure out that world can be an awful place and we do terrible things to each other. My heart breaks for Michel and all the other children who are kidnapped from their families and forced to do such awful things. Michel was five years old when he was kidnapped while at school. Five! I couldn’t image, don’t want to imagine, my six year old facing that same situation. My heart breaks.
Below are my questions to Michel about his book.
Kids Can Press, http://www.kidscanpress.com/products/after-dark
Fifteen-year-old Charlie Harker is pretty disappointed to learn he’ll be spending his summer vacation helping his mom renovate an old family inn in the “hick town” of Rolling Hills. He much preferred his plan of lounging on a beach in Hawaii. And now he has to deal with his annoying neighbor Miles Van Helsing, who’s been trying to convince him there’s paranormal activity going on in town. Charlie knows this can’t be true. Miles is just nuts, right? Although he has to admit, it is getting harder and harder to explain all the odd situations he keeps finding himself in, particularly once the sun goes down. And it does seem like an awful lot of people are getting sick.
Editor’s Note: I didn’t get very far in this book, which is for kids 10 to 14 although I would imagine kids in that age group would enjoy it. I am saving it for when my son is a bit older, although I hesitate – I don’t really like Charlie.
Mom has to go help Grandma, but it’s Halloween, and Carl and Madeleine don’t want to miss out on the fun. So after Mom leaves, they make their own costumes and go out trick-or-treating by themselves. They even stop in at a party to bob for apples before they return safely to their house, content from their Halloween adventure and with Mom none the wiser.
Editor’s Note: The illustrations are beautiful in this book, but after that I have such a hard time with it. I don’t care how great a babysitter Carl is, he is still a dog and why is he looking after Madeleine? And why isn’t she old enough to go trick-or-treating? I took my son when he was under a year. It’s fun. However, I did get an idea of my son’s upcoming Halloween birthday party – toilet paper mummies.
Curiosity House, The Shrunken Head
The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events. When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts
Editor’s Note: What a great book. It was easy to read and pulled you right along. It is a great who dunnit. I never did guess who did it and I was as confused as the children trying to figure it out. I was getting concerned near the end. As much as I liked it and all the main characters, including Mr. Dumfrey, I didn’t want a sequel.
Scholastic Canada, http://www.scholastic.com/goosebumps
Appeals to fourth to sixth grade readers
Editor’s Note: I read R.L. Stine as a kid, but not the Goosebump series. I have put them aside for when my son gets a bit older and wants creepy books – it won’t be long.
Haunted Canada 5, Terrifying True Stories
Joel A. Sutherland
An abandoned asylum in Victoria, the most filmed site in Canada, is alive with inexplicable sights and sounds. Multiple men are found decapitated in the woods near the Northwest Territories’ Nahanni National Park Reserve . . . over a 50 year period. Guests at the Bytown Museum in Ottawa have heard cries coming from the doll exhibit, and report seeing the dolls move and wink. A mysterious figure stands at the edge of the rocky shores of Peggy’s Cove, looking as if she is about to jump.
The ghoulishly good fourth book in the Haunted Canada series is full of more than 25 sinister, unsettling, and absolutely true ghost stories from across the country. Settle in for an evening of hair-raising thrills and chills in this brand-new volume of haunting encounters and unexplained incidents!
Bram Stoker Award-nominee Joel A. Sutherland brings a fresh approach to this favourite scary series.
Editor’s Note: I will not be reading this book at night – when I am by myself.
Leo, a ghost Story
Chronicle Kids, http://www.chroniclekids.com
You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can’t even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo’s efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.
Editor’s Note: What a great story. Just a fun read. We can see Leo.
Chronicle Books, http://www.chroniclebooks.com/titles/peek-a-boo.html
In this third title in Nina Laden’s Peek-a series, the classic game of peekaboo becomes spookily fun! Colorful pictures and lively, rhyming text—featuring bats, jack-o’-lanterns and ghosts galore help children predict what is peeking through die-cut windows. Read the clue…guess the rhyme…giggle wildly…and repeat!
Editor’s Note: Cute book. I wouldn’t mind reading this one over and over.
The Ghosts Go Spooking
Little ghosts go trick-or-treating by ones, twos, and up to ten in this spooky and fun-filled take on “The Ants Go Marching.” Hurrah, hurrah!
The familiar counting song is a fun read-aloud and sing-along, and children will love identifying all the costumes in the ghost march. Observant readers will also find lots of opportunities to count along as they look for ghostly silhouettes and other spooky objects hidden in the illustrations!
A perfect Halloween treat, The Ghosts Go Spooking is sure to become a favourite for repeat readings.
Editor’s Note: Now The Ghosts Go Spooking is running through my head, hours after reading it to my six year old who doesn’t seem to mind my singing voice, likely because he has been forced to listen to it since he was a baby. Fun book, cute illustrations.
Other Halloween books
The Lost Girl, A Fear Street Novel
R. L. Stine
Generations of children and teens have grown up on R.L. Stine’s bestselling and hugely popular horror series, Fear Street and Goosebumps. Now, the Fear Street series is back with a chilling new installment, packed with pure nightmare fodder that will scare Stine’s avid fan base of teen readers and adults.
New student Lizzy Palmer is the talk of Shadyside High. Michael and his girlfriend Pepper befriend her, but the closer they get to her, the stranger she seems and the more attractive she is to Michael. He invites her to join him on a snowmobile race that ends in a tragic accident. Soon, Michael’s friends start being murdered, and Pepper becomes convinced that Lizzy is behind the killings. But to her total shock, she and Michael are drawn into a tragic story of an unthinkable betrayal committed more than 60 years ago.
Peter Pumpkin Goes Trick-or-treating
available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and ebook
Halloween is a special and exciting time for pumpkins. They play games, light fireworks, and eat lots of candy. But nothing beats trick-or-treating and Peter Pumpkin is finally getting his chance to leave the pumpkin patch and join the other pumpkins for the festivities. He gets a surprise when his sister, Petrina, tells him that instead of trick-or-treating with the communal group, he’ll be joining her and her friends on the adventure of a lifetime. First, they must get prepared, and a primary order of business is deciding what they’ll wear on their journey. They also need to be safe, because if they meet a witch, ghost or ghoul, they could be turned into pumpkin pies or worse. The pumpkins also know that Wanda, the evil ghoul, might invade the pumpkin patch if she figures out where the pumpkins keep their candy. In fact, if she had her way, she’d exterminate all the pumpkin. Join the pumpkins as they enjoy a rite of passage and navigate an exciting but dangerous Halloween tradition that dates back hundreds and hundreds of years.
Shadow Play, An Eve Duncan Novel
Eve Duncan is the most sought-after artist in the field of forensic sculpting.
Dedicated to her work ever since her daughter Bonnie was taken and killed at the age of seven, Eve feels a sense of duty to those whose lives were lost and whose bones are now in her hands. When a sheriff in California contacts her with a request for help on the reconstruction of the skull of a nine-year-old girl whose body has been buried for eight years, his intensity and investment in the case puzzle her. But when the ghost of the girl begins communicating with her, Eve finds herself wrapped up in the case more intensely than she could have ever imagined. Not since Bonnie has Eve had such an experience, and suddenly she finds herself determined to solve the murder and help the little girl find peace. Except that the killer is still out there and he knows Eve is on the case. And he won’t rest until anything and anyone that could reveal his identity is eliminated.
The Cherry on His Cigar
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Xlibris, http://www.thecherryonhiscigar.com,
The Cherry on His Cigar tells the story of Morgan Logan and Isaac Hanlon, two lovers torn apart and reunited years later in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina who unexpectedly fall prey to a murderous madman’s syndicate of trafficking human organs.
With a story spanning 13 years, The Cherry on His Cigar propels readers on a rollercoaster ride across North America, racing down the coast of Costa Rica, jumping to American Samoa and up through the Bering Strait.
The Aerie: Air Strip on Weeks Mountain
Marjorie Irish Randell
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Trafford
The Aerie: Air Strip on Weeks Mountai tells the fictional story of an air park community whose residents fall into a tailspin after a mysterious murder is committed within the park.
An in-depth look into the thoughts and actions of pilots, their wives and their families, Marjorie Irish Randell uses her cast of colorful characters to highlight the dynamics of tight-knit aviation communities and the camaraderie and conflicts that develop within them.
Heaven, Hell and Somewhere In Between: Portuguese Popular Art Hardcover
Anthony Alan Shelton
Popular art expresses the passion and verve emanating from the rich imagination and the social, political and religious experiences of its creators. In Portugal, this art of the people also conveys deeply seated, idealistic views of national identity, history and character.
Much Portuguese popular art focuses on three amorphous places: Heaven (the world of the saints, grace and salvation); Hell (the domain of the devil, dystopia, annoyance and mischief); and Somewhere In Between (a country called Portugal whose denizens grapple with good and evil every day). Heaven, Hell and Somewhere in Between combines an in-depth analysis of Portuguese popular art and culture with stunning photographs of 40 artworks — ceramics, masks, puppets — and another 60 supporting images, from medieval frescoes and roadside icons to graffiti and images of carnival performers and artisans at work in their studios. Complex, contemporary, theatrical, political and often controversial, this is the theatre of a nation, where official ideologies collide with homegrown art and culture and spew forth deeply felt emotions, from ecstasy and transcendence to suffering and penitence.
The book is a companion piece to an exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, B.C.
The book contains lively text by the internationally respected Shelton, director of the UBC Museum of Anthropology and is a standalone as a study of Portuguese popular culture history from the 17th to the 21st century, covering everything from traditional carnival masks to modern day graffiti art.
Astronomy Photographer of the Year
Firefly books, http://www.fireflybooks.com/index.php/catalogue/adult-books/nature-and-science/astronomy/product/11163-astronomy-photographer-of-the-year-prize-winning-images-by-top-astrophotographers
This stunning collection of images from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition assembles the very best astrophotography from around the world. Organized by the Royal Observatory, the photographs capture an astounding range of astronomical phenomena both within our solar system and far into deep space. The book features four sections: Earth and Space, Our Solar System, Deep Space, and Overall Winners. The images are from the first six years of the competition (2009-2014), and include all the winners from each year along with a carefully curated selection from the shortlists. They are accompanied by notes from the judges and photographer, with background information and camera specifications.
From giant storm systems in Jupiter’s atmosphere to the colorful, wispy remnants of a supernova explosion and the dazzling green curtain of the Northern Lights, Astronomy Photographer of the Year will appeal to both astrophotographers and beginners who simply enjoy gazing at the night sky.
This column was originally published on insidetoronto.com