Given the latest headlines in the Middle East, this seems to be the perfect time for another Deborah Ellis title. Best known for her Breadwinner Trilogy (The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City) which became a tetrology this fall with My Name is Parvana, Ellis is an award-winning Canadian author whose international anti-war activism has given fierce power to her titles; she’s also parlayed her bestselling success to raise over a million dollars in royalties for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kid International with the first three Breadwinner titles alone.
While Ellis’ nonfiction titles for younger readers definitely reflect her anti-war beliefs, she doesn’t lecture or preach. Instead, she gives voice to the children who are living in war zones (Three Wishes, Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely through a Never-Ending War), in refugee areas (Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees), and in the left-behind homes of deployed military personnel (Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children). Read together, the message is loud and clear: no one suffers more than the children. The foursome should be bundled together and sent to every policymaker throughout the world.
“In World War I, 15 percent of all casualties were civilians. In World War II, 50 percent of all casualties were civilians. In 2004, 90 percent of all casualties in war are civilians,” the epigraph stuns. Over six pages that follow, Ellis lists the names and ages of the 429 children who were killed between September 29, 2000 (the onset of the Second Intifada) and March 7, 2003.
In “a very small piece of land on the Mediterranean Sea,” Ellis writes in her introduction, “… a land sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians … the area has been at war for more than fifty years”: “The ongoing fight over this land means the children who live there spend their lives in a place of constant war.” In 2002, Ellis traveled to Israel and Palestine to speak to some of these children. Unless you recognize a name, can you really tell which ‘side’ these children are on?
Nora, 12: “I’m not supposed to go out by myself because my mother thinks I won’t be able to move fast enough if the soldiers come.”
Mona, 11: “I just want to go to school.”
Yanal, 14: “Being religious, whether you are Muslim or Christian or Jewish, or whatever you are, means that you should help people, and make the world better, and not just think of yourself. We have these things in common, at least in our religions.”
Maryam, 11: “I have only one wish. I would like to go to heaven. Maybe in heaven there is happiness, after we die. Maybe then.”
Elisheva, 18: “We could have lived like neighbors, and we did for awhile. We went to their weddings and feasts, and they came to ours. I remember when I was little we would go to their parties, and they were always friendly and welcoming. All of that has changed. Now we don’t know who we can trust.”
Hassan, 18: I would like to be a policeman when I get older. I would be a good policeman. People would trust me, and I would keep them safe.”
Yibaneh, 18: “God has become unclear. He’s heading somewhere, but it’s hard to see how this will all come to a good end.”
Asif, 15: “When I’m eighteen, I’ll go into the army. It’s the law for three years. … If I’m given an order I don’t like, an order to do something I think is wrong, I will refuse to do it. It’s important to protect the people, protect the Palestinians, I mean. I want to be a moral voice in the army …”
Mai, 18: “But now this wall is being built between us and them, and that will make it even harder for us to get to know each other as human beings. I don’t see God in this anywhere at all. I’ve never believed in God. We will make our own peace, just as we made our own war.”
Out of the mouth of babes … listen and learn. Peace, too, can be a choice.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult