Child Soldiers

“I lost my childhood. I didn’t play football or video games. Or have birthdays or the love of a family.” – Emmanual Jal, South-Sudanese Canadian musician and former child soldier

Canada is about to become the first country in the world to issue military guidelines on how to deal with child soldiers. Retired senator Romeo Dallaire – who wrote the forward for Eric Walter’s Shattered, a young-adult novel about a soldier suffering post-traumatic stress disorder – helped draft the new rules.

Under the proposed guidelines, Canadian troops will be taught how to identify child soldiers who might be a threat to them. They will be taught how to care for child soldiers who are detained. These new guidelines are vital as Canadian troops expect to encounter more and more child soldiers in coming years.

Here are five books about the plight of child soldiers around the world:

Humphries, Jessica Dee and Michel Chikwanine. Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War. Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2015.

This graphic novel tells the true story of author Michel Chikwanine who came to Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa when he was 16 years old. Background information and suggestions for further research accompany this powerful autobiography recommended for readers 11 years old and up.

McCormick, Patricia. Never Fall Down. New York : Balzer + Bray, 2012.
Arn is forced to serve as a child soldier in Cambodia in this disturbing novel – based on a true story – recommended for readers thirteen years old and up.


McKay, Sharon E. War Brothers. Toronto: Puffin Canada, 2008.
Three children – Hannah, Jacob, and Oteka – find themselves trapped in Africa’s Lord’s Resistance Army in this suspense-filled novel for readers 12 years old and up. 


Perkins, Mitali. Bamboo People. Watertown, Mass.: Charlesbridge, 2010.
Chiko – forced to join the Burmese army- and Tu Reh – a runaway from a refugee camp – unexpectedly stumble upon each other in the jungle in this harrowing novel for readers 12 years old and up.


Stratton, Allan. Chanda’s Wars. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2008.
African teenager Chanda Kabelo and her siblings try to escape after they are kidnapped by General Mandiki’s rebel army in this dramatic novel recommended for readers thirteen years old and up.

Click HERE for more information about the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.


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Fairy Tales for Teens

Great novels give us new information and new ideas. But they also make us more humble. They help us see ourselves as part of the universe rather than at the centre of it. They give us courage to keep going when none of our plans work out and we have to start all over again.  

Here are two stories about current world events that are unfortunately not so great, even though they are quite entertaining and even informative:


Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz (Harlequin Teen, 2016) is not a great novel. It tells the story of a teenager who wins a National Scholarship Award but discovers she is ineligible. Her Filipino parents have been working without proper documentation and now the whole family is about to be deported. Jasmine, a popular cheerleader, has always worked hard to do everything perfectly. Now all her plans are in jeopardy because her parents have failed to become legal residents of the U.S.A.  

The portrayal of life for undocumented residents is informative. The depiction of emotional pain encourages empathy. But the story is altogether too much of a fairy tale: Jasmine is a self-pitying heroine who must prevail over the forces of injustice. This 432-page novel, inspired by the author’s experiences, is recommended for teenagers looking for a romance story that doesn’t threaten their own sense of self-importance.

Red Glass by Laura Resau (Delacorte Press, 2007) is another disappointing novel. Sixteen-year-old Sophie learns more about life for illegal immigrants while travelling from Arizona to Mexico and Guatemala. The story vividly portrays the hardships faced by people fleeing their homelands. It loudly declares the unfairness of showing compassion for refugees from Europe while rejecting immigrants from Central America.  And that is much of the problem. Everything is just so obvious. And so this book, too, turns into a fairy tale: an innocent heroine learning to overcome her fears in order to show her true goodness. Despite winning several awards, this 275-page novel can only be recommended for readers willing to learn about current events but really wanting a romance.

Click HERE to learn how to assess novels and picture books.

Click HERE for books on migration and refugees.

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You, Too, Were Once Strangers

“While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.” – Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General

There are many novels about courageous people who helped others during the Holocaust. There are far fewer about brave people who help others today; one of the most powerful is this novel from Britain. 

Halahmy, Miriam. Hidden. New York: Holiday House, 2016.

“Fourteen-year-old Alix is faced with a huge moral dilemma when she helps pull an illegal Iraqi immigrant from the incoming tide on the coastal English island where she lives.” – CIP.  Stories written in present tense from the first-person point of view are frequently tiresome in their self-obsession but this novel is a remarkable exception. Alix has no perfect life and no illusions about her own importance. What she has is the ability to see life from someone else’s point of view. Discovering the horror of life for refugees fleeing torture and seeking asylum opens her heart and reveals her courage in this novel highly recommended for all readers 12 years old and up. [England; Family problems; Friendship; Iraqis; Racism; Refugees; Schools; Secrets]

“For a start, people who traveled for so many miles through such horrific conditions in order to find work cannot accurately be portrayed as lazy benefit-scroungers”. – Patrick Kingsley, British journalist

Find more books about migration and refugees HERE

“I urge you to celebrate the extraordinary courage and contributions of refugees past and present.” – Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General

Find information and lessons on human migration HERE.  

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Can This Be Real?

“Now is the dramatic moment of fate, Watson, when you hear a step upon the stair which is walking into your life, and you know not whether for good or ill.” Arthur Conan Doyle, Scottish writer

Ruiz Zafon, Carlos. The Midnight Palace.  New York: Little, Brown, 2011.

Ben has been raised in an orphanage in Calcutta, India.  He thinks he is alone in the world until he discovers, on his sixteenth birthday, that he has a twin sister.  He also discovers that a monstrous ghost from the past is trying to kill both of them. Set in the 1930s, this suspense-filled novel, translated from Spanish, will be enjoyed by readers 11 to 16 years old.  (India; Historical fiction; Demonology; Orphans; Twins; Secret societies; Friendship)

Click HERE for more stories set in India and Pakistan.

“If you try to cure evil with evil, you will add more pain to your fate.” Sophocles, ancient Greek playwright

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Echo: a Novel.  New York: Scholastic Press, 2015.

“Lost in the Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and finds himself entwined in a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica–and decades later three children, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California find themselves caught up in the same thread of destiny in the darkest days of the twentieth century, struggling to keep their families intact, and tied together by the music of the same harmonica.” – CIP. A 587-page Newbery Honor book recommended for readers 10 years old and up. 

Click HERE for more novels about World War 2.

“Yet it would be your duty to bear it, if you could not avoid it: it is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.”  Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Yelchin, Eugene. The Haunting of Falcon House.  New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 

“In 1891, twelve-year-old Lev Lvov travels to Saint Petersburg, Russia, to assume his duties as Prince, but must first use his special gift to rid the House of Lions of a ghost.” – CIP. Written by Prince Lev Lvov with pictures drawn in his own hand; translated by Eugene Yelchin who writes in the preface, “when I was a schoolboy in St. Petersburg, Russia,…I came upon a bundle of paper held together with frayed twine….Some years passed….Resolved to faithfully restore Lvov’s original narration, I set to work. To carry Prince Lev’s feelings across to the reader, I became inwardly connected to the young prince…” A spell-binding story for readers 11 to 14 years old. [Aunts; Extrasensory perception; Haunted houses; Orphans; Princes]

Click HERE for more stories set in countries around the world. “

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” Thomas Merton, American writer

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Please, let there be change…

Do our words matter?

Can our wishes change the world?

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016):

a poem about snow and winter,

told in rhyme,

with scratchboard illustrations

by Beth Krommes, Caldecott medalist, 

a picture book

recommended for readers of all ages.

Click HERE for more stories in rhyme,

HERE for more stories about winter,

HERE for more stories with hidden sentences about real life, 

HERE for lessons on connecting to the truth in stories.

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