This isn’t a very long book – I read it in one sitting. But it certainly packs a punch…
Today the mud is dry and crusted and blowing in my eyes. Today is also my birthday. I think today is my birthday. I asked on of the grown-ups what is today’s date.
‘Is it July third?’ I asked.
‘Something like that,’ they said.
July third is the date of my birthday. I think it is that date of my birthday.
I’m sure it is. I’ll be ten. I am ten. I am certain.
And that’s the blurb – I think. That’s actually what is on the cover of the book in lieu of any kind of cover art, which is on the back… Back to front. Slightly wrong. Which actually fits with this amazing little book quite well.
Being me, I initially thought this was a post-apocalyptic tale of climate disaster and a child living in a dystopian near-future camp. It isn’t. This is the story of a child living right now in a refugee camp. His experiences are taken from the lives of real children living across a number of camps and can be corroborated with pictures and video footage, according to the author. He is called Child I, because with no family or papers – which were stolen from him – the authorities have given him a letter, instead of his name.
What is both uplifting and heartbreaking is that Child I isn’t the sad-faced victim with tears welling in his eyes that we see on our TV sets during appeals from various charities – he is a typical ten-year-old boy. Those of us who have spent any time with children of this age will instantly recognise him – endlessly curious, energetic, playful and wanting to reach out to those around him. He tells us about his surroundings. The condition of the mud that rules their lives – where he sleeps, what the weather is like, what he can find to eat – he is constantly hungry as the unaccompanied children seem to be the ones that fall between the cracks when it comes to being looked after in refugee camps. But above all, he tells us of the games he plays and the adventures he has and who joins in…
The writing could so easily have tipped into sentimentality, portraying Child I as a victim, but it doesn’t. The voice is absolutely authentic. I can hear his earnest voice explaining what is going on – and managing to write as an adult portraying a child protagonist is a tricky business. Tasane succeeds in bringing Child I’s life to us in wrenching detail in this simple short book. It is both shocking and uplifting. It should be required reading for politicians around the world – and I’m donating my copy to a local school. Other children, luckier than Child I need to read what is happening in other parts of the world. Read it. It won’t take up much of your time, I promise, but if we don’t know – how can we all try to fix it so that Child I gets a name and home?