This is the true story of Michel Chikwanine. Michel grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990's. There was tremendous conflict in the country at that time, as there had been for decades. The village that Michel lived in had been relatively safe, but things were changing quickly. One day in 1993, Michel disobeyed his father's stern instructions to come quickly and directly home from school. Instead, Michel stayed to play a game of soccer. Military vehicles pulled up to the playground, shots ensued and the children were taken by military rebels to be trained as child soldiers. Michel was just five years old.
Michel did manage to escape a few weeks later, but not until after he had been injected with cocaine, smacked in the face with a gun and forced to kill his best friend. It didn't end there; there were many more horrors that he witnessed and experienced in those weeks and after. Today Michel lives in Canada and is a peace activist, motivational speaker, and now an author.
I find myself saying more and more frequently, "I am not a fan of the graphic format, BUT ..." Perhaps it's time for me to re-evaluate my feelings toward reading graphic books. I believe the graphic format was a perfect choice for this book. The characters' expressions, the close-ups, and the unique perspectives in the pictures all contribute to deepening the sense of terror and conveying the horror of the situation, without overwhelming young readers with graphic or gratuitous gore.
I appreciated that his opening paragraph included the following statement: "...these things did not occur out of the blue and won't suddenly happen to you ..." It frees the young person reading it from becoming twisted with fear for themselves.
There are a couple of maps and simple, easy to read background history blocks. At the end of the story, Michel has included some biographical information on his life after arriving in Canada, additional information on child soldiers, and a list of organizations that are working for change. He includes suggestions on how young people can help make a difference and a primary sources section for further research.
Michel's story is horrifying and inspiring. This story will stick with you long after you have finished it. Highly recommended for older elementary and younger middle school students.
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