Friday, September 18, 2015

Taken! Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Jessica Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine

My name is Michel Chikwanine. The story you are about to read is true. It is my story, and it is just one of thousands like it.

I was five years old. There were rumblings of chaos in the distance, but I didn't hear them. I played soccer, I watched TV, I went to school, and I daydreamed.

Michel's life in the town of Beni in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is good. His dad is a lawyer, and his mom sells goods in the market. He has a best friend, Kevin, to teach him soccer skills and walk with him to school, and he has three sisters. He is the only son and the apple of his father's eye.

But his dad listens intently to the news on the radio, and one morning he has a unusually stern warning for Michel as he leaves to walk to school.

"Be home by six, Michel!"

But Kevin and the boys are planning a soccer game right after school, and little Michel brushes aside his father's words to stay for the game with the boys. That choice changes his life.

As they play, a group of army trucks pull up, with soldiers packed inside. Suddenly he hears a loud BANG!

A group of wild-haired men bolt out of the truck and seize the boys, separating them by ages, and throw them into trucks.

When the truck stopped, we were ordered out. I heard a crunch underneath my feet. It was a skeleton without a head. My legs couldn't move.

"Put out your hands." The rebel soldier blindfolded me. He put a gun right into my hands. Someone grabbed my fingers, putting one on the trigger.


Someone took off my blindfold. I had been forced to kill Kevin, my best friend.

"Your family will never take you back now," whispered one of the soldiers."You are one of us."

Michel Chikwanine's story of his captivity and brave escape is that of many young children, estimated at a quarter million worldwide, taken into bondage as child soldiers, forced to labor, fight, and serve as spies, decoys, and suicide bombers. With Jessica Humphreys, Chikwanine tells the story of those children who cannot speak for themselves in Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War (CitizenKid) (CitizenKid, 2015). Artist Claudia Davila utilizes the graphic novel format--with empathetic full-page illustrations and panels--in a style that tells the grim story of child soldiers worldwide without being unduly disturbing for elementary and middle school readers. The authors append a thumbnail update of Mechel Chikwanine's life and information on the United Nation's program to end the use of children under 18 as combatants along with a appealing "What You Can Do" section. "An enlightening, accessible, and, above all, child-friendly introduction to the issue," says School Library Journal in its starred review.

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