Saturday, June 27, 2009

Afghan Dreams: Young voices of Afghanistan by Mike Sullivan and Tony O’Brien

Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan by Mike Sullivan and Tony O’Brien

Review by Lisa Stanger

Photo-Journalist Tony O’Brien and filmmaker Mike Sullivan have collaborated to produce a book of snap shots into the lives of a variety of Afghani children aged 8 – 18. They traveled to Afghanistan and interviewed and photographed a range of children. There are children who live at home with their parents or extended family, and children who are orphans; children who attend school and children who work 15 hours a day; children who help out at the family business and children trying to make a living through pick pocketing. Each child has a unique voice and most have a message they would like to communicate to a child from another country. This book has been selected as one of the ALA notable Children’s Books for Older Readers in 2009.

This book is mostly made up of quotes from the children. A lot of information is in this volume, but it is not presented in an indexed, categorized way, instead it is the conversational tone and real-life images that carry the message. This quote from Rohul Ali, 14, explains this message

“Children in America have the same ideas as me, because we are children, we are as brothers.” (P13)

When I started this book, I doubted that typical children who live in the first world would find any similarities with children who live in such dangerous and poor circumstances but by the middle of the book, I realized that the kids in this book are just like the kids I see at work. They draw big pictures and are proud of them, they have a hopeful view of the future that is largely unconstrained by reality, they care fiercely about their families and friends and they have those moments of pure joy that we can only experience as children.

This is a book about children, but it is not solely a book for children. There are a lot of awful things that have happened and are happening to the children in this book. One little girl had some fingers blown off while playing with an abandoned gun, some children are orphaned and living in impoverished circumstances. I would recommend this book for older children and it would be ideal if it could be read in conjunction with an adult or teacher, or where one is available to discuss the situations and content. The publisher recommends a 9 – 12 age range and I would say that is about right, although I wouldn’t cap it at 12. The authenticity of this book and the ages of the children included (up to 18) enable the book to be useful in a high school situation. Asir, 14, explains his circumstances this way

“…the others they have good luck, but in my life I don’t have luck…So for my future it is not clear what will happen.” (P10)

This book is concise and a great example of cross cultural communication. The pictures are vivid, the content is interesting and the presentation is fantastic. Text and images work wonderfully together to present a digestible yet challenging slice of life in a country that has been so linked with the western world recently, but that is also, so different. It’s been an honor to read and review this book and to hear the true voices of the children of Afghanistan.

ISBN-10: 1599902877 | ISBN-13: 978-1599902876| Bloomsbury USA Children's Books | October 2008

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