Listening to the Voices of Innocents: Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees by Deborah Ellis

This is not going to be an easy post either to read or write but we are not going to achieve anything if we shy away from the difficult things in life.

Today I’m going to discuss Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees, a collection of short interviews by Deborah Ellis who travelled to Jordan where the greatest population of Iraqi refugees are after the illegal war on Iraq by America, UK and other countries. But rather than just discuss the book alone, I want to also draw your attention to the victims of a more recent war: the Israeli strikes on Gaza. No matter who or where or when violence occurs, the victims usually are children who are helpless and powerless, who have no choice or voice in the decisions adults make but who are, inevitably, the first casualties of these decisions.

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Hardcover, 144 pages
Published February 17th 2009 by Groundwood Books
Source: Library

“To tell you the truth, I try not to think about [moving to America]. Thinking about it makes me anxious. The Americans cut down trees in my country, and we will be looking at trees still standing in America. The Americans bombed our bridges, and we will be walking across bridges still standing in America. They killed children in my country, and we will be going to school with children who have never known troubles. I don’t like to think about it.”

The quote above is from a 16 year old girl whose short life has been filled with violence, death and fear. Her story is not unique in any way and one that we, snug in the relative comforts of our homes in the Western world, are not quite able to comprehend. Sure, we can empathize but unless we live through bombings during the night, stuck in one room and waiting for bombs to fall and end it all, we will not know what they have been through. Deborah Ellis does the world a favour by bringing these voices to the attention of the first world.

Reading the interviews gives the reader a glimpse of the lives these children lead and hints at the incredible emotional damage these children have suffered and are still suffering. Another thing common in all the interviews is the articulation of the dreams the children have; they all talk about how they want to learn and do something with their lives. Study and become doctors, vets, scientists, teachers, whatnot. And then, this is the most heartbreaking of all, they acknowledge that these dreams are probably impossible.

What do I say about the merits of this book? Can I really quantify its literary value and qualify its contributions to any library? No. I cannot overstate the importance of this book for a child. Sure, the subject is grim but it’s a necessary one. Your children should know about the lives of other children who share the planet with them. We may not be able to help these children directly but we can listen to their voices.

The proceeds from this book go to the IBBY Crisis Fund. If you are inclined to make donations as well, here is a link.

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Deborah Ellis is speaking at the Richmond Public Library Brighouse Branch from 7:30-8:30 pm on Thursday March 5th.