In my fairly limited experience of having to explain difficult concepts to children ( just don’t ask what I told my young niece, at my stepmother’s funeral, when she asked where Granny was…) I would imagine talking about war is right up there with the hardest. This isn’t just a case of being naughty, or risking a broken limb or even making mum, dad or Aunt Jane sad – this is trying to explain politics, greed, mindless violence or killing in the name of a ’cause’. On the one hand I can understand wanting to protect children from even the knowledge of such things but, on the other, I’m sure any parent wouldn’t want their child to learn about such huge issues without them being at least present.
Elizabeth Laird’s Welcome to Nowhere seemed to me to be a good way for older children (9/10+?) to explore issues raised by war in general and the war in Syria in particular. It is the story of Omar, a young boy who dislikes school and wants to be a rich businessman when he grows up. So far, so much like kids all over the world (including any who have ever seen The Apprentice…) but Omar and his family live in Bosra, a city in Southern Syria with a rich history. The city is popular with tourists until it becomes caught up in the conflict in 2012 and Omar’s displacement begins. At first they move cities and then to the country as their new home also becomes unsafe. Omar isn’t interested in politics, although his brother Musa (who has cerebral palsy) does become involved, but it is very hard for anyone, even children, to avoid fighting and religious conflict in Syria. Eventually the family has to leave the country altogether and they make their way to a refugee camp in Jordan.
I liked the characters in this book. They seem very much like real children (even if they are in situations you would hope that no child could ever be in) and all the politics and dangers are seen through their eyes. I didn’t feel that these dangers were glossed over but, because our main storytellers are children and therefore, perhaps, a bit more adaptable to change they are moved on from quite swiftly. I would imagine that this book could help youngsters (and adults) to understand what it could be like to experience war first hand yet from a civilian viewpoint.