The Kites are Flying by Michael Morpurgo
|The Kites are Flying by Michael Morpurgo|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A lovely story of hope and friendship amongst violence and grief. Set amidst the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it's swimming with compassion and presents a humanitarian perspective that is absolutely perfect for its readership.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 80||Date: November 2009|
Said lives on the West Bank. He herds his family's sheep, spends a lot of time talking in his head to his absent brother Mahmoud, and he makes a great many kites, which he sends across the wall to the girl in the blue headscarf who lives in the occupiers' settlements. What Said doesn't do, is talk out loud, even to his new friend Mister Max. Max is a Western journalist who wants to make a documentary about how the Palestinian/Israeli conflict affects ordinary people on both sides of the wall. Max is entranced by Said, and his dozens of kites, all bearing the message salaam or peace. He can see that Said has a dream, but he's not sure what it is. Will the dream come true before Max has to leave?
Oh, this is trademark Morpurgo - a lovely story of hope and friendship amongst violence and grief.
There's a quotation on my press sheet for The Kites are Flying in which Morpurgo is talking about why he wrote it. He says Maybe it's age, maybe I am getting more confident now and I don't need the prop of history. I have been asked why I didn't deal with the situations around today and I thought maybe it's a lack of courage and so I thought I should. I felt quite shocked! I'm a huge fan of this man, and in particular of the courage I think he shows in a distinctive and sure ethical authorial tone. It had never occurred to me that the historical settings of his stories were props or a somehow cowardly avoiding of current events.
Morpurgo's books are all underpinned by big philosophical ideas. They speak of compassion and generosity of spirit, of hope and reconciliation, and they are never less than honest. They don't duck uncomfortable truths. Most of all, they have never struck me as fearful. What they don't do, however, is allocate blame. It's quite difficult to write about the Middle East in a way that is suitable for primary school children. Current conflicts may end in different ways and truths are hidden behind propaganda from all sides. But anyone can recognise suffering and children, in my experience, genuinely want to be able to identify with the lives of their peers in other cultures and situations, no matter how distressing these lives may be. So a book by Morpurgo, with its compassionate perspective, is always going to find the right mark.
Here, he takes care to show injuries on both sides of Israel's dreadful wall. Said has lost his brother and the girl in the blue headscarf has lost her mother. The point, for children, is not about who started it, who's right or who's wrong, who's good and who's bad, it's about what happens to individual lives and exploring possible ways out of horror - ways out that don't bring violence into the equation.
It's a genuinely moving tale - I, as usual, cried - and it's gently told. It's beautifully illustrated by Laura Carlin. It would make a great addition to home bookshelves, but I particularly hope every school library buys a copy.
My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.
I love it when writers for children engage with the kinds of devastating events we see on the news, particularly when they offer hope and even more particularly when they offer a compassionate perspective. It inspires debate and it makes children feel as though they can influence the future and make it better. And nowhere is in more need of a better future than the Middle East. Other books you could look at include A Child's Garden: A Story Of Hope by Michael Foreman for the very youngest readers, A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi for middle readers, and Message in a Bottle by Valerie Zenatti for older readers.
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