These stories of the lives of six street children and two families living in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Guatemala are often heart-breakingly sad. I think this must have been a challenging book to research and write, not least because there are many gaps in the information the children were able to give. But what shines through is the resilience and courage these young people show however difficult their circumstances. Children have told the author and the illustrator about past experiences, present difficulties and life style and their optimism for their future.
Sometimes members of the children’s own families seem to have acted unkindly. 12- or 13-year-old Santos – he is not quite sure of his age – from Mozambique confides that ‘my Mum didn’t like me, so she left’. And Elizabeth from Guatemala, now 12, relates how her mother ‘just left me in the street’. But we should point out to young readers that poverty, family breakdown and illness can cause despair and hopelessness and affect a person’s attitude and behaviour. Some parents show great resourcefulness. Ingrid from Guatemala, a widow whose husband was robbed and murdered, has managed to borrow money to start a business selling tourist trinkets. She has been able to rent a room so that her children do not sleep on the street and they go happily to school for part of each day. The illustrations, and perhaps particularly June Allan’s art work, show Ingrid’s smiling children eager to train as journalists, teachers or office workers. There are, of course, hostels and charitable refuges for children living in poverty on the streets. But, even if family life is imperfect many children would rather be with parents, siblings or other relations however good the centre they are staying at. Miguel working in the streets of Mozambique and attending the Meninos Centre wants to be ‘happy with a family-that’s all’.
This book is likely to prove a good starting point for classroom discussion. Rather than only talking in general terms about the plight of refugees and street children, young readers will empathise much more if they read stories about the struggles of individuals. This is the great strength of this book. I want to end with the comment of nine-year-old Chippo living on the streets in a small place in Zimbabwe: ‘ It’s scary sleeping outside.’