trauma and conflict, love and courage, despair and hope

the kites are flying 559x648.jpg

by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Laura Carlin - Walker Books, 2010
ages 4 to grown-up / diversity, s.o.s.e.

There's an overwhelming feeling of 'if only' when you reach the end of this book . . .

If only … children really could lead the world to peace. If only … all the walls – real and metaphorical – could come tumbling down with ‘no trumpets needed, as they had been once in Jericho, only the laughter of children.’ 

If only … we could heal the wounds of war.

The Kites are Flying! is the story of a Palestinian boy and his Israeli friend, a girl he has never spoken to. It’s an extraordinary tale. 

With the sadnesses of the Gaza and Israel conflict fresh in our collective memory, this is a very timely and useful book that raises more questions than it answers—but raises the very best type of questions: questions that have less to do with politics and more to do with people:

Who are the people that become statistics? 

How do families respond to trauma in conflict? 

How does it feel to lose a loved one to circumstances that are seem to be without hope? 

Why do we respond in such varied ways to stresses and trauma? 

What is it that binds us to humanity? And so on.

The story is told from the perspectives of Said, a severely traumatised Palestinian boy and Max, a reporter/movie maker planning to make a movie about the wall around the West Bank. 

What makes it remarkable is that it manages to allow an insight into the full extent of the damage suffered by Said and his family as a result of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, without dehumanising or vilifying the Israelis. 

If only… all reporting about conflict took such a compassionate and even minded approach.

The illustrations by Laura Carlin are hopeful and even exuberant sometimes. I think they do their job wonderfully well—they take the story seriously and help to immerse us in Said’s world, but they remain optimistic.

Michael Morpurgo is one of my very favourite writers. It’s the way he crafts his words and the fearless approach he takes to difficult subjects that really resonate with me—and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is certainly a difficult subject, one that really needs lots of discussion for children to begin to build a framework of understanding around it. 

Here are a few of my favourite bites from The Kites are Flying! that help with building that framework and, more importantly, a framework around building peace:

“You only dream the beautiful dream, little brother, because of the nightmare. It’s like day always follows night. You can’t have one without the other. Light is only light …. when you’ve seen how dark the dark is.”

“I’ve got to keep going because it’s the right dream to have, the right thing to do, the only way to work things out.”

“I have to see and hear the whole story, to know it as it’s lived on both sides. Everything’s as silent as the stars up here and as beautiful as peace.”

“…it was the laughter that mattered. It was the laughter that would one day resonate so loud that this wall, like all others, would come tumbling down.”

One final ‘if only’:  If only …. the story of Said and his kites could become part of the narrative that shapes the way we think about war and the cost of war. 

There are not many better ways to spend an hour or two on a windy afternoon than lying under quilts and reading this story out loud - it’s an illustrated short story rather than a picture book.

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(This is also a wonderful book to read when trying to understand grief—various means of coping with grief are shown and all are valued.)