Tag Archives: Childhood

“Lullabies for Little Criminals”: where’s the love?

This is one of those books that you love because the writing is phenomenal, not because of the content. In fact, this was a tough book to read and made me feel uncomfortable for wanting to know what will happen next. I truly enjoyed the skills of Heather O’Neill and I can see why Lullabies for Little Criminals is a Canadian must-read.


Source: https://www.amazon.ca/Lullabies-Little-Criminals-Heather-ONeill/dp/0060875070

My thoughts about this book are a bit scattered. It provoked a lot of thought and a lot of questions. Also, self-examination. So, please forgive the jumpiness of this blog as I skip between ideas.

The scene that angered me the most was when she shows up at her boyfriend’s house. Her dad locked her out, she just got into a fight with a friend that she usually crashes over night with, and her only options are to be helped by Xavier’s parents, freeze outside, or return to her pimp. I was so angry and self-righteous when Xavier’s parents shut the door in her face. Couldn’t they see that she needed help? I have a friend who took in and basically adopted her son’s girlfriend because she needed support and family. Even after they broke up, by friend still supported her son’s ex-girlfriend. I also think of the TV show My So-Called Life, where the teacher takes in Ricki because no one else wants to go near him. Where is the risky compassion? Where is the sacrificial help? But then I think to myself, where is my risky compassion? Where is my sacrificial help? It’s easy to watch others and make judgement. It’s not so easy to actively help others.


Source: https://onsizzle.com/i/everybody-is-a-saint-when-they-talk-about-someone-elses-10448484

Baby is an interesting character. She enjoys learning and tries hard at school. She often describes scenes where she is doing her homework in questionable situations and locations. At one point, she ends up in advanced classes and flourishes. Yet her living situation means that she doesn’t have a stable location to put her belongings, she doesn’t have consistent routines and activities, and she doesn’t have a reliable support network. As a teacher, this broke my heart. It’s so hard to see a student who is bright and eager to learn miss out on the challenge of learning because they can’t focus on the learning. baby has to look after her dad, navigate her neighbourhood, deal with the trauma of thinking drugs and prostitution are just a normal part of life. Heartbreaking. As a reader, I wanted to jump in and save Baby because O’Neill did such a brilliant job of narrating Baby’s character. The innocence of her situation and the ignorance of her plight makes her so lovable. She is trying her best in what she believes is a normal situation.

That being said, I couldn’t help but think that the ending was a bit too good, a bit too saviour-like. Baby and her father drive off into the sunset to live with her dad’s family in the country. If only every story of tragedy had this mysterious family help.  I think of Jane Eyre whose long-lost uncle leaves her loads of money and she is set for life. I think of the girl from The Wonder who is whisked away into a new life with new parents. Yes, these characters deserve all good things, yet that’s not the reality for the majority of people in these situations. If you want proof, look at the stats. Over 30,000 Canadian young people were experiencing homelessness at some point last year. Over 30,000 young people. Teens. That number is disturbing and tragic. Not all of those stories end happily. Although to be fair, we don’t know the ending of Baby’s story but we leave with hope.


Source: http://www.charliesfreewheels.ca/2014/11/25/job-opportunities-essential-alleviate-youth-homelessness/

One thing I truly appreciated about O’Neill’s book is the transition she lets Baby witness. Baby notices a few time that since she started to look less like a kid, she was treated differently. Poor, homeless kid: aw, poor dear. Poor, homeless teen: get a job and grow up. I think that this is true and hard to hear: we judge teens as adults, when really they are still kids. This is one thing I have learned teaching jr high and high school: pre-teens and teens still need adult support, whether they see it that way or not. That’s the saddest part about the book for me, is Baby realizing that she is treated differently and is almost stuck. She hasn’t changed and her situation hasn’t changed, but the perception and judgements of others have. This is why I think that O’Neill’s book is so well written: she taps into something that we know about ourselves, and even though we may not have had similar experiences to Baby, we have all had similar moments of clarity and sadness for the passing of our own childhoods.

So overall, I truly loved this book. It got me thinking and it got me feeling. In the end, that’s why we love reading, isn’t it?


“Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight”: both sides now

My cousin lent me Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller. What an adventure! Fuller tells the story of her adventures as a European girl growing up around different acreages and cities around Africa. Loss of family members, fear of rebels, a mother with mental illnesses, and every thing in between made Fuller’s story hard to put down, and hard to believe at times!


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24687.Don_t_Let_s_Go_to_the_Dogs_Tonight

I found it interesting how the colonial connections to Canada were there in the book.  At one point, Fuller writes about how King Lobengula of the Matabeles in 1888 was tricked into surrendering mineral rights to the British South African Company (Pg 150).  Suddenly white settlers were moving in and Africans were given places to live, reserves (Tribal Trust Lands).  So it seems the work they did in Canada to move European settlers onto Aboriginal lands helped them in doing something completely similar in other areas of the world, especially Rhodesia.


Source: https://period6-5imperialism10.wikispaces.com/home

While I was reading Fuller’s book, by Dad lent me the memoir of another African, this time a man who survived being a child soldier: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah.


Source: http://gcc.concernusa.org/uncategorized/a-long-way-gone-inspired-song/

Beah’s story is heartbreaking.  He lost his family through extreme violence and didn’t have the option of moving around and finding a new place to set up, like Fuller’s family.  Beah ended up roaming around Sierra Leone looking for ways to stay alive, yet was recruited into the government army.  He was given drugs, training, and weapons. At 16 he was rescued by UNICEF, yet he didn’t see it as a rescue until much later when he had healed from the physical and psychological damage.

One of the things I found interesting was the use of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  While teaching Julius Caesar last year, I found that many countries in Africa have claimed Julius Caesar and perform it often.  The message of freedom, of fighting for democratic government, and of putting other before the self in politics speaks to several African countries struggling to get free from European control.  Here is a video of Brutus’ speech and then Antony’s speech.  Amazing and challenging!

I have to say that reading these two memoirs back-to-back was very interesting.  What Fuller didn’t notice and only saw as a threat to her life, Beah lived and suffered through.  From a European view and ability to leave, to an African view of destiny and hopelessness for change.

Thank goodness for UNICEF and all those working to end the recruitment of child soldiers.  Yet we still have a long ways to go if the reaction to Omar Khadr is an indication of National public opinion.  Yet there is hope: Mr. Khadr is now able to play soccer, get treatment for his eye sight, see his family, and begin to live a life that has nothing to do with war.


Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/omar-khadr-free-on-bail-vows-to-prove-he-is-a-good-person-1.3065692

“Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?” (Psalm 127:3)

“When I was a child, my grandmother told me that the sky speaks to those who look and listen to it.  She said, ‘In the sky there are always answers and explanations for everything: every pain, every suffering, joy, and confusion.’  That night I wanted the sky to talk to me.” (Beah, Pg 166)


Source: https://www.saddahaq.com/yemens-list-of-shame-child-soldiers-and-death-of-innocents