Children shouldn't write books, they should read them. The creative writing they do at school is mainly useful for honing their critical skills and enabling them to enjoy the output of their elders and betters. Of course, every once in a while you do get a phenomenon like a Gordon Kormon who has gone from a slapstick strength at age fourteen to increasingly subtle adult authorship. Or perhaps a Harvey Smith of St. Bernard's, Newfoundland. He started this fine little novel when he was in Grade Six and with it won a Prism Award, part of a "national program designed to give children between the ages of seven and fourteen the opportunity to become professionally trained young authors". After six years and adult editorial input he can be proud of the result. Many a grown-up would be envious.
A fictionalized account of a starving Somali boy and a Canadian peacekeeping soldier, this is set in 1992, and describes life in a relief camp. Perhaps it takes a child's peculiar blend of innocence and callousness to attempt the creation of a story of hope and even humour out of a situation so saturated with despair and potential atrocities. Most older Canadians associate our participation in peacekeeping in Somalia with the death by torture of a captured teenager. Yet one wants to believe better. In this book, intriguingly published "in co-operation with Canadian Forces", Smith provides the alternative. It's an account of sun-scorched dust and rocks, telling of the starvation death of a younger brother, of the arrival of the Canadian Forces, of the developing relationships between refugees and the young soldiers, and a raid upon the food depot by a warlord's teenage mercenaries. Elementary school children should read this book, yet honesty dictates that a way also should be found to let them know about the killing of a teenager by troops who were there to succour the helpless, not perform abominations of their own.
You can't help wondering, with work of this quality, how much of it was Smith's own doing and how much he owes to adult input from parents, teachers, and editors. Yet in a sense this speculation is beside the point. No matter who wrote or rewrote it, this is a good book.