Child I

Posted: August 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

“Full of hope and sure to move young readers, while educating them about this important topic”
Tes (Times education Supplement) This Summer’s Hottest Books For Children

“Heartbreaking, moving…impossible not to be deeply touched while reading it”
Booktrust

“A sad and beautiful story about survival, friendship and hope. A book for children that all adults should read”
Patrice Lawrence

9780571337835

Steve explains here his reasons for writing Child I:

I am the son of a refugee – but that is not why I wrote Child I

Steve Tasane’s Child I tells the story of a group of undocumented children living in a refugee camp. They have stories to tell but no papers to prove them. Here, the author explains why he wrote his astonishing novella.

I am the son of a refugee, but that it not the only reason why I wrote Child I.

When I was a child I was a recipient of free school dinners, and charity bags full of toys and suchlike at Christmastime. We were a charity case and I had a foreign-sounding name – Tasane. But in some ways, the worst thing of all, was that my father then deserted me, my three brothers, and my mother. We were a broken home. I hated being a broken child.

My father fled Estonia in the aftermath of World War two, alternately oppressed by the Nazis and by Stalin’s communists. His brother was shot by Russian soldiers, and the family farm seized. The violence and terror was of such intensity that after he fled Estonia he never dared return, and he cut all ties with his family.

The fact that he was then so able to desert his new British family, his four sons, myself the youngest at 4 and a half, the eldest 11, was something I never fully understood. I suppose that he had developed an ability to cut himself off from emotional connections, and do whatever he felt necessary in order to continue surviving. In other words, once a refugee, always a refugee.

I grew up intensely envious of my friends who had a father. I grew up feeling the same otherness that my father must have felt as a refugee arriving in the UK. My home was broken, and I had a mysterious absent father. But my mother brought us up, and it was for my mother that I developed a deep love. Despite her struggles, her sense of shame, and our need to rely on charity.

But I had no idea about my name. About the country my father came from. My name Tasane had become Anglicized in its pronunciation, and I felt as if I had no cultural sense of who I wasI was just Tasane and knew that there was shame in that name. It was defined by free school meals and the knowing, sneery questions of my fellow pupils. I had no father, but the name I’d inherited from my father was alien. Was I, in fact, just foreign, with a mother who was not able to afford to feed us.

So, when I saw a video of a brother and sister celebrating their discovery of breadcrumbs in the mud in a refugee camp, I was compelled to write their story – my story – about losing family, losing identity, and how – anywhere at all in the world – children continue to seek out familial security and warmth, in whatever form they find it.

It can sometimes feel as if we live in a world without compassion. I was struck by how the children in the video had nothing but compassion, how they had no ill will towards others, how they simply wanted to survive and find their family.

Child I is not my story. But it draws together the links between my own shattered upbringing and that of young refugee children growing up in today’s crisis-defined world. Nothing has really changed. We just want to belong. We just want to not be hungry. We just want to be able to laugh and play. We want to be.    

And that is why I wrote Child I.

— Steve Tasane

 

Steve has been working on a number of poems to shadow Child I for performances and school visits. Here is his poem portrait of the indefatigable V, who claims to be “almost 16”

 

V

 

V walking in tight little circles,

muttering to herself, fists raised

like she’s going to do six rounds in a boxing ring

or run a race and go for gold.

V’s socks covered in dirt,

holes in the heels from stomping round.

V howling like a wolf, trumpeting like an elephant,

cackling like a hyena, hissing like a cat.

V rushing up to the Guard, facing the Guard,

hands on hips, jutting her chin at his face,

jabbing her finger. “He. Stole. My. Shoes!”

V scratching at him, leaping at him like a lion.

The Guard calling her wild, wrestling her,

but V clinging like a monkey,

getting her teeth into him, vicious.

The other Guards reaching for their clubs.

 

But V is far beyond fear.

She lived in a village visited by violence,

devastated by war. The family she loved

was bombed and evacuated.

V fled with her brother on a voyage across the sea.

The overcrowded vessel sank,

and V’s brother drowned.

Now she is on her own, she has nothing left to fear.

 

But the Guards call V a liar.

They say her version of events

is well-versed, but unverifiable.

Even so, they claim they

stole her shoes to keep her safe,

to stop her wandering into a place of danger.

V is vulnerable. V is a victim.

She is off the map.

Now V’s livid,

cursing beneath her breath,

spitting venom with a vengeance,

erupting like a volcano.

V versus the world. All in vain.

 

“I know!” I say. “Let’s play a game!”

I lead her to a crooked table football by the toilet block.

And here’s V, venting her rage against the spinning players

like her life depends on it,

demolishing me, seven goals to nil.

V skipping and whooping,

pumping and yelling, “Champ-i-on!”

V the invincible, and most invincible

of all when she’s all pumped up

and she is all pumped up right now.

V is vexed.

 

A charity drop causes a mad scrum for shoes.

Big men who live in the camp push and shove to the front.

V ducks between their legs. Fast,

digging her elbows against men twice as big,

emerging victorious,

clutching a pair of not-too-scrubby Nikes.

“Hah ha!” Leaping up and down. “Mine!”

Gazing at the trainers like treasure.

“Mine.” Bouncing on air.

“I am the Queen of the jungle!” she declares.

 

Tonight, V will walk out of the Camp in her brand new Nikes.

Tomorrow, the Guards will find her, drag her back

and confiscate the Nikes.

V, never giving in.

 

 

 

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