Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf

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de Graaf, Anne.  Son of a Gun. Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, 2006.  $8.00,

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.annedegraaf.com/Home.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: “Crazy mad and armed with an AK-47” describes Liberian child soldier Lucky and his sister Nopi.

Summary:

Snatched from their village school meeting, two Liberian children Nopi (10) and Lucky (8) are given guns and trained with other children to do the tasks that adults were too smart or to scared to do.  After Nopi is deafened defending her brother, they escape following other children.  They return to their village and home, which have been destroyed.  So they make their way to Monrovia to their grandparents, where thankfully they are reunited with their parents.  Trouble arises again later when then their parents and grandmother are taken to search for diamonds, leaving the children again on their own.  Nopi ends up being captured by rebel forces, becoming a third wife for a colonel.  Lucky is caught by the government army.  Both have to learn to fight to survive.  With nothing left, Lucky firmly becomes entrenched in the soldier mentality.  After five years of fighting, Lucky realizes the emptiness of his existence and returns home.  Nopi has been surviving in a refugee camp after her escape.  She, amazingly, finds her parents.  Soon the three are also reunited with Lucky, who turns in his gun to go to school.

Evaluation:

Written in alternating point of view, Son of a Gun tells the hopeless story of child soldiers forced to fight in the Liberian wars.  The language is simple and straightforward.  The bloody details are glossed over, but both children experience horrific violence and are expected to carry out terrible tasks.  De Graaf does a good job of showing how the child soldiers find a place and purpose in fighting which exists in a vacuum of opportunities and family.  The alternating points of view of children, as well as the shifts in time, does make the story confusing at times.  The plot is not linear, but circles back to similar events throughout the story.  This book shows a glimpse into the lives of child soldiers that is not so widespread.  Its message about the importance of education and options is clear.  It also does a good job of showing how and why the child soldiers are so firmly entrenched in the fighting.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, historical fiction

Appeal Factors: history, Liberian wars, child soldiers, promise of a future

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  • War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The capture at school
  • Meeting James in the midst of battle
  • Lucky’s frame of mind as a soldier

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does Lucky get comfortable in the life of a soldier?
  • What message does Lucky have for James?
  • Why do Lucky and James have such different views about being a soldiers at the end of the novel?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was about child soldiers in Liberia.  I was interested in this subject because I have never read much about the topic.

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