How do you even start to explain to a child what’s happening in the Middle East?
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen some dreadful reports from Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Do we turn off the TV and radio and hide the newspaper? I’ve been sorely tempted.
We’re lucky in Australia that violence on such a scale is largely alien to us. It would be forgivable for kids here to think that such problems are ‘overseas problems’ with little relevance to their lives.
But, of course, we know that such ‘overseas problems’ have a history of finding their way to us sooner or later, often in ways we don’t expect—in the past century, Australia has not been immune to terrorism, refugees or war.
Earlier this year, we bought the rights to Karin Gruss and Tobias Kreijschi’s One Red Shoe, a picture book for older readers set in a place which could well be the Gaza Strip. It was published a month ago—before the tragic events of recent weeks.
It’s the challenging story of a photojournalist sent out to cover the bombing of a school bus by his newspaper. He encounters an injured child in hospital whose single red sneaker is identical to those in a pair he recently gave his far-away nephew.
The red sneaker reminds the photographer that, but for an accident of geography, the injured child could be his nephew.
With great sensitivity, One Red Shoe allows the reader to leave their own world of relative safety and comfort and enter a war zone. It encourages them to imagine what it might be like for the children who live there. What if that injured child were me, or one of my friends? What if it was me trying to play in those streets of rubble?
The book doesn’t attempt to pick sides or go into the complex background of the Middle East’s problems. It’s just a picture book, after all.
But it does encourage empathy in the reader—empathy for the suffering. From that empathy may spring a desire for greater understanding of situations around world where violence reigns.
The world is not a great place for many millions of children who are forced to grow up in harm’s way.
If One Red Shoe can encourage our children to feel more empathy for others’ circumstances, and to be a little more grateful for their own good fortune, then it may well have served its purpose.