When Deborah Ellis, author of “Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Children” visits High School March 7 and March 9, she wants to make sure the high school students and community members who attend come away with the message that we are alike more than we are different.
Her visit is part of this year’s “Coming Together in Skokie” program, which is focusing on the Assyrian community. The Assyrian people come from an area in what is now Iraq. The program is sponsored by the Niles Township High School District 219, local elementary school districts, the village of Skokie, the Skokie Public Library and other groups.
“If people are from that community, I hope they will see themselves reflected in the book and see their stories told with dignity,” said Ellis, whose best-known series, “The Breadwinner,” was inspired by an interview with a mother in a refugee camp in Afghanistan. “For other people, I hope they will realize that their neighbors are not all that strange. Maybe the people will get to know one another.”
To write the book, Ellis met with children who were living with their families in refugee camps in Jordan and a few whose families had made their way to Canada, where she lives.
She writes mostly about children, she said, because few people ask them what they are thinking and feeling.
“We think we know,” she said. “We think we are sheltering them from all of the horrible things, but we’re not. What does it mean to have your home taken away by soldiers, or to have your village blown up?”
It’s also important for young people in the United States and Canada to understand that our countries are involved in real wars that have real consequences for people.
“We seem to have this idea that we press buttons and don’t get our hands dirty,” she said. “Except for children who have family members in the military. They have a much different idea of war.”
Ellis said that she came away from writing this book with one ray of hope, something that she finds a bit surprising as she calls herself “a real cynic.”
That hope comes from the people she met while she researched the book.
“I got to meet people who have been through horrible things, and they still get up every day and try to make their community better, whether by planting a garden or setting up a school or recycling things from the dump to make school supplies,” she said. “I think we’re stronger, braver and more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.”