26 June 2010

The Kites Are Flying

by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Laura Carlin

Walker Books. Junior. Hardback, rrp $16.95

The Kites Are Flying by former UK Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo is a masterful piece of storytelling – entertaining and thought-provoking.

The story is told from two perspectives - the notebook entries of British television journalist Max and eight-year-old Said’s unspoken conversations with his dead brother Mahmoud. On a trip to make a documentary, Max meets Said, a Palestinian shepherd boy who spends his days on the hillside watching the flock while making his beloved kites. But the innocence of this lifestyle is deceptive. Said lives on the West Bank where a wall separates Palestinian and Israeli peoples. Violence is never far away. Helicopters, guns, tanks. Said hasn’t spoken since Mahmoud was killed when the boys were flying kites in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now every kite Said makes is inscribed with four words – Salaam, Mahmoud and Said. He sends each hopeful message of peace over the wall, into the Israeli settlement where a girl in a blue headscarf sits in her wheelchair. Two years ago, she was injured in a car bomb ambush.

When Max mentions the girl, Said’s family have no sympathy. They resent that she is alive and Mahmoud is dead. “(Said will) find out soon enough what they are like over there… She is an occupier… All occupiers are the same,” Uncle Gasbag says.

But Said already knows what his family cannot understand. One day, his kites fly back over the wall. The occupiers have sent a return message – Shalom and a drawing of a dove. People on both sides clap, whoop and whistle. And Said speaks again. Words pour out as he expresses his jubilation to Max and Mahmoud.

Laura Carlin’s illustrations provide an almost physical feel of setting and place in an area of the world many will be unfamiliar with. The land is wonderfully exotic and strange but it is equally foreboding and dangerous. On the West Bank, personal joy and tragedy exist side by side.

The Kites Are Flying is a marvellous book of many layers and readers of varying ages will experience it on different levels. But ultimately, the result will always be the same. Like Max, the reader is richer for having known Said. There is always hope. We should never give up. We should do whatever we can to encourage peace.

(First printed in Booktopia Newsletter Jan 2010.)


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