Written by three siblings, The Child’s Rights is a touching look at the human capacity to empathize. Based on a true story, the book shows how a young refugee inspires his new classmates to learn about the horrors facing young people around the world.
Afif befriends the newest student in his class, Kareem, eventually inviting him to his birthday party. When a thunderstorm rolls through, however, Kareem becomes terrified and inconsolable. His mother arrives and explains that the thunder and lightning reminded him of air raids that occurred in the country they escaped from. Afif and the other children begin to research issues affecting young people around the world. They write essays for their own class on the fundamental rights of children everywhere and eventually present their work at an alumni gathering for their school. The story ends with a poem that conveys the speaker’s empathy for children who suffer from hunger, loneliness and other calamities.
The authors are to be commended for addressing social issues often avoided in children’s fiction and the narrative is straight-forward and easy to follow. The story would benefit, however, from making Kareem a more complex and relatable character. Instead, he almost disappears from the story after his background is explained; while many students present essays on what they feel a child’s most fundamental right is, Kareem does not.
The book also uses ambitious language for young readers, especially for those encountering some concepts for the first time: emotional security and malnutrition are referenced but not explained, and difficult words such as “gratis” and “obligatory” are used throughout. At the same time, the story is earnest and engages with concepts few picture books dare to touch, so these issues can easily be forgiven.
The Child’s Rights is an imperfect but important book. Despite the flaws mentioned, it offers adults a way to initiate challenging conversations that help young readers see the world beyond their own homes and towns.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.