Anna's Reviews > Where Children Sleep

Where Children Sleep by James Mollison
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Aug 23, 12

bookshelves: anthropology, photography, the-personal-is-political, reviewed, childrens, tween, illustrated-books, nonfiction
Read from August 22 to 23, 2012

The concept of this book is simple, but devastatingly effective. Each two page spread has a portrait of a child, a paragraph about that child's life and a photo of the place where they sleep. And within that simple set up there are whole universes. Some children have rooms to themselves that they can decorate as they wish, some live in dormitories, some sleep with their families, one sleeps on discarded tires in a rubbish tip, and another on an outdoor mattress because his family were arrested when they tried erecting a tent. There are first worlders and third worlders, members of traditional tribes and members of pop cultural tribes (like the Scottish girl whose punk family has raised her as a punk). Some are surrounded by love and community, others have been cast out, like the Senegalese girl believed to be cursed by witches who will now no longer be allowed to live with women of child bearing age. Some of the children get to concentrate on their education and play, some get to devote time to hobbies like beauty pageants and hunting, some only get to work and others get a little study time along with their jobs. Reading about teachers like the one in Kathmandu who has made it his mission to educate child domestic workers like the one in this book (whose cage-like sleeping space is truly disturbing) made me tear up a bit. He's bringing so much joy & richness to a very hard life. And James Mollison is bringing a torch to light the darkness that separates us from each other, making it hard for us to see both the diversity in our experiences on this planet and the universal constants that hold true for us all. This book helps us see each other that little bit more clearly.

The one limitation this book has is that Mollison was limited by practical constraints: he could only photograph children in countries he was visiting for other projects, so while the book covers a goodly amount of the globe the majority of the children are from a few countries: the US, Brazil, Nepal, China & the West Bank are particularly well represented. But even here Mollison as made intelligent use of his resources by choosing children from different walks of life in each country: the child of a wealthy lawyer living in a penthouse on 5th Ave in NYC has a very different experience than the Appalachian girl whose parents have McJobs and whose house is literally falling apart. Similarly the girl whose older brother died as a suicide bomber for Palestine has a very different experience of life than the son of an Israeli West Bank settler - and this book shows that even the sons of West Bank settlers have different lives, we can see one's artsy, hipsterish settlement bedroom, while another's looks impersonal & straight from IKEA.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who just gets curious about people and how they live. The text is straightforward & I think the book is suitable for all ages, anyone ten or older should be able to while away hours reading it, looking at the pictures and thinking about our world.
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