At the start of 1991, eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil was consumed by his love for soccer, video games, and American television shows. Then, on January 17, Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein went to war with thirty-four nations lead by the United States. Over the next forty-three days, Ali and his family survived bombings, food shortages, and constant fear. Ali and his brothers played soccer on the abandoned streets of their Basra neighborhood, wondering when or if their medic father would return from the war front. Cinematic, accessible, and timely, this is the story of one ordinary kid’s view of life during war.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: War
Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 4-7. “In my lifetime, we have barely had any peace,” says 11-year-old Ali Fadhil as he braces for the impact of 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, the second war he’s weathered in his short life. Ali loves the West and it’s many offerings: comic books, TV shows, and video games. He doesn’t love Saddam, Saddam’s war, or having to put life on hold while coalition forces strike Basra, Ali’s beloved, ancient hometown. Of course, Ali knows better than to criticize the dictator publicly or risk his family’s harm. Armed with a brisk first-person narrative, Roy (Yellow Star, 2006) captures Fadhil’s real-life recollections of the Gulf War. What strikes are the mundane aspects of the brief war: going out to play and explore a familiar but ruined neighborhood, the boredom and fear of awaiting scheduled airstrikes, living with uncertainty about loved ones returning home. Still, there’s room for optimism and humor despite Fadhil’s harrowing experience. Roy ends with Fadhil’s third war, and his role in bringing Saddam to justice is the poetic finale of a personal fight.
Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2018)
Ali’s hometown of Basra, Iraq, is near the border with Kuwait, which makes it a dangerous place to live in 1991, during Operation Desert Storm.Eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil is a fan of American television and Superman comic books. He loves English class and playing football (soccer) with his friends. His Christian, Kurdish family’s affluent lifestyle is interrupted when a coalition of countries initiates military action to stop Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Because of the war, Ali’s father is away, bombs fall daily, and Ali sleeps in “the safe room” with his mother and siblings. The food supply is cut off, so the family depends on government rations once their own stores run out. When his older brother, Shirzad, is appointed head of the family in his father’s absence and his mother begins burning his precious comic collection for heat, Ali has nearly all he can handle. Based on co-author Fadhil’s own childhood, the novel reads somewhat like a journal, detailing scenes in the neighborhood and changes to daily life, but as is often the case with real life, it lacks a solid climax and resolution. While Ali’s voice and emotional life lack the vitality that would draw readers in to the story, the snapshot of his society at war is strong, and there are very few children’s books in English with Kurdish protagonists. A well-researched piece of historical fiction, just a bit flat as a novel. (Historical fiction. 8-13)
About the Author
Jennifer Roy is the author of the highly acclaimed Yellow Star, which won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, was an ALA Notable Book, a School Library Journal Best Book, and a NYPL Top Book. She is also the author of Cordially Uninvited and Mindblind and the coauthor of the Trading Faces series.
Her website is www.jenniferroy.com.
Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein Teacher’s Guide
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