Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird

When you step into a new book it is like holding the hand of the author. You have to trust that he or she will protect you from harm. Right from the first page I knew Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird would be a harrowing journey and it was but thankfully Elizabeth Laird is a master storyteller with huge compassion. There were times when I almost stopped reading this book but now I am glad I persisted. Do not expect a trivial happy ending but our hero and his brother will at least be returned to their home and family. This is a powerful, emotional and important book suitable for a very mature Primary reader.

Rashid lives in Pakistan with his mother, baby sister and younger brother. Their father is dead and they are living in extreme poverty although as a young boy of eight Rashid has not yet realised the extent of his mother’s struggles.

One day a young Uncle arrives with an offer to take the boys to Dubai where they will have the best of everything “Clothes, toys, good education … rich Arabs bring little friends for them (their children) into their families. Treat them like their own. Give them bicycles and toy cars and all the food they can eat. They pay very well for them too.” This magical picture of life in Dubai is so far from the truth. The utterly horrible place where the boys are taken by people smugglers and the brutality of working as a camel jockey is, as I said, almost too awful to read but Rashid is a boy with a deep intelligence. He learns quickly which is partly how he survives but he also has an emotional intelligence well beyond his tender years.

I did not know anything about camel racing. Thankfully this practice is now banned. All of our reading is an experience and so although it was a difficult one I am glad Elizabeth Laird gave me the experience of meeting Rashid and other children like him.  I am really looking forward to hearing more from Elizabeth Laird at the IBBY Congress in London this year.

If you read this book you should also look for Ibqal by Francesco D’Adamo in our school library which is about a boy who is forced to work in a carpet factory.

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