- Genocide in Contemporary Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Cambodia to Darfur by Jane M. Gangi
This volume is thoroughly researched and well structured for ease of use. Not only does Gangi provide succinct details of the various conflicts she discusses, she has also compiled a useful resource for anyone aiming to use children’s and young adult literature to teach young audiences about the complex geopolitical climates that have historically led to genocide. Gangi offers deft analysis of books that should be of interest to children’s literature scholars, as well as recommendations and a whole chapter dedicated to teaching genocide, designed for educators whose main expertise may not be in children’s literature.
Gangi begins her introduction with some sobering statistics, such as estimates that at least 22 million noncombatants have died due to mass violence since 1945, to remind readers why learning about genocide is crucial in today’s society (1). She also explains some of the complexities of writing and teaching about genocide and provides a brief overview of the postcolonial theories of Clare Bradford, [End Page 410] Edward Said, and Emmanuel Levinas. She reminds readers of the need for (especially white) authors to try speaking “with and to rather than for others” in hopes of achieving “respect for ‘the Other’” (147; emphasis in original).
Next, Gangi explains her process of evaluating children’s books about genocide, beginning with an attention to “how and whether human beings are objectified or ‘othered’” (4). She also suggests attending to whose voices are being privileged and whose are being marginalized by the texts, and she clearly articulates five questions that she uses to classify books according to these considerations. These questions provide a framework for readers who may not be experienced in literary analysis. To this end, she borrows an existing framework for evaluating historical texts from Stahl and Shanahan. Notably, Gangi does not dwell on the question of whether literature about genocide should be written for young audiences, instead focusing on the fact that it already is. She admits that “writers for young people must navigate this tension between over-simplification and nightmare-inducing intensity,” and that whether or not a text is traumatizing for a child reader “will vary from child to child” (6, 7). She also gives a brief overview of the definition of genocide and emphasizes the grave importance of using the correct words when writing about conflict. For example, when talking about Rwanda and Bosnia, she states, “Attacks on masses of unarmed innocents are beyond the conventions of legitimate warfare. To call a genocide civil war dishonors innocent victims” (11). This careful attention to language is a theme throughout the book.
Once Gangi establishes the perimeters for assessing and evaluating books about genocide for young audiences, she separates each of the first five chapters into specific areas of conflict, including Cambodia, Guatemala, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. In each chapter she succinctly provides background information on the conflict itself. Gangi adds an element of ethos in most chapters by describing her writing and research process and how she consulted with scholars from these regions to complete her book. For instance, in the Cambodia chapter, there is a section with the heading “Speaking with and to a Cambodian Scholar,” and the chapter on Rwanda is coauthored by a Rwandan woman, Isabelle Umugwaneza. Gangi also draws from governmental and human rights agency reports and news stories to add credibility to her analysis and educate the reader about the various conflicts.
Another of the major strengths of this book is how, in the last section of each chapter, Gangi juxtaposes what she refers to as “problematic texts” with those that are “recommended” and “recommended with reservations.” Her deft analysis of examples from each category provides a model for how other scholars or educators may strengthen their own skills in evaluating books about genocide for inclusion in the classroom, library, or home. Her bibliography of recommended texts at the end of each chapter is a great reference source. In justifying her categorization of...