Written by: Ali Seidabadi, Tiny Owl’s Persian editor
The telly was on and we were packing things. With difficulty, we parted with some items, leaving them behind, while the rest that we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave we packed to take to our new home. The television was showing long queues of refugees who had put their whole lives in a suitcase or a duffle bag, seeking a better life in Europe.
Parting is not easy, but sometimes the situation becomes so dire that makes parting look easy.
In our early teenage years, our country hosted two groups of refugees: Afghans fleeing their civil war, seeking asylum in the eastern towns of Iran, including Mashhad where I came to know them, and Iranian-Iraqis, who after several generations of living in Iraq had been exiled as the Iran-Iraq war that lasted eight years was about to begin.
Then a few years ago, the name of Polish Cemetery in Tehran caught my eye and I learned about the grievous story of World War II refugees in Tehran, the majority of whom were the children and teenagers who had lost their parents and were known as Tehran children.
As I was packing our belongings, watching the lines of refugees, and listening to the painful news, I was thinking what can I, a writer of children’s and young adult books, do about it all? Can I for instance compose a story about Tehran children?
There is a controversy among writers and scholars in our country over admitting such topics to the stories and poems written for children and young adults. Some think that these subjects pertain to adults. They argue that children and teenagers have neither played a role in creating these disasters, nor can they do anything to bring them to an end. Thus, it is not their concern, and if such topics pervade the literature addressed to this young audience, the resulting fiction will be dismal and unappealing. On the other hand, a second group maintain that although children play no part in causing such disasters, but a great number of children and teenagers have their lives affected by these devastations. Moreover, individuals must learn about such matters at an early age, so that they will help prevent their occurrence in future.
There are only a few children’s and young adult books dealing with this topic that I can recall. One of them is David Almond’s Jackdaw Summer, which alludes to this issue.
The topic is more pronounced in a Japanese story called Naomi’s Road. A six-year-old Japanese child resides in Canada with her family, but the advent of the Second World War causes Canada to banish them. She loses her parents in exile and becomes a vagrant for a long while.
Most of these stories are about wars and part of war is vagrancy and asylum seeking. I, too, have written a book called The Throneless Prince of the Underground about a teenage boy looking for his brother, who is possibly a refugee in another country.
Yet I don’t know what I can do as a writer of children’s and young adult books about devastating human catastrophes and how I can address these issues to be effective and yet do not upset my audience.