For those of us strongly influenced by Beverley Naidoo’s first novel, Journey to Jo’burg (1985) Children of the Stone City is another must read. Whereas Journey to Jo’burg was very specifically set in apartheid South Africa, Children of the Stone City is set in an unnamed city. Naidoo explains her reasons for this poignantly in her author’s note:
‘The ancient Stone City of my story’ setting is unnamed and its people are simply identified as Permitteds and Nons. The two categories can be found in societies around the world. I hope readers may be stirred to think about the consequences for all children in societies powerfully divided into Permitteds and Nons. The UN convention on the Rights of the Child requires equality!’
Children of the Stone City is the story of friendships (not just the children’s but also, importantly, of the generations before them), families, justice (and the lack of it), story and music. While the novel is written in the third person, it is focalised for the most part through Adam, with two sections, focalised through his sister, Leila. Adam and Leila are Non children and when their father dies of a heart attack at the beginning of the book, their lives amongst the Permitteds, including the paying of the school fees and the renewal of their mother’s license to live in the stone city, are even more precarious. Their close friend, Zak, who lives next door and loves to skateboard is louder and bolder than his music loving friends, and the story takes on a darker tone when Zak’s anger results in a small prank that leads the Permitted police to conduct night raids in both houses as they search for the boys.
This is a novel about injustice. The unfairness of the world may well bring tears of frustration to readers. It being set in an anonymous place will allow for fresh discussions where children may recognise parallels in many parts of the world, the novel will give space and ample opportunity to encourage discussions of empathy – to debate the difficult questions. What stands out in this novel though is hope. The novel may be marked as suitable for high KS2 or KS3 for while the conclusion is hopeful, all is not resolved. This is a page turner, it may well spark anger or tears, but it will remind readers that the Arts – stories, poetry and music will always be powerful, as is tellingly evident in Naidoo’s dedication ‘To all my grandchildren and the young dream-makers of a shared world without Permitteds and Nons – and where weapons of war are transformed into musical instruments.’ When Adam plays his grandfather’s violin, he finds personal solace and a way to access his past family, but, more than this, he discovers a platform to begin make change in the future.
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