CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 15 . . . . December 14, 2012
Because most Canadian children will know K'naan's song "Wavin' Flag", they are likely to be interested in the story behind the song. It is more than just a soccer anthem. At a level which is easy enough for young children to understand, When I Get Older describes the experience of being a newcomer to Canada.
The story begins in Somalia where K'naan lived with his family, including his poet grandfather. When war breaks out, his grandfather writes him the poem which becomes the refrain of the song. The family moves first to America and then to Canada. K'naan describes some typical immigrant experiences, such as winter in Toronto coming as a shock and not having the right footwear. When K'naan faces struggles at school, especially with fitting into a new culture, his mother tells him to use his words to express his feelings. His friends think he is a good singer, and at the end of the school year, they perform the song that the world now knows as "Wavin' Flag".
When I Get Older reads like narrative non-fiction. It doesn't show; it tells. It's not the kind of story that children will likely read over and over again, but it is an excellent way to broach complex and difficult subjects like immigration and the war in Somalia. It is also a story of inspiration, one which tells how one boy who had very little when he came to Canada was able to take his talent and experience an extraordinary level of success. Children and adults will appreciate the positive influence of music and the arts on K'naan's life, a life which had many challenges and much violence. The book also includes the full lyrics to the song and a brief history of Somalia, making it an important addition for classrooms and school libraries.
The illustrations, by Rudy Gutierrez, enhance the story. The bright, bold colours and lines carry the feeling of Somalia all the way through. Colours reflect the emotion on each page, as well as the climate. The page describing winter in Canada is, naturally, done mostly in blues while the layouts depicting hope and inspiration use yellows, orange, and red.
My only word of warning before reading this book is that you will have the "Wavin' Flag" song stuck in your head for days afterward! That is not a bad thing: it is a great song, as is the story behind it.
Barb Janicek is a Children's Librarian with Kitchener Public Library, in Kitchener, ON.
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