Think back to your childhood bedroom. Can you picture it? It’s surprising the precise images and emotions and memories conjured up by that space. For me, it’s the sounds that drifted through my windows in my small, northern Minnesota town — wind stirring the towering jack pines, a droning lawnmower, orioles singing; safe, sweet, quiet.
British photographer James Mollison took this idea of the significance of the places where children sleep, and pursued it as a means of drawing attention to children’s rights. Traveling around the world, he photographed children, ages 4-17, and the place each one usually sleeps.
This stunning book is a compilation of his work. It is one of the most thought-provoking collections I’ve seen. 56 children. From a Liberian former child soldier, to a 4-year-old whose life is consumed by child beauty pageants; a homeless boy from the streets of Rio de Janeiro; a Nepalese teen working as a domestic in order to support her family. Children living in luxury Fifth Avenue, Manhattan apartments; children living atop putrid garbage heaps. Children living with both parents and siblings; orphaned children. An incredible array of young people from utterly disparate walks of life gaze at us from these pages. Across from each young face is a full page photo of his or her sleeping space. Utterly compelling.
A small paragraph accompanies each child. We find out who this is as well as a few details about his or her home and living conditions. Some share about their family background; some tell about school, or work. Some tell what they dream of becoming as grown ups. The vast differences in the lives these children have already led is mind-boggling. The pain and suffering of some; the material comforts of others; the responsibilities, the opportunities, the values, the goals.
The texts were written with 9-13 year old children in mind. I am far older than 13, however, and found this riveting! There are, indeed, some unsettling stories in this collection; there are, among a few of the oldest subjects, some life stories which would be heavier than you may want to present to a very young child. However, the vast majority of this book could be shared with children younger than 9, and there is really no upper age limit. The text does not talk down to children.
Mollison says in his introduction, that he hopes his work “will help children think about inequality…and perhaps start to figure out how, in their own lives, they may respond.” I believe he will accomplish that goal through this phenomenal, provacative book. Highly recommended!
Here’s the Amazon link: James Mollison: Where Children Sleep