Oranges in No Man's Land by Elizabeth Laird

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Oranges in No Man's Land by Elizabeth Laird

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Packing an enormous emotional punch, Elizabeth Laird brings us a topical book about Lebanon that will do more for a child's understanding of war than a news report ever could yet is neither frightening nor distressing. Smart punchy writing and full of empathy for the child's perspective. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: September 2006
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
ISBN: 0330450271

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Ayesha has no idea why her country is at war with itself, but she knows that it is. Forced to leave their home in Southern Lebanon, Ayesha and her family become refugees in Beirut. Ayesha's father is out of the country, and when her mother is killed by bomb, she has no way of contacting him. Ayesha, her two little brothers and her grandmother, ill with severe hypertension, must shift for themselves. They find a corner of a bombed out flat, shared with a dozen other families, and do the best they can. Life is all about finding food and avoiding checkpoints and trying to remember which flags belong to the soldiers least likely to shoot at you.

It's not all bad though. People look out for each other and share what little they have. Ayesha even makes a friend, Samar, a deaf girl. Can you even begin to imagine what it must be like for a deaf child in this kind of chaos? Had you even considered what happens to disabled people when war displaces entire communities? To my eternal shame, I hadn't.

And then, one day, Ayesha's grandmother runs out of her medication. Unless Ayesha can find her doctor, on the other side of town, the side of town with the dangerous flags, she will die.

I first discovered Elizabeth Laird three years ago when I bought A Little Piece Of Land, the story of a Palestinian boy who dreams of becoming a football star and lives under Israeli blockades and curfews in Ramallah. I was astounded by it. It was a simply wonderful book. Then I discovered that it had been banned by the largest bookshop in Canada and effectively censored from book shops all over the United States. It wasn't listed at when I checked, but was in stock at Yet Laird's story of a Kurdish child living in Saddam Hussein's Iraq was freely available. I was so incensed, I couldn't even manage to review the book. Since then, my children and I have bought and read just about everything she has written. We don't see a one-sided political manifesto, unless it's a manifesto for children.

Laird writes about difficult subjects - war, asylum, disability, abuse - all from the viewpoint of a child. Yet I don't identify her as an issue-based writer. I see her as a powerful and passionate advocate for children, to children. I'm certain that the children who read her can feel this. Children learn best from the people who make them feel treasured. Children also have the most enormous capacity to reach out to others because their sense of justice has yet to be tempered by life's dirty compromises. Laird's books appeal to both these instincts in them, I think.

Oranges In No Man's Land is a short novel, probably intended for the newly confident reader of eight and up, similar in length and style to books written by Anne Fine and Michael Morpurgo. It is ideal for readers of this age. The chapters are short and there aren't many more than a hundred pages. The style is direct and simple and the action flows. There are some difficult words, but all are in perfect context and I doubt they would prove an obstacle for any child happy to read alone. Adult motivations outside of the child's immediate family are presented just as they are seen by a child - as a complete mystery. And yet the book has such power and speaks so clearly, that I think even younger teenagers would enjoy it. I found Oranges In No Man's Land utterly gripping and couldn't put it down until I'd finished it.

I cannot think of a better way to explain conflict to a child than to show them the experience of another child living through it. Neither can I think of a better way to make them do all that they can to avoid it when they grow up.

Michael Morpurgo also writes sensitively about war. Try our review of Billy the Kid.

This book was kindly sent to Bookbag by the publisher.

Bookinterviews.jpg Elizabeth Laird was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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Buy Oranges in No Man's Land by Elizabeth Laird at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Oranges in No Man's Land by Elizabeth Laird at



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bethan.holmes said:

i have read ya book for the school book quiz its great

cant wait to read some more books i would love to read red sky in the morning

Deana.J said:

I really enjoyed reading this book. I thought that it was a great and well written book

Sanam Goudarzi said:

Hey there!

I just wanted to say how much I love your site, Jill's reviews of kids books especially are so strong and well-written and are a big help when buying books or choosing the next to read.

I was reading the review for "A Little Piece of Land" by Elizabeth Laird, a book which I love, and you mentioned that the largest bookseller in Canada had banned it, and it wasn't available in the US either. I work for the largest bookseller in Canada and I just wanted to point that it is absolutely not banned neither here nor in the states - however, in both Canada and the US the title of the book is "A Little Piece of Ground" and perhaps that made a difference in your search when you were looking for the books on the online sites. I can't speak for the US, but we do and have sold this book here in Canada.


Jill replied:

Oh, that's cool. Did I say banned? It wasn't banned, but it was suppressed in Canada by the (Jewish) owner of their biggest children's bookshop chain. Hang on... I'm sure it must be online... it's here, here and here.