Work Title: A Song for Cambodia
Work Author(s): Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara
Lee & Low
Full color illustrations, 30 pages, Hardcover $16.95
Reviewer: Beth Breau
In 1975, Pol Pot gained control of Cambodia, "a country of sugar palms, whispering grasses, and bright sunshine." Arn Chorn-Pond, whose biography this is, was eight years old. He lived in a prosperous village in northern Cambodia surrounded by natural beauty. At first, it seemed that the violence creeping up from the south might not reach Arn's village, but by summer, "a group of soldiers called the Khmer Rouge, or 'Red Khmers,' spread through the land like army ants....Hospitals were emptied and temples crushed. Schools were made into prisons and books burned in fires. Songbirds stopped chirping, and monks were silenced. Art, music, and religion disappeared from people's lives."
One day, soldiers arrive in Arn's village, and Arn is literally torn from his mother's arms. He is sent to a children's work camp, where he slaves in the rice paddies "from sunrise to midnight." His feet are bare, and his stomach takes on the familiar distension of malnutrition. Desperate, the children catch "dragonflies, beetles, or grubs to eat."
When the soldiers ask for volunteers for a musical group, Arn is chosen to learn the khim, an instrument that resembles a dulcimer. Instead of working in the rice paddies, his job is now to play for the child workers and their guards.