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May 9, 2013

If you are the principal of an elementary school, a husband, and a father of four, to describe your days as full would be an almost laughable understatement. It would be all too easy, and perfectly understandable, if you shelved that book project until your retirement or for pursuit when the kids are grown and out on their own.

But some stories can't wait that long. So it was for David Starr, and elementary school principal and (award-winning writer) in Burnaby, British Columbia, when he began to learn more about the lives of some of the students attending his inner-city school. Every student has a story, but it was the refugee children who had come to Canada from some of the world's most dangerous places that needed Starr's voice. Before arriving in Burnaby, some had never been to school, or knew how to hold a pencil. If their parents were professionals in their previous lives, the affluence, comfort and status they once knew was long gone. Over time, Starr listened and learned of the forced marches that lasted for months, years of growing up in refugee camps, orphanhood, starvation, malnutrition and disease, imprisonment, and torture that marred many students early lives, as well as those of their parents.

Starr wrote Bombs to Books from a privileged vantage point. As a school principal, he not only learned his students stories, he also witnessed the work of school staff to teach and support the students and their families. It's this work, and the tireless commitment of those who perform it, that elevates each of the family stories from despair and dead-ends to hope and resilience. Although the book acknowledges the painful truth that some refugees do not escape disillusion and discouragement, and may even slip into menial jobs or crime, violence, drugs... these are the minority. As head teacher Elin Horton wisely observed: "...we can't change where our students are from but we can do an awful lot about where they're going to go."


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