I’m really not sure how to feel about Charcoal Boys by Roger Mello. As a whole, it really never felt to me as though the author succeeded in telling the story he wanted to tell, but rather that he managed a convoluted mess of a story that only ever really served to be awkward and strange. Even worse, the topic and the way in which it was portrayed is not something I would reasonably picture any child engaging in enough to read, let alone understand the rather dark context behind the story. Ultimately, this is a hard book to appreciate and an even harder book to recommend.
I struggled immensely with my rating for Charcoal Boys, a creative bit of artwork that tells the story of a young boy from Brazil who works in the charcoal mines. For something that is marketed as a children’s book and said to condemn child labor, readers really have to dig deep to see this connection. On the surface, where a child’s understanding might be, having even the slightest clue as to what the book is about is difficult to achieve. While, on the one hand, there is some merit to the story the author is telling and the uniquely intriguing way in which he tells it, much of that merit is hidden away as a result of the strange narrator, the unfortunately involved descriptions, and the fact that nothing is presented in a way that a young reader might reasonably get without a lot of context provided by their parents.
And this is not to say that’s a terrible thing, since I do believe the subject matter is incredibly important and I would rather have my children educated on a wide variety of subjects with the opportunity to learn about more–and opportunity arrives largely with accessibility–but it does make the book as a whole rather difficult to fully appreciate. Also, the wasp’s role in the entire story was kind of superfluous and really, in my opinion, took a lot away from the message that the author was trying to send in the end. And that was annoying to me, especially as the wasp was thoroughly unnecessary.
Ultimately, I find Charcoal Boys to be a difficult book to review, though not one that should be counted out entirely, it probably doesn’t match the audience it was intended for nor does it effectively convey the message the author set out to send.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.