Helen Bate’s The Lost Child of Chernobyl is a moving and enlightening story about both the immediate devastation and the lasting impact of the nuclear explosion at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine in 1986. Thirty-five years after the tragic events unfolded, this touching graphic novel is a powerful way to introduce young audiences to an important event in modern history.
Bate tells the fictional story of a child who becomes separated from their parents in the aftermath of the explosion. The area around the Chernobyl plant was evacuated and many abandoned pets and other animals were shot by soldiers who were tasked with preventing the spread of the nuclear contamination. Without a home to return to the child manages to survive in the wilderness but is eventually taken in by a pair of elderly sisters who refused to move away from their home even though the land on which they live has become toxic. But can they find the child’s family and what does the future hold for these three survivors of this tragic disaster?
Although Bate’s tale focuses on the catastrophe’s terrible effect on human lives but it is the environmental impact of the explosion that is at the heart of her story. Chernobyl was a man-made disaster that poisoned the land around it to such an extent that it will be uninhabitable to humans for centuries to come. However, without the presence of humankind, nature is reclaiming the land in the restricted area and wildlife has been able to endure there.
The Lost Child of Chernobyl is a perfect example of the power of graphic novels and Bate skilfully captures the complexities of the event and the stories of those who survived it. She combines illustrated panels and text that explain the facts about the Chernobyl disaster with those that communicate the story of her characters. The images contain so many details about the destruction caused by the explosion but also the way that nature is capable of recovery. Her controlled and compassionate dialogue also nods to the wider history of Ukraine and the sisters refer to the famine and war that they have lived through. This book has so many different layers that readers of any age will discover so much every time they revisit it.
As an adult reader who is just about old enough to remember the event itself and whose knowledge of it has been largely informed by the recent HBO mini-series, I am in awe of the way Bate makes a difficult subject so accessible for young readers. As we face up to climate change and its long-term impact on our world there is much that we can learn from events at Chernobyl. The Lost Child of Chernobyl book is deeply affecting but full of hope for the resilience of humans and the natural world.
For more information about Helen Bate you can visit her website at helenbatebooks.com.
Thank you to Otter Barry Books for sending a review copy.
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