That’s the question that set teacher/ author/World Vision volunteer Donna White on a journey of her own.
“Years ago, my sister and I were on a road trip in Canada,” says White and she grins. “You do weird things to pass the time when you’re driving, don’t you? So I asked the question, just off the top of my head. We mentioned Hitler and Stalin as people we would give these mysterious stones to, but then I said Joseph Kony. “Kony?” said my sister. “Who’s Joseph Kony?” I think that’s when my story started.”
White has always loved children. A teacher by profession, she spent many years volunteering with World Vision as a fundraiser and speaker on behalf of WV’s child sponsorship programs. When this idea of five magical stones popped into her head however, it took hold of her imagination and would not let go. She knew she needed to write a book.
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘this is stupid,” says White. “You’ve never written a book before. You have never been to Africa. How can you write a book like this?’ But before I knew it, I called up World Vision and just asked if they were planning any trips.” She grins again. “I think it was a miracle.”
World Vision was only planning 3 project trips that year and on the day of her phone call, they had just put the finishing touches on one to Uganda to assist in restoring internally displaced people to their villages after the end of the civil war. It was fate, so in 2008, White made her very first trip to Soroti, Uganda where she met Charlie, a young boy recently rescued from the clutches of Joseph Kony and the LRA.
“At the end of the interview, I asked him what he would say if he were to see Mr. Kony now,” says White. “And he said, ‘I would ask Mr. Kony to come out of the bush and out of hiding because I forgive him.’”
Immediately, White knew she had her story but she also had her challenge. She would not be writing about child soldiers, she would be writing from the perspective of one. Enter the magical stones.
“It’s a young adult novel,” says White. “Not non-fiction, not a documentary, but in the new genre of magical realism. It’s about kids, for kids. The whole idea is to get young readers to come out of their comfort zone and see the reality of what’s happening in other countries. The magic stones transport two North American boys to Uganda where they meet Charlie and become involved in the situation. The stones are magic – they have the power to change things. Just like stories.”
Once home, it took her years to finish the novel. Life, work, children, volunteering all demanded her time and attention, but she never abandoned the project. A second trip to Africa convinced her that the story needed to be a trilogy and she approached Patrick Reed, director of the Romeo Dallaire documentary, Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children, for his thoughts. She also sent a copy to former child soldier and international speaker, Michel Chikwanine, and both raved over her unique and hope-filled handling of a difficult subject.
But while White is a teacher and natural storyteller, the world of publishing is a daunting one. Multiple edits, agent queries, publishing contracts, more edits. The journey to publication is often even more overwhelming than finishing a novel, and it was at this stage that White first thought of giving up.
“I definitely struggled with quitting at this point,” says White. “About forgetting about it and putting it away but it wasn’t my story. It was Charlie’s and it needed to be heard.”
Fortunately, White has a network of local friends who are also writers, and with their encouragement, advice and skills in cover design and formatting, she was able to bring the book to light. Bullets, Blood & Stones: the journey of a child soldier launched on Amazon Dec 4, 2016 at December Dreams Craft Show. It immediately sold out.
“I had to do a second run and even that sold out,” White laughs. “It’s on its third printing now!”
As a teacher, White knew how valuable the book would be in the classroom so she included a teaching guide on her website. Now, the book is in both the public and separate school boards as classes are being introduced to
Charlie and his journey from soldier to freedom.
“This book is so intriguing because it raises awareness to a terrible thing that still happens today,” says one Grade 8 student. “An emotional roller coaster,” says another. Teachers are praising the absorbing power of the book and some classes have begun fundraising/ awareness activities to bring Charlie’s message of hope home.
And for Charlie, it’s only the beginning. Bullets, Blood & Stones: the journey of a child soldier is heading across Canada with readings, signings and presentations scheduled from Atikokan through Winnipeg all the way to Salmon Arm, BC. As she does so, White will be introducing the magical stones to readers,teachers and students all across the country.
Changing lives one stone, and one story, at a time.
You can find out more about Donna and Charlie’s story at www.donnawhitebooks.com.