Caught in the Crossfire

Inspired by the Oldham riots, this is set in the fictional city of Oakfield in the North of England, shortly after 9/11.  The book opens by introducing the main characters in short, fast-paced sections - Rabia is nervous and thinks she is being followed, Mike is day dreaming about the dark-eyed girl he has just met, Creed smiles as he watches two youths following a young Asian girl on his way to The Patriotic League meeting.  Suitable for KS3+.

Gibbons sets out to show how hatred and racism can creep up and “have a way of strolling in by the back door”.  Events have consequences and the characters become embroiled in situations that soon become out of control.

“There is fear in every part of the town.  On the Triangle there is fear of young men rampaging down Clive Road, smashing everything in sight.  On the Moorside there is fear of change, of a strange culture creeping up Ravensmoor Road.  In better-off Old Moor and Shevington there is fear of anything which could shake the complacency of its neatly-hedged streets and avenues.  Even in the shiny new malls of the town centre angry voices are to be heard.
Where there is fear there is danger.  The usual ways of doing things fracture.  The social fabric tears, soon people will start to lash out, desperate to protect themselves, shaken so far loose from their usual habits that they could turn on anyone who is different, anyone they can label, or maybe just anyone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  No-man’s-land is a risky place to be.” [Page 221]

Key themes

  • Conflict
  • Diversity & Identity
  • Commonality
  • Poverty, deprivation and social justice
  • Role of the Media

Book Information

Author:  Alan Gibbons

Publisher:  Orion Children’s Books
ISBN 978-1842550960

Our responses to the book

This feels like a book we should do something with.  It feels urgent.

Allows readers to think about and explore the root causes of racism. 

Gibbons adopts two contrasting styles of writing and goes back and forth between them. Sometimes he is commentating on events, other times there is narrative between the characters.  The latter is more effective in that it allows you to make your own decisions about what is happening.

It brings politics home to us: racism is not a remote moral issue.

Good text for exploring the role of the media and how it can create fear within communities.

(Global) issues are more complex than they seem. 

Our responses to the characters

The “baddie” is dangerously reasonable ~ a politically plausible evil.

There is a commonality in the views of the characters.  If we showed Tahir and Liam’s comments to students anonymously, would they know who had said what?

There is inevitability about the story.  Liam knows what he is doing is wrong, but needs to feel he belongs to a group.  It could be any group but the Patriotic League is accessible and can offer what he is looking for.

Classroom Approaches

Page 221 [above extract] could be used on its own.  It encapsulates the whole book.  It could be about anywhere.

Using drama ~ Divide the class into 4 groups – The Triangle, Moorside, Shevington and The Mall.  A group can be in no-man’s land.  Take statements from some of the characters.  Which statement applies to which group?  How easy is it to assign views? 

Use freeze-framing to explore the choices being made at set points in the story.   See drama activities.

Debate – Those for the peace wall and those against it.  Where have walls been built in the past?  Use alongside The Kites are Flying by Michael
Morpurgo, set in The West Bank.

Mapping – use the text from the first few pages to imagine the place and map out the area.  Build up a picture of the place.  Use to explore issues of
boundaries, real or imagined and postcode gangs.

Character Files  - Divide the class into groups, each with a character.  Build up character files as the book is read.

Resources to support this text

The book may draw out sensitive and controversial issues.  Resources such as like those below can offer excellent support for teachers who want to put
strategies in place  before issues arise, and how to handle them when they do.

What do we tell the children?, Angela Gluck Wood, Trentham Books. 
Accessible teacher’s resource for handling controversial and sensitive issues.

Here, there and everywhere, Robin Richardson, Trentham Books
Belonging, identity and equality in schools.

Holding together, Robin Richardson, Trentham Books
Equalities, difference and cohesion.

The kites are flying, Michael Morpurgo
Could be used at KS2/3.  Set in The West Bank.  Another good resources for exploring the role of the media.

Voices in the Park, Anthony Browne
Picture book for exploring different perspectives.