An intriguing story with an important message that every child, and adult, should read.
When Tono miraculously survives what should have been a fatal mining accident, he wonders what saved him. Could it have been the smooth red stone he found moments before the trench collapsed and buried him alive? Could the mysterious stone have special powers like Superman’s Kryptonite? That’s what Kemala claims and she’s soon hiring Tono out as a superhero – “Tin Boy” – to watch over others as they work in the terrifying underwater mining pits. Tono longs to believe she’s right but he increasingly struggles to hide his doubts. Then Tin Boy’s fame starts to spread, bringing unwanted attention and a revelation that will change Tono’s life forever.
This book begins with Tono describing how everyone in his family, from youngest to eldest, has to work underwater searching for tin ore. If they don’t risk their lives digging into the seabed, they won’t have even a measly amount of food to keep them alive. It’s a short, yet immensely powerful, opening. Indeed, it reads like something I’d associate with the child slave labour of the Industrial Revolution. Turning the pages, however, I was shocked to discover the book is set in present date Indonesia and Tono’s life is typical of the thousands of illegal tin miners who scavenge for the tin ore that is essential for our smartphones, laptops, cars and computers.
Author, Steve Cole, effectively highlights these appalling conditions whilst simultaneously weaving an intriguing story. The reader is instantly immersed in Tono’s world and it’s easy to understand his fears and hopes, especially his desire to believe the stone he found has special powers. We, like Tono himself, want to believe he could actually be Tin Boy. Like Tono, however, the reader can’t ignore the growing evidence that this isn’t the case and that Kemala is simply exploiting Tono and those who are desperate enough to believe in Tin Boy.
The skill with which we are drawn into the story is all the more impressive given this book is so short (just 110 pages) and is written in language that is suitable for reluctant and dyslexic readers. (It’s part of Barrington Stoke’s ‘Super-Readable’ series).
My only slight niggle with the book is, perhaps, the ending. There’s a dramatic climax that, in true Steve Cole style, will have the reader on the edge of their seat. However, it also prompts and uncomfortable revelation. This revelation causes Tono to act and leads the book to an ending which is open to interpretation and less positive than is typical for a book for this age range. If I’m honest, I would have preferred a more upbeat ending but, given the subject matter, that’s probably impossible without undermining the authenticity of the book.
Overall, this is a strong story with an important message that every child, and adult, should read. Maybe then they might think twice before asking for a new phone or laptop just because they’re bored with their current one. They might stop to think of the human cost of the fragment of tin that makes their device work. Maybe, it would also raise awareness enough to prompt consumers to demand ethically and environmentally mined tin in their products. And, surely, there has to be a way to recycle the tin and other components in all the millions of redundant devices around the globe?
Publication Date: September 2019
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Author’s website: Steve Cole