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Kepler's reading focuses on children, war and more

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Amid the great upheavals of war, children — the most vulnerable members of society — are largely forgotten.

The topic is explored by young-adult author J.L. Powers, editor of the new anthology "That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone," a collection of essays from around the globe published by Cinco Puntos Press.

"We pay very little attention to children who grow up in war zones," says Powers, who appears at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park on Friday. "If war is grisly for an adult, what is it doing to a little kid? We just don't want to think about it because it's so hard."

Many locales mentioned in the book are places where it is rough to be a child. As of 2011, UNICEF estimated that Iraq is home to 800,000 orphans. Juarez, Mexico — one of most violent cities in the world — is home to at least 8,500 new orphans a year.

Daniel Toole, UNICEF's director for South Asia, has said of Afghanistan that it is "without a doubt the most dangerous place to be born."

Powers points out that it wasn't until 1996 that the first comprehensive study on children in war zones, UNICEF/U.N.'s report Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, was published; the groundbreaking report was organized by Nelson Mandela's present wife Graça Machel.

The award-winning "Mad Game" includes essays by people affected by violence in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Myanmar (also known as Burma), Cambodia, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Palestinian territories, Rwanda, South Africa and Vietnam.

Not all of the stories take place on foreign shores. There is plenty of material on the homefront, including a piece on America's infamous Japanese internment camps.

"Every essay is written by a survivor, and the diversity of experience is incredibly rich" Powers says. "As dark as the collection is, it reveals our ability to persevere and find hope in the worst situations. Many kids are not at all sheltered in the U.S. either, so we have to think about this."

On a lighter note, writer Joshua Isard, another author with Cinco Puntos Press (an independent Texas-based publisher focusing on multicultural literature for adults, young adults and children), also appears at Kepler's on Friday, reading from his new novel, "Conquistador of the Useless."

The humorous book centers on Nathan, a slacker thirty-something husband who moves to the suburbs with his wife but can't quite kick the influences of his grunge-era youth, including music-musings on the Pixies, Descendents, Weezer, Nirvana and, on a more contemporary note, Titus Andronicus.

He inadvertently outrages the neighborhood by loaning Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" to a local teenager and, as restless as he becomes, vacillates when his friend invites him to hike Mount Everest.

IF YOU GO

J.L. Powers, Joshua Isard

Where: Kepler's Books, 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Tickets: Free

Contact: (650) 324-4321, www.keplers.com