Where Children Sleep

Mar 29, 2011 22 comments

American journalist Chris Booth and photographer James Mollison toured the world and took photos of children's' bedrooms and compiled them into a book Where Children Sleep. The differences between the sleeping spaces of children from different regions is striking.  "I hope this book will help children think about inequality, within and between societies around the world," says Mollison in his introduction, "and perhaps start to figure out how, in their own lives, they may respond."


From Amazon:

Where Children Sleep presents English-born photographer James Mollison's large-format photographs of children's bedrooms around the world--from the U.S.A., Mexico, Brazil, England, Italy, Israel and the West Bank, Kenya, Senegal, Lesotho, Nepal, China and India--alongside portraits of the children themselves. Each pair of photographs is accompanied by an extended caption that tells the story of each child. Photographed over two years with the support of Save the Children (Italy), Where Children Sleep is both a serious photo-essay for an adult audience, and also an educational book that engages children themselves in the lives of other children around the world. Its cover features a child's mobile printed in glow-in-the-dark ink.

Here are a few examples from the book. (Similar concept: Hungry Planet: What the World Eats)


Lamine (above), 12, lives in Senegal. He is a pupil at the village Koranic school, where no girls are allowed. He shares a room with several other boys. The beds are basic, some supported by bricks for legs. At six every morning the boys begin work on the school farm, where they learn how to dig, harvest maize and plough the fields using donkeys. In the afternoon they study the Koran. In his free time Lamine likes to play football with his friends.


Tzvika, nine, lives in an apartment block in Beitar Illit, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. It is a gated community of 36,000 Haredi (Orthodox) Jews. Televisions and newspapers are banned from the settlement. The average family has nine children, but Tzvika has only one sister and two brothers, with whom he shares his room. He is taken by car to school, a two-minute drive. Sport is banned from the curriculum. Tzvika goes to the library every day and enjoys reading the holy scriptures. He also likes to play religious games on his computer. He wants to become a rabbi, and his favourite food is schnitzel and chips.


Jamie, 9, lives with his parents and younger twins brother and sister in a penthouse on 5 th Avenue, New York. Jamie goes to a prestigious school and is a good student. In his spare time he takes judo and goes for a swim. He loves to study finance. When he grows up, he wants to become a lawyer like his father.


Indira, seven, lives with her parents, brother and sister near Kathmandu in Nepal. Her house has only one room, with one bed and one mattress. At bedtime, the children share the mattress on the floor. Indira has worked at the local granite quarry since she was three. The family is very poor so everyone has to work. There are 150 other children working at the quarry. Indira works six hours a day and then helps her mother with household chores. She also attends school, 30 minutes’ walk away. Her favourite food is noodles. She would like to be a dancer when she grows up.


Kaya, four, lives with her parents in a small apartment in Tokyo, Japan. Her bedroom is lined from floor to ceiling with clothes and dolls. Kaya’s mother makes all her dresses – Kaya has 30 dresses and coats, 30 pairs of shoes and numerous wigs. When she goes to school, she has to wear a school uniform. Her favourite foods are meat, potatoes, strawberries and peaches. She wants to be a cartoonist when she grows up.


Douha, 10, lives with her parents and 11 siblings in a Palestinian refugee camp in Hebron, in the West Bank. She shares a room with her five sisters. Douha attends a school 10 minutes’ walk away and wants to be a paediatrician. Her brother, Mohammed, killed himself and 23 civilians in a suicide attack against the Israelis in 1996. Afterwards the Israeli military destroyed the family home. Douha has a poster of Mohammed on her wall.


Jasmine (‘Jazzy’), four, lives in a big house in Kentucky, USA, with her parents and three brothers. Her house is in the countryside, surrounded by farmland. Her bedroom is full of crowns and sashes that she has won in beauty pageants. She has entered more than 100 competitions. Her spare time is taken up with rehearsal. She practises her stage routines every day with a trainer. Jazzy would like to be a rock star when she grows up.


Home for this boy and his family is a mattress in a field on the outskirts of Rome, Italy. The family came from Romania by bus, after begging for money to pay for their tickets. When they arrived in Rome, they camped on private land, but the police threw them off. They have no identity papers, so cannot obtain legal work. The boy’s parents clean car windscreens at traffic lights. No one from his family has ever been to school.


Dong, nine, lives in Yunnan province in south-west China with his parents, sister and grandfather. He shares a room with his sister and parents. The family own just enough land to grow their own rice and sugarcane. Dong’s school is 20 minutes’ walk away. He enjoys writing and singing. Most evenings, he spends one hour doing his homework and one hour watching television. When he is older, Dong would like to be a policeman.


Roathy, eight, lives on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. His home sits on a huge rubbish dump. Roathy’s mattress is made from old tyres. Five thousand people live and work here. At six every morning, Roathy and hundreds of other children are given a shower at a local charity centre before they start work, scavenging for cans and plastic bottles, which are sold to a recycling company. Breakfast is often the only meal of the day.


Thais, 11, lives with her parents and sister on the third floor of a block of flats in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She shares a bedroom with her sister. They live in the Cidade de Deus (‘City of God’) neighbourhood, which used to be notorious for its gang rivalry and drug use. Since the 2002 film City of God, it has undergone major improvements. Thais is a fan of Felipe Dylon, a pop singer, and has posters of him on her wall. She would like to be a model.


Nantio, 15, is a member of the Rendille tribe in northern Kenya. She has two brothers and two sisters. Her home is a tent-like dome made from cattle hide and plastic, with little room to stand. There is a fire in the middle, around which the family sleep. Nantio’s chores include looking after the goats, chopping firewood and fetching water. She went to the village school for a few years but decided not to continue. Nantio is hoping a moran (warrior) will select her for marriage. She has a boyfriend now, but it is not unusual for a Rendille woman to have several boyfriends before marriage. First, she will have to undergo circumcision, as is the custom.


Joey, 11, lives in Kentucky, USA, with his parents and older sister. He regularly accompanies his father on hunts. He owns two shotguns and a crossbow and made his first kill – a deer – at the age of seven. He is hoping to use his crossbow during the next hunting season as he has become tired of using a gun. He loves the outdoor life and hopes to continue hunting into adulthood. His family always cook and eat the meat from the animal they have shot. Joey does not agree that an animal should be killed just for sport. When he is not out hunting, Joey attends school and enjoys watching television with his pet bearded dragon lizard, Lily.


  1. For such an inspired book - why such a droll uninspired unemotional cover?? such a disconnect...

  2. "Droll" means funny, not boring.

    1. you're over-simplifying things: droll means curious or unusual in a way that provokes dry amusement

  3. Please do not call female mutilation (female) circumcision. It is a misnomer.

    Otherwise this is fantastic.

  4. What an eye opening experience checking out this blog has been. I'm sharing this and I agree with 'anonymous'...it's mutilation and it breaks my heart.

  5. Many people would argue that any kind of circumcision is mutilation, whether its done to a male or a female but this is not the debate here, just thought I'd throw that in here!!

    What a fabulous and inspiring book! Thank you for highlighting the huge gulf of difference, and yet similarities, between the worlds children.

  6. That is such a cool book and an amazing idea behind it! Great book to show children, I'm showing mine, such a teaching moment. :)

  7. dear tami,

    well, there's this huge difference between so-called female "circumcision" and male circumcision. the point of female mutilation is to prevent woman from any sexual pleasure, and also to prevent her from having intercourse before marriage. (since they not only cut her genitals off, they also sew her up so she would remain untouched). on the other hand, male circumcision's aim is to prevent any diseases connected to wrong treatment of your organs, such as phimosis, and it's also easier to mantain. Also, males are not deprived of any sexual pleasure when circumcised.
    Just saying.

    And yes, the book seems very interesting.

    1. Actually, uncircumcised males do feel a LOT more, so SOME feeling is lost.

  8. Anon - Of course male circumcision doesn't deprive men of sexual pleasure... cutting off over 20k specialized nerve endings wouldn't make any sort of difference at all, now would it?

    Truly, it should be a crime to cut ANY child's genitals, male or female, without an immediate medical reason or without trying other remedies before jumping straight to amputation.

    The book looks great! Thank you for this post - I'll definitely have to look it up :)


  9. what about poor boy not being able to run to school or enjoy some swimming?? you're all complaining about african girl'S genitals being sewn, but not about another child being forced to not to move, become fat and die from heart problems, is it because his parents are jewish or what??or maybe because he's boy??it'S like to grow up kitten in the glass jar...crazy fanatics...

  10. I have to wonder what is staged and what isn't myself. Like the little pageant child obviously doesn't have crowns sprinkled all over her floor from day to day does the other children have more despair displayed for the cameras as well?

  11. As a relatively "normal" white person living in the USA, I find the photos of the kids from Kentucky to be almost psychologically abusive in how weird they are. The little beauty queen looks like a child prostitute and the little boy looks somebody we're going to see on the news someday after a school shooting.

  12. Obviously not the part of KY I am from, most of the children in our area sleep on the floor in filthy conditions.

  13. Shocking but beautiful at the same time

  14. that last kid is gonna shoot up a school someday. hes terrifying. :/

  15. also i like the cover. its a great graphic image to show little bits of all the kids lives, while having a sinister undertone, because its off balance and silhoutted... taking a symbolically cute image associated with kids (mobile)and jilting it. I think it really works.

  16. To those who think the last kid looks like someone who will commit a school shooting someday...I think school shootings are horrifying, but there is absolutely no indication that this kid would ever shoot someone intentionally. If he's well-adjusted and happy, as seems the case, it doesn't matter how many guns he owns, he wouldn't go around shooting people.

  17. Making a judgement about a young child you don't know indicating he will become a mass murderer is a terrible thing to say. I am TOTALLY anti guns... but I wonder... do you have your own children? How would you feel about someone making such a horrific assumption about them based on their appearance, family, interests etc? I also wonder if you bothered to read the attached text? Apparently this boy and his family eat all the animals they kill and the boy does NOT believe in killing animals for sport. I would argue that this shows a relatively developed moral code for such a young boy.

  18. Granted, a lot of American kids are spoiled, but where are the homeless or poverty stricken American kids?


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