When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)
This graphic novel memoir takes readers directly into the heart of a huge Kenyan refugee camp and the life of one boy who lived there. Omar and his brother Hassan lost their parents in Somalia when their village was attacked. Omar still hopes to find his mother, who was separated from them in the chaos. The brothers live together in their own hut in the camp and are watched over by their guardian who lives next door. When Omar has a chance to go to school, he must make the gut-wrenching decision of whether to leave Hassan, who doesn’t speak, behind. Their time in the camp is spent waiting, waiting for a UN interview, waiting to see if they can finally be moved to another country, waiting for water, waiting for food. It is also a time filled with doubts and hope, requiring true resilience for Omar to see a way forward.
It’s always a delight to see a new graphic novel by Jamieson, author of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. It’s all the more impressive to see her take on the challenge of a more serious topic and to do it as a biographical piece, telling the true story of Omar Mohamed and his time in the refugee camp. Jameison crafts the story in a way that truly reveals the plight of those in the camp, the horrors of what they experienced in the past, and the dullness of the routine days. She fills the pages with Omar’s deep caring and worry for his brother, his only remaining family member, and the reality of his sole responsibility to not only keep him safe but offer him a future.
As always with Jamieson, the art is wonderful. In particular, she offers glimpses of the beauty of the night sky in the camp and the warmth of the community of people who have been thrown together by tragedy. It is marvelous that Mohamed worked with her to tell a true story of the camps, that truth resonates on the page, lifting this new work to a different level.
Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from purchased copy.
Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron (9781773213750)
Salma and her mother moved to Vancouver from Syria together. Salma’s father is still in Syria and planning to join them soon. Mama seems worried and tired all the time now, not smiling the way she did in the refugee camp with her friends. Salma tries many things to get her mother to smile or even laugh, but nothing seems to work. She heads to the Welcome Center and her teacher has her think about the last time she saw her mother happy. Salma realizes that it may be Syrian food that her mother is missing, since the last time she smiled she had been carrying a bowl of foul shami. So Salma decides that she will make her mother foul shami to bring back her happiness. Salma must figure out how to take the recipe in Arabic and get others to understand what she needs. She realizes that she can draw the various vegetables and ingredients and show them to the people at the supermarket. With her ingredients, now she must do the cooking, but not without plenty of help from others at the Welcome Center who are missing delicacies from their own lands too.
So often picture books depict the end of a family’s story as leaving the refugee camp. It is a pleasure to see a picture book grapple with how it feels to have come to a new country as a refugee and having your family still separated. The clear connection of food and culture is beautifully depicted here. Salma’s enthusiasm for her solution to her mother’s sadness and worry is moving, giving her something to focus on and actually do to help. The difficulty of the recipe and its many steps serves as a great challenge for Salma, and one that will bring her community together to help.
The illustrations have borders and geometric shapes that echo the tiles of Syria and Damascus. The color palettes change as the emotions on the page change, with blues showing the worry and concern and merry yellows flooding the pages with community and hope.
A marvelous look at food, family and community. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Annick Press.
Lilah Tov Good Night by Ben Gundersheimer, illustrated by Noar Lee Naggan (9781524740665)
After a long day on their farm, the small family eats dinner together and then pack their belongings. The moon rises as they say goodbye to the hens and chicks they are leaving behind. The family stops to take shelter in a cave on their journey, wishing the bats that fly around them lilah tov, good night. They say good night to the beach as they climb aboard a small boat. Lilah Tov to the stars and the clouds. Good night to the mountains they walk into and to all the animals along the way, until they arrive at their new home.
Gundersheimer based this picture book on a Hebrew lullaby and weaves in a story of a refugee family leaving their home and heading to a new one. The book is quiet and full of grace, just right for a bedtime story. It weaves together saying goodnight all along the way, embracing the silence of the night.
Naggan’s illustrations are filled with hope. The little girl experiences the entire journey as one of wonder and excitement. The worry on the adult faces though creates somber moments throughout. The illustrations capture that this is a Jewish family as they carry their menorah with them. The pages are illuminated by the light of the moon and the stars.
A graceful and powerful lullaby entwined with the story of a refugee family. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egneus (9780525554165)
Lubna and her father have come to a refugee camp. As they arrived, Lubna found a smooth pebble. Pebble becomes her closest friend as she and her father make a new home in the camp. Pebble listens to all of Lubna’s stories of the war and her family. Pebble’s drawn on eyes and smile are friendly even in the cold nights. Lubna’s father finds her a box and towel for Pebble, so Pebble is warm at night too. When Amir arrives at the camp, he won’t speak to anyone. But when Lubna shows him Pebble, he introduces himself. Soon Lubna and Amir are close friends, though Lubna assures Pebble that they are still best friends. Lubna’s father finds them a new home in a different country, and Amir is very sad. Perhaps Pebble can help him out.
Meddour gently depicts a very personal side of the refugee crisis. Showing a more universal experience of refugees fleeing a war-torn country, the book really allows readers to deeply feel the loneliness and fright of a young child caught in this situation. At the same time, the book doesn’t go into the personal losses in detail, they are alluded to rather than fully realized, which is ideal for young children. The use of a pebble as a friend is also incredibly moving, showing the poverty and the isolation of a child in a very concrete way.
The in the picture book is filled with deep colors and also depicts light shining upon Lubna as she makes her way towards a new life. Throughout the book there is a sense of hope and that is also conveyed in the images in the book, with open skies, deep imaginary worlds, and even the smile of Pebble.
An accessible and heartfelt look at the refugee crisis. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver (9780802855145)
A haunting look at the plight of refugees, this short piece of fiction will work well for children and adults alike. Rami floats in the water in a small dinghy with seven other people. All of them are fleeing their homeland in the hopes of finding shelter elsewhere. But the boat motor has broken down and they are now adrift. Rami is alone except for his violin, and he begins to weave a tale filled with music to keep their spirits up. It is a tale of a young man who rescues an orphaned colt from the snow and grows to be able to ride the stallion because he respects the horse’s freedom. As the tale is woven, it is not just a story about horseriding, but also one about power, brutality and the cost of freedom.
Lewis has written a book that dances the line between children’s book and adult book very nicely. It can also seem almost a picture book as the illustrations sweep across the pages. Lewis’ writing is beautiful and filled with emotion. The dangers of the refugee experience are shown tangibly on the page, as are the stories of what they have lost from war. The story of the stallion is given equal weight in the book, rounding out the book and offering another angle from which to view the same story in the end. It is a story that arcs around and creates a whole out of two separate tales wrapped in song.
The illustrations by Weaver are breathtaking, woven from blues and whites. They fill with light and dark, playing against one another and revealing images built from luminescence, music, and wind. The illustrations suit the dark tale so perfectly that the book is one cohesive story.
A dramatic and human look at the refugee crisis and its many victims. Appropriate for ages 9 and up.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (9781328810151)
This graphic novel tells the stories of Syrian refugees in their own voices. Based on interviews and visits to refugee camps around the region, the book clearly tells the story of the basis of the refugee crisis in Syria. As the flood of refugees begins and then continues, the nations taking in the refugees see sentiments in their populations shift to be anti-immigrant due to the overwhelming costs and disruption. Still, the refugees need a place to live in peace, a place to make a home and a place to feel safe.
Brown returns with another gripping nonfiction graphic novel. He uses the refugees’ own stories to really create a book that is heart-wrenchingly realistic. Young readers will benefit from hearing how the crisis began and will learn a lot about refugees, the dangers they face and the risks they are willing to take for freedom. The art in the book is done in limited colors, often filled with sandy yellows and deep browns. The faces of the refugees are compellingly depicted, often with expressions of deep fear, loss and grief.
A strong and important look at the Syrian refugee crisis in a format that makes the content very readable. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini, illustrated by Dan Williams (9780525539094)
The author of The Kite Runner has created a poetic work of short fiction that speaks to the plight of refugees around the world. Written as a letter from father to son, the book reflects on the beauty of the land they are leaving. The loveliness of life in Homs, Syria shows the vibrant world that was destroyed by bombs and war. As their lives crumble along with the buildings, they are forced to flee. The letter is written just as father and son enter the boat that will hopefully carry them to a new life in a safe country.
Hosseini was inspired to write this heart-wrenching piece by the death of the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was found on a Turkish beach. Throughout the short fiction, there is a sense of loss and grief, of a land lost and a future abandoned. Yet there is also a slim thread of hope, a hope that compels them aboard a small boat and out onto the sea.
The illustrations help make this a more approachable book for younger readers who will find themselves drawn to the emotions of the text and the desperation on its pages. Williams uses sweeping colors to convey both the beauty of Syria but also the dark haunting nature of war and being torn from your country.
A devastating piece of fiction appropriate for ages 8 and up.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay (9781773061382)
Mustafa and his family had to leave their country and traveled a long way to reach their new home. Sometimes Mustafa dreams of where they used to live, dreams of fire, smoke and noise. Then his mother shows him the moon, the same moon that shines over both of their homes. Mustafa’s apartment is above a green park. In the park, Mustafa sees a girl walking a cat on a ribbon, but when she speaks he can’t understand her. The next day, Mustafa is back in the park drawing what he saw in his last home. The girl comes to draw with him and soon her butterflies and flowers overtake his burning buildings and broken trees. Mustafa keeps going to the park, but no one else approaches him. He begins to wonder if he’s invisible. Then once again the same girl sees him. They feed the fish in the fountain together and swing high side-by-side. Then they learn one another’s names.
Gay tells the story of a child refugee in way that shows the dangers and oppression of his past in ways that children will understand. He experiences them in dark dreams and in drawing his experiences and fears in the dirt. At the same time, this does not minimize his past at all. The language barriers are also fully explored here as well as the isolation that child refugees can feel in their new society. It is a book that avoids being didactic about what children should do and instead shows what a single kindness can create in another’s life.
The illustrations have a wonderful feeling of space and freedom that resonates with the story being told. They are done in pastel colors that then move on the vibrancy of autumn. Skilled use of watercolors gives a sense of motion and change on the page as well as the feeling that there are possibilities waiting to be discovered.
A warm look at welcoming refugee families to their new home. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Day War Came by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb (9781536201734)
Released September 4, 2018.
A little girl explains what happened to her when war came to her city. She started the day with breakfast, kisses, and flowers on the windowsill. Then war came while she was at school. Her town was turned to rubble and she fled with others. She lost her entire family and her home in one moment of war. She made the dangerous journey to another country alone, arriving on a sandy shore. Even in the new country though, she was not accepted. War was there too in the way the people looked at her and made her unwelcome. When she tried to go to school, she was told there wasn’t a chair available for her. It is not until the children of the community come together with chairs in hand to make her welcome that war finally begins to recede.
There are very few picture books that can make me truly weep. This was one of those. The poem by Davies is powerful and starkly honest. She has taken inspiration from several true events and turned it into a tale of the loss and continued rejection that refugees feel even after making it to safer countries. The power of children to make the world welcoming to those who have fled their countries is empowering and refreshing to see on the page.
The illustrations from Cobb take readers on a journey from the brightness of the little girl’s family life before war came to the devastation and darkness of being a refugee. The brightness does not return until the girl sees a classroom again, only to be pushed away and back to the darkness she lives in. This is a tangible look at the impact of war and the transformative power of community.
Have some tissues ready when you read this one for the first time. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.