Review: Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour

Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour

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.

Review: A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis

A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis

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.

Review: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

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.

Review: Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

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.

Review: Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay.jpg

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.

 

Review: The Day War Came by Nicola Davies

The Day War Came by Nicola Davies

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.

Review: Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Illegal by Eoin Colfer (9781492662143)

An honest and profound look at the refugee crisis through the eyes of one young boy, this graphic novel is heartbreaking. Ebo has been left alone by his older brother who is following his older sister to Europe. But Ebo refuses to be left behind, managing to get a ride on a bus to a nearby city. There he must find his brother, something he manages to do only by luck. Together, they work hard labor to get enough money to cross the Sahara Desert to Tripoli. The journey is hazardous and many people die. But the most dangerous part of it lies ahead as they board a small boat to cross the sea to Europe, placing their dreams in the hands of men who lie and cheat for profit.

Colfer works with the same team that created the Artemis Fowl graphic novel series, but this time on a much more harrowing story of humanity and resilience. Colfer does not shy away from depicting the hazards and risks of the journey, including deaths along the way. There is an unrelenting pressure throughout the novel to move forward, make enough money to leave, and then do it all again at the next point. It is daunting, frightening and shows the spirit of the people who are willing to risk their lives for freedom.

This graphic novel puts a face on the refugee crisis. Ebo is a young boy with a singing voice that can soothe babies and make money. His face is that of an angel as well, his eyes shining bright with hope and at times dimmed with illness or grief. Throughout the story, characters come and go as they enter Ebo’s journey along with him. Readers will hope for Ebo to survive but can only watch helplessly.

Smartly written, deftly drawn and plotted to perfection, this graphic novel is a powerhouse. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Sourcebooks.

3 Picture Books about Our World

Marwan_s Journey by Patricia de Arias

Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias, illustrated by Laura Borras (9789888341559)

Marwan is a little boy on a long journey filled with walking and heading to a place he’s never been. When his home was attacked by soldiers in tanks in the middle of the night, Marwan had to start walking. He thinks often of his mother and father, their little house where they lived happily together filled with sunlight. Now he must walk through the desert to a new homeland carrying a pack of hope on his back.

This picture book is imported from Spain and has the feel of a European children’s book. The language used is poetic and beautiful, showing the emotions rather than telling about them. Here is one example from early in the book: “I walk, and my footsteps leave a trace of ancient stories, the songs of my homeland, and the smell of tea and bread, jasmine and earth.” You can feel it right in your bones. The illustrations have a gorgeous depth to them, filled with deep blacks and rounded out by earthen colors. Throughout the book there is a sense of peace and a hope of a better place at the end of the long walk.

An important book that beautifully captures the dangers and loss of a refugee child. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Edelweiss and Minedition.)

Sea Creatures from the Sky by Ricardo Cortes

Sea Creatures from the Sky by Ricardo Cortes (9781617756160)

The illustrator of the incredibly popular Go the F*ck to Sleep has created a picture book that truly shows his skill. Told from the point of view of a shark, this picture book tells the unbelievable story of things in the air, above the sea, who are not birds. They are creatures with beards, with two ears, with hair. Creatures who hook sharks, take them out of the ocean and into the air, poke and prod them. Just to return them back to the sea, where no other creatures believe their tale of being taken.

In rhyming lines that have a humor and rhythm, the shark tells his story. The tale is accompanied with luminous paintings that show the beauty of the ocean, the many creatures who live there, and the drama of being taken out by researchers. Gorgeous illustrations accompany this shark’s tale and make for one dynamic picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Black Sheep.)

What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards

What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (9781610677226)

This book offers examples of untranslatable words from around the world. These are words that some cultures can use just one word to capture but in other languages it takes entire sentences to explain them. The words come from all over the globe, and while some may be familiar others are entirely surprising and fascinating. Perhaps the most interesting part is how these unique words offer a glimpse into the culture they come from. The illustrations of the book are show places and people around the world acting out each word. They are bright and friendly. The text offers the word, a definition and then additional information on where it comes from. Enjoy exploring words like nakama, tartle and gluggavedur! Appropriate for ages 8-11. (Reviewed from copy provided by Kane Miller.)

 

3 Picture Books Filled with Empathy

These three picture books all look at empathy in different ways and all are worth exploring.

Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee

Come with Me by Holly M. McGhee, illustrated by Pascal Lamaitre (9781524739058)

Seeing the news about anger and hate in the world, a little girl wonders what she can do to help. So each of her parents take the little girl out in their diverse and urban community. They are kind to others on the subway. They greet their neighbors and shop at stores owned by people of different races and faiths. Then the little girl asks to walk the dog on her own. Will her parents be brave enough to let her leave fear behind and head into the world on her own?

Told simply and with great kindness, this picture book shows children and families exactly the small steps they can take to bring love and joy back into their lives during these stressful fear-filled times. The illustrations are simple, showing the diversity of the community with clarity. Families looking for ways to get beyond worry and fear will embrace this picture book. It is exactly what our world and our children need. (ARC received from Penguin.)

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui (9781479597468)

Written and illustrated by two Vietnamese-Americans, this picture book captures the author’s experience as a child accompanying his father to a local fishing pond. The two of them are up early since his father has to head to second job that he just got. They stop at the bait shop and pick up minnows. Then head to the pond, where the boy’s father fishes and the boy builds a fire for them. It’s cool during this Minnesota dawn. The two share sandwiches, a small memory from Vietnam about fishing, and catch fish for dinner. When they return home, the extended family is there and that evening they all feast on the fish together.

Phi’s prose is filled with the skill of a poet. He stitches the past and present together into a richness that is poignant. He welcomes young readers into the life of a refugee family in Minnesota. The illustrations have a modern edge to them, sometimes framed like a graphic novel and other times soaring to the sides of the page. Bui uses her format skillfully and enlivens this quiet tale of fishing and new lives. Told with grace and strength, this picture book is wondrous. (Reviewed from library copy.)

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin (9781406348613)

A boy is now far from his Italian home and only one thing in this new place reminds him of Italy and where he used to live. It is Mr. Evans’s pigeons and their cooing that reminds the boy of Rome. The boy spends time with Mr. Evans and the pigeons. Mr. Evans gives him one as his own, a gray pigeon with a white head that the boy names “King of the Sky.” But the pigeon is slow to return home as the pigeons train, though Mr. Evans insists the bird will be a champion. Finally, the bird gets the perfect long distance race, flying back from Italy. But will he make it or will he stay in Italy like the boy would long to?

Davies is a masterful writer, inviting the reader into the pain of a boy who has left the country he loves and hasn’t found a place that feels right in his new country. It is a book about loneliness and finding your way forward. It’s a book about connection with your neighbors and community to find that way. The illustrations by Carlin are quirky and beautifully layered. They have a dreamlike quality to them, filled with soft edges and even softer light. This is a picture book that invites readers to understand what home really is. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)