Mexique by María José Ferrada

Cover image for Mexique

Mexique by María José Ferrada, illustrated by Ana Penyas (9780802855459)

In a true story, over 400 children fled the violence of the Spanish Civil War. They were put on a boat and sent to Morelia, Mexico in 1937. Their families expected only to be separated from them for a few months, like an extended summer vacation, nothing more. Told from the point of view of one of the children, this book shows their time aboard the boat to their arrival in Mexico. The war was a hand that shook their lives apart, separated them and sent them adrift. But there were other hands too, hands of the older children who took care of the little ones. Not all of the older children were kind, sometimes stealing from the little kids. They arrived in Mexico, bringing the impact of the war with them, heading unknowingly into permanent exile.

Ferrada’s text is poetic and haunting. She writes of the hope of when the children embark, the bitter choice that their parents had to make in sending them to safety. She writes of the time aboard ship, of games played and small wars fought. She writes of long lonely nights at sea until the waving crowds welcome them to Mexico. The story stops there, continued in an afterword the explains what happened to the “Children of Morelia” and what history had in store for them.

The illustrations are just as haunting as the text. Done in a limited color palette with often jagged lines of ship railings and waves, they are sharp and unsettling. Showing the somber farewells, the crowds of children, they are sorrowful and foretell the longer refugee story ahead.

Somber, beautiful and timely. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.

The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros (9780358329602)

One day, a strange animal arrived with a big suitcase. He was frightened and dusty. The other animals who lived there, came out and started asking him what was in his big suitcase. He answered that there is a teacup inside, along with a table and chair. In fact, he went on to tell them that his entire home is in the suitcase, a wooden cabin with the hillside it sat on. Then the animal curled up and went to sleep. The others knew there was only one way to find out if the animal was telling the truth. They had to open the suitcase! But what was inside surprised them all and gave them a way to say they were sorry for breaking into his belongings.

This picture book shows the importance of a few belongings from home for refugees. Through the eyes of the strange teal animal, young readers will feel outraged that the others broke into his suitcase but also will be amazed at what they go on to do next. One wrong can be undone as long as care and empathy is given in its place. The book does not lecture at all, allowing the lessons learned to be organically presented in the story.

The art is simple and clear, filled with animals of different colors. The animals pop on the clean white page while sepia tones are used to look back at the new animal’s homeland. They are echoed in the photograph that they discover too. The text contains a lot of dialogue done in colors that match each of the animals, so no speech bubbles are needed.

A gentle and empathetic look at welcoming someone to your community and honoring where they have come from. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam (9781771473637)

Inspired by her own family’s refugee story, this wordless picture book shares the story of a family fleeing Vietnam. Ant crawl around the food on the table in Vietnam, lured into a bowl of sugar water. A little girl saves the ants from the trap and prevents them from drowning. Meanwhile outside the window, tanks and soldiers appear and the family flees into the night, separating from one another. The little girl and her mother hide in the tall grass, narrowly avoiding the searching soldiers. The girl notices a line of ants leaving the grass. They follow the ants and discover the shore where they wait for the boat to carry them away. In the meantime, they make a paper boat from a food wrapper that is used by the ants to escape across the water too. In a new country, the family gathers around a table together, the ants arrive as well.

Lam’s art is exceptional. She has created a detailed world of harrowing dangers in her depiction of Vietnam. Just having the money and papers mixed with bowls of food on the family table indicates a family ready to flee. The loving family provide moments of connection even as they flee, caring for the spirits of the little one among them.

The most powerful piece of the book is when the ants venture onto the sea in their small paper boat. Some ants perish on the journey, hunger is an issue, and they barely survive, in the end swimming to the safety of the shore. That allegory allows the dangers of the journey to be shown in detail but through ants rather than the direct loss of the characters. It’s powerful and also appropriate for children to begin to understand.

This important wordless picture book tells the refugee story with empathy and strength. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Owlkids.

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

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

Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan

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.

Review: Lilah Tov Good Night by Ben Gundersheimer

Lilah Tov Good Night by Ben Gundersheimer

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.

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.