The stunning cover of today’s Perfect Picture Book drew my eye on the library shelf. When I read the jacket flap, I knew that I had to read, and review it, as it takes places primarily at the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, a camp which my daughter visited when she volunteered with Syrian refugees in Jordan in 2013 and 2014. Without further ado, today’s Perfect Picture Book:
Title: My Beautiful Birds
Written & Illustrated By: Suzanne Del Rizzo
Publisher/date: Pajama Press
Suitable for Ages: 6-10
Themes/Topics: Syria, refugees, birds, refugee camps, Jordan
The ground rumbles beneath my slippers as I walk. Father squeezes my hand. “It will be okay, Sami. Your birds escaped, too,” he repeats. His voice sounds far away. I squeeze back, hoping it will steady my wobbly legs.
Brief Synopsis: After a bomb destroys their home, young Sami and his family flee Syria and settle in a refugee camp. But Sami worries about the pet birds that can’t accompany the family, and only finds emotional solace when he discovers new birds at the camp.
Links to Resources:
- Find and color your favorite birds;
- Learn more about the Syrian conflict and life in the refugee camps;
- The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, offers teacher resources to help explain the refugee situation to students.
Why I Like this Book:
My Beautiful Birds is a beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated book about a young boy coping with the loss of pets and home and adapting to life in a refugee camp. While the subject matter is understandably somber, Del Rizzo’s images of birds flying up to the sky and escaping, or others appearing in the camp to console young Sami, leave the reader with a feeling of hope, that Sami, and the refugee children he represents, will survive the ordeals and live a better life in the future.
Using a combination of Plasticine, polymer clay and other mixed media, Del Rizzo’s illustrations are the perfect compliments to the story. While they are detailed enough to convey emotion well, because they appear as theatrical vignettes, they provide some distance for the reader from a story which tackles a difficult subject.
Watch the Book Trailer:
A Note about Craft:
On the book jacket, Del Rizzo states that she “came across the article of a boy who took solace in a connection with wild birds” at the refugee camp and was inspired to write My Beautiful Birds. Similarly, author Margriet Ruurs saw the artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr on Facebook, and was inspired to write Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. Authors and illustrators, what article, headline in your news feed, or tweet has inspired a story?
Birds play many roles in this story: as a link to the past; as a reason to hope for a better future; and as metaphor – “Like feathered brushes they paint the sky with promise and hope of peace.” Birds play a role in Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, too, also as metaphor for the migratory journey of the refugees, fleeing to a place of safety and greater emotional security.
See more of Suzanna Del Rizzo’s work here.
Established in 2011, Pajama Press is a “small literary press” in Toronto, Canada, producing “all formats popular in children’s publishing across a fairly broad range of genres.”
My Beautiful Birds is a 2017 Junior Library Guild selection and has received favorable reviews in, among others, The New York Times Book Review.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!