I’m always so happy when I’m able to feature a new picture book by a debut author, especially when I’ve had the pleasure of meeting that author and discussing the book before it was published (or even under contract for publication). I know you’ll agree that my selection today truly is a Perfect Picture Book.
Title: Wherever I Go
Written By: Mary Wagley Copp
Illustrated By: Munir D. Mohammed
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Children, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Publishing/2020
Suitable for Ages: 6-9
Themes/Topics: refugee, resilience, imagination, resettlement
I AM QUEEN ABIA of the Shimelba Camp. Of all my friends, I have been here the longest—seven years, four months, and sixteen days. That’s what Papa says.
“Too long,” he adds.
I think it’s the perfect amount of time to become a queen.
Brief Synopsis: A young girl recounts her experiences as queen of a refugee camp, sharing the skills she’s acquired that will help her settle in a new country and home.
Links to Resources:
- Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome in your school or community (for Refugee Week 2020, 15-21 June, the listed activities can be done at home);
- Are you a queen or king? Make a crown from a paper plate, or make a real or paper daisy crown;
- Queen Abia balances a large pail of water on her head. Try placing a book or a container of water on your head (you might want to do this outside!), and then try walking while balancing it there. How does doing this make you feel?
- Queen Abia helps her mother to prepare fufu, a traditional African food. Try making fufu;
- Learn more about the refugee experience in the Note from the Author and in the books for young readers listed.
Why I Like this Book:
In Wherever I Go, the imaginative, young Abia introduces readers to her life in a refugee camp. We learn how she marches with friends, pumps and carries water to her mother, helps prepare meals, watches her young cousin, drums while waiting for food distributions, howls at hyenas, and sleeps on a prickly mat. She even wears a crown because she is Queen Abia, who has remained in the camp longer than any of her friends. And when she and her family leave the camp to resettle in a new country and home, she will bring the stories of her reign and the many skills she has learned, because she’ll still be a queen.
In young Abia, Wagley Copp has created a narrator who is imaginative, brave, and resilient. Neither Wagley Copp nor Abia sugarcoat life in the camp. But Wagley Copp reminds readers that refugees, like Abia, are survivors who will thrive and enrich any community where they settle. For they are not victims but authors of their own destinies, who will still be queens or kings wherever they go.
Mohammed’s acrylic paintings transported me to Africa where much of this story takes place. Paired with Wagley Copp’s lyrical text, this debut picture book that tackles the difficult subjects of life in a refugee camp and resettlement afterwards is a must have for schools, libraries, and the homes of everyone who cares about those displaced by war or anhy other reason.
A Note about Craft:
As with many of the picture books about the refugee experience, Wagley Copp uses first-person point-of-view to bring immediacy to the story, to enable readers to experience life in the refugee camp from Abia’s perspective. I think this helps build reader empathy and greater understanding of the refugee experience.
In the Note from the Author, Wagley Copp explains that she never has been a refugee. She has, however, visited a refugee camp and met resettled refugees in her role as a documentary filmmaker. This first-hand knowledge helps bring authenticity to the story, as does the inclusion of small details, like the number of years, months, and days the family has been in the camp and the type of tree branches that form Abia’s crown.
The author provided a digital copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!