Tag Archives: Immigration

PPBF – The Matchbook Diary

When I first read today’s Perfect Picture Book, I was reminded of a journey I shared with my daughters when they were quite young. To help them remember favorite places and to help pass the time on long train rides, I brought along sketch books and encouraged them to record what they saw. As one of my daughters is celebrating her birthday today, I thought it was a perfect day to share today’s Perfect Picture Book.

0763676381.medTitle: The Matchbox Diary

Written By: Paul Fleischman

Illustrated By: Bagram Ibatoulline

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: diary; immigration; intergenerational; family history

Opening:

“Pick whatever you like the most. Then I’ll tell you its story.”

“There’s so many things here.”

“You’ll know when you see it. And then I’ll know something about you. The great-granddaughter I’ve only heard about.”

Brief Synopsis: A young girl discovers her great-grandfather’s matchbox diary, and she learns the history of his journey to America and first years in the country.

Links to Resources:

  • Keep a diary, either by writing entries each day or week, or drawing pictures of noteworthy events;
  • Do you collect anything? What do you collect? How do you store your collection?
  • The great-grandfather in the story journeyed from Italy to Ellis Island, in America. Discover more about these places;
  • View a YouTube video of Fleischman’s Matchbox Theatres and try making your own;
  • For more ideas, see the Teachers’ Guide.

Why I Like this Book:

The Matchbox Diary reads like an afternoon visit with an older relative. Told all in dialogue, the story has an immediacy which I think will resonate with kids. As the unnamed great-granddaughter opens each matchbox, she, and the reader, hear the great-grandfather share his journey to America and his difficult early life in his adopted homeland, including the jobs the entire family did, like canning fish, sorting peaches, shelling peas, peeling shrimp, opening oyster shells, rolling cigars, and “shelling nuts for restaurants, day and night.” I think this will be eye-opening to kids today!

I love how this story unfolds as the contents of each tiny box is revealed. And I love how the great-grandfather relates diary writing to collecting keepsakes, something even young children can do. That learning to read and keeping newspaper scraps with dates is important to the great-grandfather is an important lesson, too, as I think it will show kids the importance of reading.

Ibatoulline’s sepia-toned illustrations with their many details are the perfect accompaniment to the text, as they evoke the past and show the importance of even tiny items in our lives.

A Note about Craft:

In the Teachers’ Guide, Fleischman notes that he first conceived of the idea of a matchbox diary from an illustrator friend. Although he knew immediately that he wanted to write a story about this form of diary-keeping, it took him 15 years to publish the story. Good ideas certainly are worth waiting for!

The matchboxes at the heart of the story are very kid-relatable items. Although kids today may not see matchboxes often, their small size and ability to be repurposed as treasure boxes will resonate with kids, I think.

As noted above, Fleischman relates this tale entirely in unattributed dialogue. I think this draws the reader into the story and makes the slow-moving action more immediate and engaging for kids.

Visit Newbery-winner Fleischman’s website to see more of his books, including Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella, which I reviewed in March 2017.

Visit Ibatoulline’s website to view more of his illustrations.

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!

PPBF – Dreamers

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of today’s Perfect Picture Book. When I learned that the book launch was occurring this past Tuesday evening at Books of Wonder in NYC, a favorite indie children’s book store not far from my home, I just had to attend. IMG_1480While I can’t begin to capture the evening’s excitement in this post, I hope my review will encourage you to read today’s Perfect Picture Book, share it with others, and share your own story, too.

dreamers-book-des1-final-253x300Title: Dreamers

Written & Illustrated By: Yuyi Morales

Publisher/Date: Neal Porter Books (Holiday House Publishing, Inc.)/September 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; storytelling; libraries; books; hope

Opening:

I dreamed of you, then you appeared. Together we became Amor Love Amor. Resplendent life, you and I.

Brief Synopsis: A baby and his mother immigrate to the United States from Mexico, and at the local libraries, they learn a new language and find home and hope in a world of books.

Links to Resources:

  • If you were moving or traveling to a new city or country, what gifts would you bring with you?
  • Share a favorite book with a friend. Note that Morales shares a list of books that inspired her in the back matter;
  • Find more activities in the Dreamers’ Event Kit, including tips to tell your own story;
  • Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins on September 15th, with these Teacher Resources.

Why I Like this Book:

In sparse, lyrical prose and stunning mixed-media illustrations, Morales captures the hopes and fears of new immigrants to the United States. I love how Morales relates just a few details of the journey, including one gorgeous spread showing the young mother and her child crossing “a bridge outstretched like the universe” which holds such metaphorical meaning. I also love how the pair discover a world of knowledge within the library. I think this will resonate with kids – even those who aren’t newcomers or non-English speakers. As the pair note:

Books became our language.

Books became our home.

Books became our lives.

Morales’ vibrant, mixed-media illustrations bring heart and life to her words. In an afterword, she explains her process, lists some of the personal items that she photographed and scanned in, and even indicates that she used a nib pen that once belonged to Maurice Sendak to draw some of the artwork. Morales includes so many details – kids and adults will want to pour over the illustrations again and again (hint: look for favorite kids’ books, monarch butterflies, and other items repeated through many spreads).

A Note about Craft:

Morales utilizes first-person Point of View that brings an immediacy and intimacy to the story. Although the “you” of the text refers to her infant son, the inclusion of “you” made me feel as if I were journeying with the pair. As the story progresses, Morales often uses “we” to include her child as narrator, to help, I think, kids view Dreamers as not just a mother’s story but also her child’s story.

In her presentation, Morales shared her belief that we all bring gifts when we travel or move. Before reading Dreamers aloud to the audience, she shared a bag of surprises that held items she had enjoyed as a child in Mexico, and which she had brought as gifts to the US. This visual representation of gifts and talents resonated with me, and, I think, will encourage kids, especially newcomers, to realize that they have gifts and skills they can share.

Morales is an #OwnVoices author. In her presentation, she encouraged everyone to tell their stories, and reminded us that all authors and immigrants should be sharing their stories. And we are all immigrants.

Interestingly, Morales shared that she hesitated to tell her story, but that she did so in an attempt to “take our humanity back”, to show what immigrants bring, what they give, to their new homelands. At the encouragement of Neal Porter and her agent, Morales created Dreamers. Read Porter’s Editor’s Letter for more insights.

Dreamers is a journey story, complete with an actual bridge, that functions as a metaphor for entering a new life/new world, and a “surprising”, “unbelievable” place, the library. By making these spaces seem other-worldly, I think Morales highlights the importance of these locations and events to her journey and life.

As an illustrator/author, Morales understandably tells much of the story in the illustrations. I especially appreciate how she brings humor to the story through illustrations, such as in a favorite scene showing the young mother bathing her son in a public fountain with the simple text “we made lots of mistakes.”

Dreamers has received many starred reviews, and it’s the September book pick of Margarita Engle, Young People’s Poet Laureate. Dreamers is also available in Spanish as Soñadores. View a video of Morales discussing Dreamers and visit her website to see more of her work. Last month, I reviewed Sand Sister, a picture book Morales illustrated.

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!

PPBF – Her Right Foot

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another library find, and like Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight that I reviewed last week, written for a slightly older picture book reader.

0920_eggers-01-1000x666

Image reproduced from wbur.org 

Title: Her Right Foot

Written By: Dave Eggers

Illustrated By: Shawn Harris

Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books/2017

Suitable for Ages: 6-9 (and older)

Themes/Topics: immigration; famous landmarks; Statue of Liberty

Opening:

You have likely heard of a place called France.

If you have heard of France, you may have heard of the French. They are the people who live in France.

You may have also heard of something called the Statue of Liberty.

Brief Synopsis: This is a detailed, but fun, non-fiction exploration of the Statue of Liberty, ultimately focused on one of its lesser-known traits, that embodies an important message about immigration and the character of the United States.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Just as the Statue of Liberty, at 305 feet tall, is much larger than the “average” statue, so, too, at 104 pages and over 1,500 words, Her Right Foot is larger than the average picture book – even non-fiction picture books. But because of the longer page count filled, primarily, with engaging images, and because, I think, of Egger’s conversational tone, this book is a fast-paced read, that, I think, will draw kids into the story of the Statue of Liberty, her history and meaning.

I especially enjoyed how Eggers often stated that “you” may know, or have known, or probably know facts about the Statue of Liberty. Even though I didn’t know some (true confession: many) of these facts, I felt as if I did. By the point that Eggers got to the facts that gave title to the book, the statue’s “right foot”, I felt like a true insider, as anxious to discover what I didn’t know as a kid tearing open a present. That this small facet, this moving foot, is the key to the meaning of the Statue of Liberty, that she is moving forward to welcome immigrants, the “tired and poor” arriving at our shores, is an important lesson that children, I think, will “get” from this book. As Eggers writes,

After all, the Statue of Liberty is an immigrant, too. And this is why she’s moving. This is why she’s striding.

That the “big reveal” occurs in a two-page wordless spread shows how Her Right Foot is a true marriage of text and illustrations. I was especially happy to see that a young, dark-skinned boy is the one who points to Lady Liberty’s heel, raised, in mid-stride, off of the pedestal. I also loved how Harris’ construction paper and India ink illustrations include many details, including one scene that features a surprised-looking pup staring at the moving Statue (I can only imagine my two pups barking in that situation. I’ll be on the lookout, as we regularly walk in a park only a few miles upriver from Liberty Island!).

0920_right-foot02-1000x404

Interior spread from Her Right Foot

A Note about Craft:

Eggers employs many techniques that make Her Right Foot a fun and informative non-fiction read. He begins by addressing the reader, using second-person point-of-view: “You…” I think this draws the reader immediately into the story. At least this reader felt a part of the action.

Like another wonderful storyteller, Arlo Guthrie – who spent almost an entire song about the Vietnam War and the draft (Alice’s Restaurant), focused on a Thanksgiving feast and a trial about littering – Eggers starts not with Lady Liberty’s foot, but in France, the country of her origin. Eggers thus shows us from the outset that she is an immigrant, too. From there, he explores her history and various features, until finally focusing on one small detail to find meaning for the whole.

And how did Eggers discover that detail? As he revealed in an NPR interview, he was with his family visiting Liberty Island and, in his words,

I never had noticed until we were up close that she’s in mid-stride, and that she seems to be walking and walking with great purpose out to the sea. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s gotta mean something.’

Writers take note: A family outing to a new place may spur a story idea for you, too, especially if you pay attention to small details!

Finally, I think the humor in Her Right Foot is what will keep kids reading, and thinking about, not just the Statue of Liberty, but about how we welcome immigrants and what it means to be American.

Learn more about Dave Eggers, his publications and philanthropic pursuits on his website. See a July 2016 Guardian newspaper article by Eggers about why the Statue of Liberty’s welcome “must not end.”

Visit Shawn Harris’ website to see more of his art. Her Right Foot is his debut picture book.

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!

Picture Books that Explore the Refugee and Migrant Experience in the Americas for World Refugee Day 2018

In honor of #WorldRefugeeDay2018 and in solidarity with the “20 people [who] leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror” every minute (according to the United Nations), I’m posting this list of several Picture Books that I’ve reviewed in the past few years that illuminate the plight of those who flee their homes to seek refuge and that give voice to children separated from their parents due to immigration issues.

The refugee crisis is global, and several empathy-building Picture Books explore the refugee experience. This list focuses primarily on the Americas, however, as the events on the US border are uppermost today on my mind, and, I believe, on the minds of many parents, teachers and children trying to make sense of a senseless situation. Note: all links are to my reviews, which include resources to explore and discuss these issues further.

Please share in the comments other picture books that you’re reading about the refugee and migrant experience.

9780525428091_p0_v1_s192x300Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

Written By: Edwidge Danticat

Illustrated By: Leslie Staub

Publisher/date: Penguin Young Readers Group/2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Opening: “When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice.”

Brief Synopsis: When Mama is arrested and held in a women’s correctional facility because she lacks the correct immigration papers, young Saya misses her terribly. Mama records stories from her native Haiti for Saya while Papa writes letters to politicians and the media without success. Saya also writes a story that Papa sends to the local media, and that leads, ultimately, to the resolution of the problem.

9781554988501_1024x1024Somos como las nubes, We Are Like the Clouds
Written By:
 Jorge Argueta

Pictures ByAlfonso Ruano

Translated By: Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Opening:

Somos como las nubes

Elefantes, caballos, vaca, cuches,/ flores,/ballenas,/ pericos.

Somos como las nubes.

We Are Like the Clouds

Elephants, horses, cows, pigs,/ flowers,/ whales,/ parakeets.

We are like the clouds.

Brief Synopsis:

In this bilingual (Spanish and English) poetry collection, Argueta explores the hopes and fears that cause young people to leave Central America, the perils of the journey, and the arrival to the United States.

 

9781419709579_p0_v1_s192x300Migrant

Written By: José Manuel Mateo

Illustrated ByJavier Martínez Pedro

Translated By: Emmy Smith Ready

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/ 2014 (Mexican edition: Ediciones Tecolote/2011)

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Opening:

I used to play among the roosters and the pigs. The animals roamed free, because in the village there were no pens, nor walls between the houses. On one side of the village were the mountains; on the other side, the sea.

Brief SynopsisIn this bilingual (Spanish and English) picture book, a young boy recounts his journey with his mother and sister from a small village in Mexico to Los Angeles, after the men of the village, including his father, are forced to move to find work.

 

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Opening:

One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.

Brief Synopsis:

When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.

 

9780888999757_p0_v1_s118x184Migrant

Written By: Maxine Trottier

Illustrated ByIsabelle Arsenault

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2011

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: Mennonites, Canada, Mexico, farming, migrant

Opening:

            There are times when Anna feels like a bird. It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.

            Her family is a flock of geese eating its way there and back again.

Brief SynopsisMigrant is the story of Anna and her family, Mennonite farmers, who journey each summer to Canada to supplement their income by harvesting produce.

 

9780888995858_1024x1024Alfredito Flies Home

Written By: Jorge Argueta

Illustrated ByLuis Garay

Translated By:Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2007

Suitable for Ages:4-9

Opening:

My name is Alfredo, just like my father, but everyone calls me Alfredito. I am as happy as a bird today because I’m going back home. Finally, after four whole years in San Francisco, my mother, Adela, my father, my grandmother Serve and I are going to climb on a plane tomorrow and fly back to El Salvador.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy and his family who fled their home in El Salvador journey back to visit relatives and friends.

 

9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300Two White Rabbits

Written By: Jairo Buitrago

Illustrated By: Rafael Yockteng

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (per the publisher)

Opening:

When we travel, I count what I see. Five cows, four hens and one chucho, as my dad calls them.

Brief Synopsis: Like the two white rabbits of the title, a young girl and her father journey together trying to find a way to, and across, a border.

 

9781554518951_p0_v3_s192x300Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Written By: Mary Beth Leatherdale

Illustrated ByEleanor Shakespeare

Publisher/date: Annick Press Ltd/2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Opening:

At last, Ruth was free. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked up the gangplank of the SS St. Louis. After trying to get out of Germany for two years, her family had finally secured passage on a ship headed to Havana, Cuba.

Brief SynopsisStormy Seas is a collection of five true stories about young people who fled their homelands by boat from World War II until today.

 

PPBF – The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a self-import from Toronto, Canada. I visited there last weekend with my husband to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. Knowing that the independent Canadian children’s publishers often tackle difficult subjects, I couldn’t help but drag my husband to a bookstore – Another Story, where I found sections of the children’s area devoted to topics such as multicultural books, bullying, feelings and many others (the themes of “social justice, equity, and diversity” are highlighted on their website). I heartily recommend spending a few hours there! Interestingly, I also happened to read in a New York Times article a few days ago that a milestone has been reached: the time period since the Berlin Wall fell now exceeds the time period that it stood. As a wall features in today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t think of a better time to review it!

homegraphic02Title: The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Written & Illustrated By: Veronika Martenova Charles

Publisher/date: Nimbus Publishing/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; art; allegory; following dreams; walls

Opening:

Once, the world was divided by a BIG wall. On one side the sun rarely shone. Fields lay bare, towns and villages were grey, and shops were empty. People spoke in whispers because they were afraid of each other. They could not even trust their friends.

NOBODY WAS ALLOWED OUTSIDE THE WALL.

This was where Emma lived.

Brief Synopsis:

After her parents disappear and she is forced to live with an aunt who thinks that art isn’t useful, a young girl escapes her dreary life to resettle as an immigrant in a new land of happiness and colour.

Links to Resources:

  • In an Afterword, Charles recounts her own story of defection from the Eastern Bloc;
  • Learn about the “Iron Curtain” that separated the Communist Eastern Bloc from the free world;
  • Use your brightest crayons or colored pencils to draw a room or area outdoors; then draw the same space without color and without the things that make that room or area colorful. Which do you like better? Why?

Why I Like this Book:

The Land Beyond the Wall has a fairy-tale aspect to it from its beginning, “Once,” to the end. As in fairy tales, Emma has a friend, an old doll that had been her mother’s doll, who comforts and counsels her. Emma journeys on a boat that magically appears and then sails for days across stormy seas to a “land where dreams come true.” But before those dreams come true, she loses something, her voice. Only with perseverance can she find her voice again.

I like Martenova Charles’ analogy of physically losing one’s voice to the experience of immigrants who don’t speak or understand a language in the new land. I think this is a wonderful way to explain to children what it’s like to live in another country, whether by choice or, in the case of refugees, necessity. I also like that Martenova Charles ties the pursuit of art and beauty to freedom.

Martenova Charles’ soft, pastel illustrations help define the two lands, the dreary, more gray and brown area of the land where Emma was born, portrayed with charcoal, and the colorful area beyond the wall. To see an interior spread, look here.

A Note about Craft:

The Land Beyond the Wall is a semi-autobiographical story. Martenova Charles immigrated to Canada in 1970 and spent her first days in the country in a group setting in Nova Scotia, much like the “maze of corridors and halls” she describes in The Land Beyond the Wall. Martenova Charles was a young adult at the time, however, unlike the much younger Emma. I think by decreasing Emma’s age and adding the fairy tale elements, Martenova Charles renders the story much more kid-relatable. For authors who want to write a personal story, I think it’s helpful to remember that it’s the essence of the story, and not the actual details, that’s most important to retain.

I love the opening lines, in which the Wall itself is portrayed almost as a character – the one dividing the two worlds. By opening the story in this way, I think Martenova Charles is able to keep the focus on the difference between the two societies, rather than on the reason they are different, which would be a very difficult subject to try to explain to young children.

Find out more about Veronika Martenova Charles.

Nimbus Publishing “is the largest English-language publisher east of Toronto. Nimbus produces more than thirty new titles a year on a range of subjects relevant to the Atlantic Provinces” of Canada, including children’s picture books.

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!

PPBF – Migrant

I first saw today’s Perfect Picture Book at a small independent bookstore that displayed it among a group of immigration-related children’s books. Cloth-bound with a scene from the illustrations on paper inset on the front cover, and differing in dimension from the majority of picture books, it immediately caught my eye. I’m so glad it did, as today’s Perfect Picture Book is a unique one:

 

9781419709579_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Migrant

Written By: José Manuel Mateo

Illustrated By: Javier Martínez Pedro

Translated By: Emmy Smith Ready

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/ 2014 (Mexican edition: Ediciones Tecolote/2011)

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes/Topics: bilingual, Codex, migrant, immigration

Opening:

I used to play among the roosters and the pigs. The animals roamed free, because in the village there were no pens, nor walls between the houses. On one side of the village were the mountains; on the other side, the sea.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy recounts his journey with his mother and sister from a small village in Mexico to Los Angeles, after the men of the village, including his father, are forced to move to find work.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about amate paper, a type of paper created from tree bark in parts of Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America) and utilized for the illustrations in Migrant;
  • The illustrations in Migrant form a Codex, a long sheet of amate paper gathered into an “accordion” fold; try writing your own Codex book;
  • Learn more about Mexico.

Why I Like this Book:

Migrant is not just the story of one family’s journey from Mexico. Through its unique storytelling format, it relates a cultural tale, too.

Told as a codex, with text accompanying the very detailed pen and ink illustrations that spread in accordion-fashion as a seamless picture vertically down the page, Migrant enables us to experience the storytelling techniques of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the region, the Mayans and Aztecs. We do so while learning in this fictional account why the parents in a representative family decide to leave their home, what difficulties the mother and children encounter on the journey and what awaits them in Los Angeles – the City of Angels, where the child narrator, his sister and mother anticipate working as house cleaners and hope to find their father, who had journeyed earlier to find work.

Migrant is written for older children and an information sheet accompanying the book indicates that it is not recommended for children under 8.

9781419709579_p1_v2_s192x300

A Note about Craft:

Mateo and Pedro utilize a storytelling technique suggested by the original editor (per a 2014 interview with Mateo in Literary Kids) that honors the rich history and cultural traditions of the main character and his fellow villagers.  By drawing on these techniques, the author and illustrator help readers understand the context of the villagers’ situation and the choices they make. As authors and/or illustrators, we similarly can utilize culturally-empathetic techniques to ground and enrich our storytelling.

Mateo employs first-person point of view to draw his readers into this story. Doing so brings immediacy to the situation.

Finally, Mateo adds what at first blush seems like an unimportant detail: Gazul, the narrator’s pet dog and one of the few named characters, spoils games of hide-n-seek by giving away the narrator’s hiding places. Hiding plays a role later in the story, as the narrator and his family evade police to avoid detection. Mateo circles back to Gazul at the end of the story, too, this time as the narrator thinks about “my poor dog”, who “doesn’t like to be alone”.  Adding Gazul to the story enables Mateo to show the positive and relatable aspects of the narrator’s life before he migrates and what he and his family give up in Los Angeles. Inclusion of a pet also builds empathy for the narrator and his situation and can help readers relate to this difficult situation, as many kids can understand the distress their pets feel when left alone.

Migrant received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.

For other perspectives on the migrant/immigration experience from Mexico and Central America, see:

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

This past Tuesday marked the United Nations’ #WorldRefugeeDay. In many countries, programs to illuminate the plight of refugees are being held this week (19-25 June 2017), and designated #RefugeeWeek. But while the numbers of refugees is at an all-time high, the act of leaving one’s home to escape danger or to discover a better life elsewhere is not new. Today’s Perfect Picture Book puts this current refugee crisis into historical perspective:

9781554518951_p0_v3_s192x300Title: Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Written By: Mary Beth Leatherdale

Illustrated By: Eleanor Shakespeare

Publisher/date: Annick Press Ltd/2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes/Topics: refugees, non-fiction, war, immigration

Opening:

At last, Ruth was free. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked up the gangplank of the SS St. Louis. After trying to get out of Germany for two years, her family had finally secured passage on a ship headed to Havana, Cuba.

Brief Synopsis: Stormy Seas is a collection of five true stories about young people who fled their homelands by boat from World War II until today.

Links to Resources:

  • Leatherdale includes a Resources page in Stormy Seas, with links to organizations that work with refugees and organizations that maintain databases of refugee experiences;
  • Learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis
  • Read (or reread) the Paddington Bear stories and discuss how this orphaned bear must have felt as he left his home in Peru and traveled alone by boat to England, with a note around his neck, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” (with thanks to Sun Hats and Wellie Boots for pointing out the connection between Paddington Bear and refugees);
  • Try drawing pictures of refugee children in a boat. What do you think the boat looks like? Is it large or small? New or old? What have the children brought with them? What would you carry if you were journeying to a new home?
  • Check out the artworks at Counterpoint Arts that have been designed to draw attention to the plight of refugees and/or created by refugees.

Why I Like this Book:

Stormy Seas is not a picture book that you’d pick up lightly to read to young children at bedtime. Rather, Stormy Seas is a timely resource written for school-aged children that puts the current refugee crisis into context and puts faces on, and tells the true stories of, five young refugees who left their homelands in boats during several periods of recent history. A timeline of earlier refugee streams also is included.

Ruth was an 18-year-old Jew fleeing Nazi Germany, whose ship was turned away from Havana harbor in 1939, but whose family found refuge first in Great Britain and then in the United States. Phu, a 14-year-old boy, traveled alone from Vietnam in 1979, and finally joined family in the United States. Thirteen-year-old Jose and his family fled Cuba in 1980 as part of the Mariel boat lift to Florida. Najeeba, an 11-year-old member of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan, fled in 2000 with her family via Pakistan and Indonesia to Australia.  Mohamed, a 13-year-old orphan from the Ivory Coast, traveled alone across northern Africa to Libya, where, four years after he started, he traveled across the Mediterranean to Italy in 2010.

Told in their own words with sidebars explaining terms and context, and accompanied by collaged maps, photographs, newspaper articles, illustrations, and timelines, these stories, “give readers insight into the courage and fortitude of individual boat refugees, and a better understanding of how political and cultural conflicts force children and families into these untenable situations.” (interview with Leatherdale, in School Library Journal)

Stormy Seas will be a valuable addition to home, school, and community libraries seeking to illuminate the refugee journey for children.

Watch the book trailer here

A Note about Craft:

Stormy Seas is a unique compilation picture book, unlike any of the stories the vast majority of us will write and/or illustrate. Like the stories we tell, however, Leatherdale’s text and Shakespeare’s images need to pull on readers’ and listeners’ heartstrings – the pair had to find the emotional core of each story. By sprinkling quotations through the text and including photographs of these refugees as children, I think the pair has done so. Anyone writing non-fiction and/or biographies will learn much from studying Stormy Seas.

In addition to emotional pull, Leatherdale highlighted a common theme, escape via boat, to tie the individual stories together, while also focusing on differences in the refugees’ experiences, to keep the stories from seeming repetitive. Anyone writing about multiple subjects can learn from her focus on common threads and unique facts.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!