Tag Archives: Refugees

PPBF – Leaving My Homeland: A Refugee’s Journey from Syria

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book in my local library. I’m so happy that our children’s librarian acquires such timely titles!

9780778731849_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Leaving My Homeland: A Refugee’s Journey from Syria

Written & Illustrated By: Helen Mason

Publisher/date: Crabtree Publishing Company/2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-11

Themes/Topics: Syria, refugees

Opening:

Leaving Syria: A terrible civil war has been fought in Syria since March 2011. The war is between the Syrian government and rebel fighters. The rebels are fighting for democracy.

Brief Synopsis: Pimarily a non-fiction, encyclopedic account about Syria, its civil war, and the refugee crisis, interspersed with the facts is the fictional account of Roj, a young boy who flees Aleppo with his family to seek safety in Germany.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the ways “You Can Help!”, including making newcomers feel welcome and learning welcoming words in other languages;
  • A Glossary and Learning More sections help spur further study.

Why I Like this Book:

Leaving My Homeland is a hybrid of non-fiction facts that provide background information and context to the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis, and the fictional account of one child and his family fleeing Syria. This picture-book sized book is divided into chapters, each of which is a mixture of text, colorful text boxes, photographs and other graphics. For instance, A “Syria’s Story in Numbers” graphic is repeated in several chapters and highlights that people have lived in Damascus for 11,000 years, that almost every child in Syria attended school before the war, but that now 2.8 million lack access to education, and that more than 420,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Germany in 2015. This quick-facts format is visually engaging and will enable kids to gain greater understanding of the enormity of the Syrian refugee crisis and what they can do to help.

I particularly like that Leaving My Homeland includes information about the UN Rights of the Child, as this information can help readers understand the rights and privileges they enjoy and that refugees seek.

refugeesyria-1

reprinted from the Crabtree Publishing Company website

A Note about Craft:

Leaving My Homeland is part of a “curriculum-specific book series” created and published by Crabtree Books. I have not yet read the others in the series; however, the cover art looks similar for all 10 titles, and I imagine they follow a similar format. This will make them particularly valuable for classrooms and libraries. For non-fiction writers, thinking about similar topics that could form a series and addressing those topics using identical formats are ways to increase your publication potential.

Interspersing factual sections with a fictional story helps kids relate to the issues presented and build empathy for refugees, such as the fictional Roj, whose story appears here.

Finally, especially in books written with older children in mind, a mixture of illustration types and breaking the information up into “sound-bites” are important to focus attention on these important details. I think all authors and illustrators profit from thinking in this kid-focused way.

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 – The Treasure Box

I was browsing in a favorite bookstore recently, Books of Wonder in New York City, when a very helpful staff member brought today’s perfect picture book to my attention. Although it’s newly published in the US, its original publication date is 2013 in Australia. I love seeing how authors and illustrators from cultures outside the US approach storytelling. Today’s pair incorporates some interesting techniques that I think we all can use when writing and/or illustrating stories:

9780763690847_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Treasure Box

Written By: Margaret Wild

Illustrated By: Freya Blackwood

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2017 (first published in Australia by Penguin/Random House/2013)

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: books, treasure, war, refugees

Opening: When the enemy bombed the library, everything burned.

Brief Synopsis: War rages, and an enemy destroys the library and its books and then orders everyone to leave their homes. Peter and his father flee, taking a treasure box containing one book with them.

Links to Resources:

  • Craft a treasure box out of a shoe box or other recycled carton by covering it with wrapping paper, labeling it or decorating it with precious pictures or “jewels”. What will you put in your box?
  • Think about what one or two things you would keep with you if you were traveling or moving house.
  • Do you have a favorite book? Why is it your favorite? What does it tell us about you?
  • Create a collage of pictures that describes you and/or your family: your interests, history and community.

Why I Like this Book:

The Treasure Box is a haunting but hopeful story about refugees that raises many interesting questions. The reader never learns who the enemy is or where and when the story takes place. In many ways, Peter and his father are like the mother and children fleeing in Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, or Zoe and her family in Fran Nuño’s The Map of Good Memories.: fleeing an enemy, we just don’t know who or when or where.

Unlike refugee stories like The Journey, or Margriet Ruur’s Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, however, The Treasure Box doesn’t end when Peter is in a new country, removed from the war. Rather, after the war ends, a grown-up Peter returns to the city he had fled and even finds and returns the book in the treasure box to the restored library. Ending in this way enables readers and listeners to envision peace after the war. It also places the focus on the item Peter’s father chooses to save: not only does Peter survive but he also saves the one book that illuminates something about the ruined city’s culture or history.

Interestingly, neither the title nor the type of book is mentioned. We learn only that it’s loved by Peter’s father, more precious than jewels, silver or gold, and is “about our people, about us.” Whether it’s a religious text, a secular text or a history of a particular ethnic, cultural, religious or regional group is not revealed.

Blackwood’s soft pencil, watercolor and collage illustrations complement and further the text. In a blog post, Blackwood reveals that she created “each illustration in layers, cut out and stuck one upon the other like a paper diorama.” This multi-layered approach enables Blackwood to utilize book text in many spreads, highlighting the importance of the book in the treasure box and helping readers and listeners remember that the book accompanies Peter and his father on the journey, even when it isn’t otherwise visible.

TTB_4

Interior Spread reprinted from Blackwood’s website

A Note about Craft:

In contrast to the families portrayed in many of the refugee books I’ve read, Peter flees with his father only; there is no mention of his mother or any other female figure. My guess is that this is a deliberate choice, perhaps due to the nature of the saved book. Peter’s father may be a religious scholar.

I mentioned Blackwood’s collaged artwork and use of printed text above. Snippets of text appear on the front cover, blanket the end papers and appear as background on other spreads. Curious as to where and when this story was taking place, I googled some of the text to determine the language. I discovered that some is Slavic, some Hungarian, and some Spanish. I then read the “fine print” and learned this text is taken from foreign editions of Sonya Hartnett’s The Silver Donkey  (Penguin Australia, 2006), a World War I story that incorporates fables to highlight the importance of stories to culture, and Morris Gleitzman’s Once (Pearson Education, 2007) and Then (Penguin Australia, 2008), stories set in World War II that also highlight the importance of stories to culture. By integrating these texts into The Treasure Box, I believe Blackwood is adding emphasis to Wild’s thesis about the importance of the written word to preserve culture.

What references are you adding to the stories you write or illustrate?  What details can you provide that help contextualize your characters, problem, or solution, or that may set your story within a literary tradition.

See more of Freya Blackwood’s illustrations on her website.

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!

PPBF – My Beautiful Birds

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:

9781772780109_p0_v2_s192x300Title: 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

Opening:

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:

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!

PPBF – The Map of Good Memories

I thought I’d kick off Memorial Day weekend with a book from across the Pond, from Spain, to be exact. What does Spain have to do with Memorial Day, you ask? Probably not much, as there doesn’t seem to be a comparable holiday there. But Memorial Day is about remembering, and it’s also the “official” start of the summer vacation season, at least here in the United States. Both relate in certain ways to today’s Perfect Picture Book.

First, today’s Book is about remembering. It also reminded me of a special vacation journey I took one summer with my two older children when they were 4 and 6 (my husband met us mid-trip). We traveled among several German, Czech and Austrian cities by train. While I kept a written diary, the girls drew pictures of their favorite activities each day – a kind of Book of Good Memories.

May you make and remember many good memories this Memorial Day weekend and on your travels this summer. And now, today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9788416147823_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Map of Good Memories

Written By: Fran Nuño

Illustrated By: Zuzanna Celej

Translated By: Jon Brokenbrow

Publisher/date: Cuento de Luz/2016 (Spanish edition also available)

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; home; maps; remembering; saying farewell

Opening:

Zoe had lived in the city since she was born. But now, because of the war, she had to flee with her family and take refuge in another country.

Brief Synopsis: As her family prepares to flee the war-torn city of her birth, Zoe maps out the favorite places where she has spent the happiest times of her life.

Links to Resources:

  • Map your classroom, home, city or favorite picture book;
  • Learn mapping skills; a good resource to learn is a newly-published picture book, Mapping My Day, written by Julie Dillemuth, illustrated by Laura Wood, and published by Magination Press (2017);
  • When you travel, keep a “favorite places” diary by drawing a picture each evening of someplace you enjoyed seeing or something you enjoyed doing;
  • In the Author’s Note, Nuño states that The Map of Good Memories is “about saying farewell.” Think about what or to whom you would say “farewell” if you were traveling or moving house.

Why I Like this Book:

This is a poignant story about treasuring the little things you enjoy about the place where you live. On the eve of her family’s departure, ten year-old Zoe looks back at all of the happy times she has enjoyed in her hometown.

Unlike other refugee books that focus on the journey (The Journey and Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey come to mind) or a better life ahead, The Map of Good Memories focuses on the past, on the positive aspects of life in Zoe’s home city before the war. Most of these are small, everyday occurrences that kids will relate well to, like going to school, visiting the library and bookstore, playing in the park, and enjoying favorite films in the movie theatre. As Zoe maps out the special memories of her childhood, she finds a special surprise and comes to the realization that these memories will always be with her, wherever she lives, and that someday she will return.

I love this hopeful message for refugee children. I also think it’s a good reminder for all of us that places that currently are wracked by war or other disasters have a history, and potential future, that are peaceful and positive.

Celej’s soft, watercolor images impart a sense of peacefulness and reflection to the story, and will encourage multiple readings.

Images and text about the war are few, so this is a wonderful book to share with kids who are moving for other reasons as well.

Source: Cuenta de Luz

 

A Note about Craft:

Interestingly, neither Nuño’s text nor Celej’s illustrations clearly reveal the setting or era of The Map of Good Memories. While the city appears European and while most people depicted are fair-haired Caucasians who wear neither veils nor headscarves, the time period is not obvious. In a review reprinted by Barnes & Noble, one reviewer guesses World War II. I’d guess the Bosnian conflict instead, given that Zoe is portrayed in jeans in one scene and wearing a bike helmet in another. Regardless, by not naming the conflict or even the city, I think Nuño makes the action more immediate: this could happen anywhere, at any time, to any of us.

Even though they leave two key elements of the story vague, Nuño and Celej weave many small details into The Map of Good Memories. For instance, not only does Zoe remember many films she enjoyed at the movie theatre, but Nuño mentions “the candy counter, the big seats, the lady who showed you to your seat with a flashlight…” Despite this detailed description, he leaves room for the illustrations, with bookshelves “full of real treasures” that Celej then fills in with dreamy characters surrounding Zoe as she reads. Nuño also leaves the depiction of the theatre to Celej, who completes it with a marquee heralding The Wizard of Oz, a brilliant cultural reference, as, after all, “there’s no place like home.”

Cuento de Luz, “based in Madrid, Spain but with an international outlook,” is a publishing company specializing in children’s literature, primarily picture books. Its philosophy is to publish stories that are “full of light that bring out the inner child within all of us. Stories that take the imagination on a journey and help care for our planet, respect differences, eliminate borders and promote peace.” Cuento de Luz is a B Corporation that uses “stone paper” in the production of its books – no trees, no water, no bleach.

Fran Nuño is the author of over 30 children’s books and owner of a bookstore in Seville, Spain.

Zuzanna Celej is a children’s book illustrator of Polish descent, educated and working in Spain.

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 – The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story

I discovered today’s Perfect Picture Book in the bookstore at the New England SCBWI 2017 conference this past April. The gorgeous stitched illustrations and evocative title drew my attention even before I saw the tag line, a refugee’s story. Interestingly, it’s not one I’ve found on any of the many lists of picture books about refugees…yet!

As this is the story of a grandmother and grandchild journeying together, with their love and the strength of the female community so prevalent throughout the tale, I thought this is a Perfect Picture Book to feature for Mother’s Day:

9781563971341_p0_v1_s118x184Title: The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story

Written By: Pegi Deitz Shea

Illustrated By: Anita Riggio

Stitched By: You Yang

Publisher/date: Boyds Mills Press/1995

Suitable for Ages: 3-8 (per the publisher; I’d say older)

Themes/Topics: refugees, Hmong, needlework folk art

Opening:

After Mai’s cousins moved to America, Mai passed the days with Grandma at the Widows’ Store, watching the women do pa´ndau story cloths. She loved listening to the widows stitch and talk, stitch and talk – mostly about their grandmothers’ lives in China a hundred years ago. All Mai could remember was life inside the refugee camp, where everyone seemed to come and go but her.

Brief Synopsis:

With the help and encouragement of her grandmother and the women stitching, and selling, Hmong story cloths, Mai learns this traditional art and shares the tale of her losses.

Links to Resources:

  • Shea provides a Curriculum Guide on her website and there is a Glossary and Foreward that provide Hmong words and story background;
  • Learn about the Hmong peoples and culture;
  • Learn about Hmong embroidery and try some embroidery stitches;
  • Learn about Southeast Asia, including Laos and Thailand, the setting of The Whispering Cloth;
  • Create story pictures about your life or the life of an older relative or friend.

Why I Like this Book:

As is evident from the synopsis, the refugee in today’s picture book hails not from the Middle East, Africa, or Central America. Nor is Mai’s story a contemporary tale. Published over 20 years ago, The Whispering Cloth is the story of a young, orphaned Hmong refugee living with her grandmother and dreaming of a better life. Tragically, while the setting and ethnic group are different, this story is as relevant today as when it was written. And while children like Mai may now be settled in the US and have children of their own, I believe that learning what they experienced is important for all of us. Reading The Whispering Cloth together may even help these survivors share their experiences with children and grandchildren.

The bond between Mai and her grandmother is another reason I like this story. That older women have talents and traditions to share with grandchildren is a valuable facet of this tale.

Finally, I love how the arts are at the heart of The Whispering Cloth: as a way to earn money by selling the pa´ndau story cloths and as a means to both tell and process the horrific experience of losing parents, fleeing home, and living in a refugee camp. The folk art pa´ndau is also central to Hmong culture, making it particularly relevant to the story of Hmong refugees. This makes me wonder about the folk art traditions of current refugees: whether the children are learning them, whether they serve as therapeutic outlets, and whether they are surviving the transitions to new homes and cultures.

The Whispering Cloth includes scenes and references that might prove upsetting to younger children (blood, soldiers and bullets figure in the embroidered story). However, they are integral to the story, and the combination of rich watercolor and embroidered artwork may soften the potential impact of these troubling details for younger children.

A Note about Craft:

Authors and illustrators know that we must find the kernel of a story, the nugget at its heart that helps the story resonate with readers. But how do you identify that nugget? At least when writing a story set in a particular place or describing a particular culture, I think the nugget must provide insight to that place/culture. Additionally, it must play a significant role in the character development and story outcome. I think the nugget in The Whispering Cloth is the Hmong pa´ndau. Its centrality in the text and illustrations provides a window into Hmong culture, a culture about which many readers may be unfamiliar. It also acts as a mirror, for those who journeyed through the refugee camps and beyond, as they share this story with their children and future generations. And mastering the techniques enables Mai to remain tied to her traditional culture while earning the money necessary to escape from the refugee camp.

Neither Shea nor Riggio is an #OwnVoice author or illustrator, but a Hmong artist, You Yang, rendered Mai’s story as a pa´ndau, adding richness and authenticity to this story.

Pegi Deitz Shea is also the author of a middle grade book, Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story (Clarion, 2003), that follows Mai as she starts a new life in Rhode Island.O8Sg9_KvFq0C

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!

PPBF – Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey

For Earth Day, I’m reviewing a picture book that combines natural, earth-derived artwork with the story of a Syrian refugee and her family. I believe a picture book that reminds us of our connections to the earth and with each other is truly a Perfect Picture Book:

9781459814905_p0_v3_s192x300Title: Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey

Written By: Margriet Ruurs

Artwork By: Nizar Ali Badr

Translated into Arabic By:  Falah Raheem

Publisher/date: Orca Books Publishers/2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: Refugees, Syria, stone artwork

Opening:

“Rama, wake up!”

the rooster crowed

every morning when we still lived at home.

From my warm bed

I listened as Mama prepared breakfast—

bread, yogurt, juicy red tomatoes

from our garden.

Brief Synopsis: Inspired by the stone artwork of Nizar Ali Badr, Stepping Stones is a fictional story of Rama and her family who leave Syria during the current war, to seek safety and security in Europe.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the history, culture, and geography of Syria (information is all pre-war);
  • Create art from natural objects like stones and sticks. For ideas, see Orca Books’ Gallery;
  • Orca Books Publishers provides a list of organizations that are aiding refugees. Join their efforts to make a difference.

Why I Like this Book:

War and families undertaking dangerous journeys to find freedom, security and peace are difficult topics for young children and even adults. Ruurs’ sensitive text focuses on the beauty of everyday aspects of Rama’s life before the war and gently recounts the mounting problems that cause the family to leave – loss of freedom to “sing our songs, to dance our dances, to pray the prayers of our choice”, lack of food, “the birds stopped singing” and others began to leave, first “a trickle, then a stream.” Ruur doesn’t conceal that leaving is difficult and mentions explicitly that Rama is frightened and cries; but she also reminds readers that Rama and her brother “still had Mama’s hugs”. Papa tells Rama that they’re “walking toward a bright new future.” Ruur ends this story with words and images of hope, freedom, welcome, smiles and sharing. Stepping Stones is published in English and Arabic.

Syrian artist Nizer Ali Badr’s stone artwork, as Ruur recounts in a Foreword, displays “strong emotion,” helping readers connect with Rama’s story, and the stories of the refugee children she represents.

A Note about Craft:

Writers and illustrators understand that inspiration can be found anywhere. In Ruurs’ case, as she recounts in the Foreword, the inspiration for Stepping Stones was a Facebook post featuring an image created in stone by Nizar Ali Badr. Thankfully, Ruurs persisted in learning more about Badr and his artwork, eventually reached him in his village in Syria, and contacted Orca Book Publishers about writing this story. The result is a book that reflects not just the experiences of Syrian refugees, but one that is a beautiful and timeless reminder of resilience in the face of war as love and caring prevail. In addition to sharing this story, both Ruur and Orca Book Publishers have donated proceeds from publication to help refugees. I think this is a wonderful example for writers everywhere of the power of the written word.

As writers, we often hear that non-human characters are better suited to stories involving difficult topics such as war or death. I think that by rendering the characters in stone art rather than illustrations, Ruurs and Badr achieve a similar result, without sacrificing emotional connection.

For another account of the refugee experience, see Francesca Sanna’s The Journey.

See Susanna Hill’s insightful review of Stepping Stones here.

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!