The news, tragically, continues to be dominated by stories of refugees, whether those fleeing violence, those seeking better lives for themselves or for their children, or those displaced by climate change. Today’s Perfect Picture Book features a pair of refugees with prayers for a better life.
Title: Sea Prayer
Written By: Khaled Hosseini
Illustrated By: Dan Williams
Publisher/Date: Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House/2018
Suitable for Ages: 8 and up
Themes/Topics: refugees, family, Syria
My dear Marwan, in the long summers of childhood, when I was a boy the age you are now, your uncles and I spread our mattress on the roof of your grandfather’s farmhouse outside of Homs.
Brief Synopsis: A father addresses his sleeping son to share his memories of the life they’re leaving in Syria and his hopes for a future free of conflict.
Links to Resources:
- Learn about the geography and rich history of Syria before the current conflicts;
- Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International;
- If you were going on a journey, what would you bring? Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring along.
Why I Like this Book:
With lyrical, heartfelt text, an unnamed father addresses his young son, as the pair await a boat to flee from the conflict in Syria. First recalling his hometown of Homs, as it was before the war and as he believes his son will never experience it, the father then anticipates the future, starting with the sea voyage itself. Like parents everywhere trying to protect their children from fear, Marwan’s father downplays the dangers of the journey, and he pledges to protect Marwan. The story ends as the father prays that the sea realizes how precious a cargo is about to embark. And there the story ends, leaving the reader to hope, and pray, that the pair arrive safely on a welcoming shore, and that, at some future time, they are able to return to a Homs free from war.
Although Sea Prayer clearly is targeted to an older audience, I think it’s a wonderful way to build understanding and empathy for the plight of refugees, whether, as here, they are fleeing conflict, or whether they’re forced to flee due to economic need or climate change.
Williams’ haunting watercolors are a perfect accompaniment to Hosseini’s emotional text. The image of a small, crowded dingy on roiling seas is particularly effective.
A Note about Craft:
In an end note, Hosseini shares that he was inspired to write Sea Prayer in response to the death of Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy who drowned enroute to Europe in 2015 and whose photograph on the beach appeared worldwide. From this inspiration, Hosseini, an Afghan and author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns who has spent much of his life in the United States, penned this story. He utilizes first-person point-of-view which draws the reader into the scene, encouraging us to hope, and pray, that the unnamed father’s prayer is answered and that young Marwan does not suffer the fate of Alan Kurdi and so many other children and adults.
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!