Tag Archives: Refugees

PPBF – Out

As this post publishes, I’ll be in London, at the start of a six-day journey with my eldest daughter as she celebrates a new decade (yep! I’m old enough to have birthed a 30-year old!). Thinking about this trip has reminded me of other journeys I’ve undertaken with one or more of my children, including a few rather lengthy rail journeys, several Atlantic crossings, and even a boat journey or two.

Today’s Perfect Picture Book begins with a mother-daughter journey – a journey to a new life, away from a war-torn country. This is the type of journey most of us will never take, but that we must understand, as we welcome new immigrants to our communities.

www.scholasticTitle: Out

Written By: Angela May George

Illustrated By: Owen Swan

Publisher/date: Scholastic Canada Ltd./2017 (originally published by Scholastic Australia/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; asylum; journeys; family

Opening:

I feel different. It’s the way people stare. I’m called an asylum seeker, but that’s not my name.

Brief Synopsis: A young girl describes her journey fleeing a war-torn region and settling into life in a new country.

Links to Resources:

  • Check out the Teaching Guides for Grades 2-3 and Grades 4-5;
  • What do you think a new child or family may need if they leave their homeland and move to your town or city?
  • The narrator of this story travels by boat to her new home. Have you ever taken a boat journey? Draw a picture or describe in words the boat and where you traveled;
  • The narrator and her mother play a string game (cat’s cradle) while on their journey. What games do you think you could play with a new child at school who may not speak English?

Why I Like this Book:

In Out, George and Swan provide a sympathetic portrayal of the flight and resettlement of a nameless girl and her mother in a new, nameless, safe city and country. While readers learn why the pair leave their homeland, a war, and accompany them on a long boat journey to the new country, much of the story is an upbeat, hope-filled account of their resettlement experiences.

I think Out will resonate with children who are refugees, and it could help their classmates understand the refugees’ experiences. At one point, the narrator thinks back on the boat ride that “seems so long ago,” and notes that “these days” she runs to “win races” and camps “for fun.” She then explains, though, that “some days, when there’s a loud bang, I drop to the floor.” If a classmate reacts to loud noises or perhaps draws pictures of what s/he has seen, the other kids, and even some teachers, may understand the reason for what otherwise may seem like strange behavior after reading and discussing Out. They then may be better able to support their classmate/student.

Swan’s mix of felt-tipped marker and colored pencil illustrations are, in his words, “rough-around-the-edges” to convey the sense of the roughness and uncertainty of a refugee’s life.

A Note about Craft:

Like several other refugee stories I’ve reviewed recently, George utilizes first-person point of view to draw us into the story, become emotionally connected to the narrator and experience the life of a refugee through her eyes. This is particularly effective when, in the opening scene, the narrator informs us that she is called an “asylum seeker,” but that isn’t her name. I immediately wanted to hug her and call her by name!

Especially as she recounts the narrator’s flight to the new country, George tackles some difficult issues such as war, fear, hunger and thirst. Rather than dwell on them, George instead refers to “horrible things” that show the narrator “what it is to be brave.” When she hears noises at night, she listens to the river, that “knew the way out of the forest.” When hungry, mother and daughter “whispered our favourite foods to each other.” None of these examples, in my mind, minimizes the traumatic events. In each instance, however, the narrator and reader move on and find solace in something, thereby offering hope.

Swan weaves a yellow string through the story that ties the narrator’s former life to her new life. Younger children, in particular, may find comfort in the string as hair bow in an early spread, a game on the long boat journey, and a tie on her backpack towards story’s end. What threads can we, as authors or illustrators, use to show the connections in our stories?

See an author’s note and illustrator’s note in Study Notes that accompanied the first Australian printing.

Visit Owen Swan’s website to learn more about this Australian illustrator.

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 Roses in my Carpets

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another Canadian import, this one by a prolific Muslim Pakistani-Canadian female author, Rukhsana Khan.

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Title: The Roses in my Carpets

Written By: Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Ronald Himler

Publisher/date: Fitzhenry & Whiteside/2004 (first published by Stoddart Kids/1998)

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; Afghanistan; carpet weaving; resilience

Opening:

It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead. They’ve seen me. I’m running too slowly, dragging my mother and sister behind. The ground is treacherous, pitted with bomb craters. My mother and sister weigh me down. A direct hit. Just as I’m about to die, or sometimes just after, I awake.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in a refugee camp relives the horrible memories of war in Afghanistan, and lives with the difficulties in the camp, but he dreams of a better life for himself and his family.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Although The Roses in my Carpets deals with serious subjects, war, poverty and life in a refugee camp, the dreams of the young main character left me feeling hopeful that life would improve. Despite losing his father during the war and despite living a bleak hand-to-mouth existence with his mother and sister in a mud hut (he terms washing his face “a useless habit”) supported by the kindness of foreign sponsors, the narrator works hard to learn a craft that he believes will ensure that his “family will never go hungry.” I love the message of resolve and duty to family shown.

I also love that the means to make life better is a traditional art that the narrator uses to cope with the horrors he has experienced. He describes that with his fingers “I create a world the war cannot touch.” He further explains that the colors he uses have “special meaning,” with white being for his father’s shroud, green for life, black for the night sky that hides them from enemies, blue for a sky “free of jets” and red for roses. This usage and symbolism of colors reminded me of When I Coloured in the World, in which the nameless narrator imagines erasing bad things, like war, and coloring in good things, like peace.

Veteran illustrator Himler’s watercolor and pencil drawings bring Khan’s words to life, providing a stark contrast between the dinginess and dirt of the camp and the colorful carpets.

A Note about Craft:

Khan chose first-person POV to tell this story. This helps the reader to experience life in a refugee camp first-hand, something, thankfully, the vast majority of us will never do!

The carpets that the narrator weaves not only are a future means of earning a living but a way to process the horrors of his life and a way to visualize the world he hopes to inhabit. I love how Khan has made one object so central to the meaning of this story, especially as that object is a work of art. I think it’s a useful lesson for authors to find objects to include in their stories that can add meanings on multiple levels, as the carpet does here.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author who was born in Pakistan, the location of the Afghan refugee camp, and moved as a young child to Canada. According to a review from The Toronto Star newspaper reproduced on Khan’s website, the inspiration for the narrator is a foster child whom Khan sponsored.

Visit Rukhsana Khan’s website, where you can learn about The Libraries in Afghanistan Project that she supports and see the Muslim Booklist for kids. Among many other books, Khan is the author of King for a Day, which I reviewed last month.

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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 – Four Feet, Two Sandals

Yesterday was the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” This theme honors “the spirit of TOGETHER , a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes and those leaving in search of a better life.”

I chose a “classic” story of two refugees in honor of the Day of Peace Together theme and to further my pledge to take action to promote peace in our world. Please join me in the United States Institute of Peace’s #PeaceDayChallenge!

ResizeImageHandlerTitle: Four Feet, Two Sandals

Written By: Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed

Illustrated By: Doug Chayka

Publisher/date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)/2007

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees; friendship; sharing; Afghanistan; loss

Opening:

Lina raced barefoot to the camp entrance where relief workers threw used clothing off the back of a truck. Everyone pushed and fought for the best clothes. Lina squatted and reached, grabbing what she could.

Brief Synopsis: When two young refugee girls without shoes find one pair of sandals, they become friends and alternate wearing the sandals.

Links to Resources:

  • Wear one shoe only & walk around the house and/or neighborhood. How does it feel to wear only one shoe? Try switching one shoe or both shoes with a family member or friend. How does it feel to wear shoes that don’t fit quite correctly and/or to wear shoes that fit differently?
  • Learn about Afghanistan, the country where this story occurs.
  • View the Teacher’s Guide here.

Why I Like this Book:

Four Feet, Two Sandals is one of the first picture books dealing with the refugee situation and was published even before that situation became what we now term the “refugee crisis”. Much has changed in the ten years since its publication, but, sadly, much remains the same: only the numbers and countries seem to increase each year. Because it focuses on the day-to-day experiences of two young girls and because it concerns a kid-relatable topic, ie, what do you do when there isn’t enough of something for two or more kids, I think it remains an important book for classroom and family reading.

The sepia-toned illustrations transported me to the camp and helped me envision the experiences the two friends shared. An Author’s Note provides context and information about the refugee experience.

A Note about Craft:

The theme of leaving one’s home, losing family members to war, terror attacks or a natural disaster, and settling in a camp or center with few possessions or food is overwhelming for adults, let alone children. By focusing on one detail of that experience, the shoes Lina needs, finds, and ultimately shares with Feroza, Williams and Mohammed help us empathize with the main characters and, if you will, walk along in their shoes as they experience the trials and tribulations of life in a refugee camp. By emphasizing the particular over the general, these authors draw us into the story and build empathy for their characters. What detail(s) can you highlight in your works in progress to help draw your readers into the story and help them empathize with the main character(s)?

Not only do Williams and Mohammed focus on shoes, something kids will understand, but they provide a further description to make them more appealing: “yellow with a blue flower in the middle”. Not only does this description add more kid appeal, but the shoes stand out in each spread of the book. This reminds me that as we add details in our text, we should think about how these details will appear in illustrations throughout the 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!

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!