Book Review courtesy of Books for Keeps, first published May 2017. Thank you to Books for Keeps for permission to reproduce their review.
Ideas for Teachers.
There are many children’s books that describe the stories of refugees and their desperate situation as they leave behind their whole existence and travel to where they hope there may be a better life. The selection of reading ideas included here encompasses some of the issues confronting those trying to escape terror. They may be useful for teachers who are working with children from families who have made such journeys. Additionally, having some kind of understanding of what these families and children have experienced may also help children to develop an informed and balanced approach to building friendships and welcoming immigrants and asylum seekers into their own communities.
Themes raised by A Story like the Wind, Gill Lewis.
This poignant story captures the hope and despair of a boy who finds himself alone with strangers in a rubber dingy, floating helplessly on the sea. The language used is evocative of the life he has left behind and the unknown that faces him. It speaks for the thousands that have made dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean in recent years.
“They are bound together, floating across time and space, to the promise of a different world.”
When the boy is finally persuaded to play his violin, the only thing he has been able to bring with him, he tells the story of Suke and the White Stallion. This is a story of fighting for freedom. The travellers on the boat decide to sing it, “for those they have left behind and those who don’t know they need it yet.” It symbolises their incredible endurance and ability to hope even in what seems like hopeless conditions.
Other books tackling these themes and ideas for teaching
The Journey, Francesca Sanna. Flying Eye Books, 2016.
The power of the message in this book comes both through the illustrations and text. The predominant black of the illustrations suggests the darkness of fear and danger that envelope what was a happy family. The father’s disappearance and the flight of the children with their mother changes everything. The reader is shown how this can happen so fast and so completely. As their journey progresses the family lose everything they have fled with and live in fear all the time. Their one hope is to arrive in a place where they are safe. It ends at the point where they are travelling on a train, leaving us wondering what they will eventually find. The author’s note explains that this is a combination of several stories she heard first-hand from people who have fled from many different countries. She wanted to help personalise the statistics about the migrants and refugees we hear about on the news, and acknowledge the incredible strength and resilience of these people.
Welcome to Nowhere, Elizabeth Laird. Macmillan, 2017.
This account of a Syrian family trying to survive civil war is powerful and moving. The complications of who is fighting and why are dealt with in the context of a young teenage boy’s experience and the impact on his family’s life.
As they flee from the bombardment of their home, they find help initially with extended family, before ending up in a refugee camp in Jordan. The story describes the deprivation of life in one of the refugee camps and how people struggle with exploitation and mistreatment. For this family there is a way out, but the reality of the camp is stark and shocking. Thousands of people are in camps like this now. This is a powerful and moving story which has an important message to share.
Azzi in Between, Sarah Garland. Frances Lincoln, 2012.
As the title suggests, Azzi finds herself living in a new country where there is no physical threat of harm, but isolated from her past life and unable to fit in with the new place, her family find a home. The absence of colour in the illustrations, capture the trauma of what has happened to force her and her Mum and Dad to leave their home and more importantly her grandmother behind. The issues of language barriers, finding accommodation and being allowed to work are well-portrayed. It’s possible that this situation is familiar to children in classes all over the U.K. How well do other children understand what has happened to children like this, and how desperately they need friendship and understanding from them?
Azzi is in a school where there are sympathetic adults who help her learn the new language. She becomes part of the class when she can contribute beans to grow in the school garden. These beans have travelled with the family and link the past with the present. There is a happy ending for this family when Azzi’s grandmother arrives safely to join them, and the beans symbolise a hopeful future. It could be an opportunity to consider what you would miss most if you had to leave everything behind? And importantly, how could you help someone like Azzi cope if they arrived in your class?
My Name is not Refugee, Kate Milner. The Bucket List, 2017.
This book is aimed at younger children and has a directness and simplicity that makes it very accessible. It is also very relevant for older children to use to understand more about the experience of people classed as refugees. There is a series of questions on each double page spread which direct the reader’s thoughts to the reality of the situation. “What would you take?” “How far could you walk?” ”Where would you brush your teeth or change your pants?” “Can you speak more than one language?” “What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten?”
It really helps show readers that people forced from their homes are not just refugees but children just like them.
Shadow, Michael Morpurgo. Harper Collins, 2010.
This story is of Aman and his mother escaping from persecution by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and making the long and torturous journey to Britain. The dog who befriends Aman, helps them succeed in part of the journey and then is amazingly reunited with the army unit that has used him as a sniffer dog. This is based on the fact that a sniffer dog did disappear for fourteen months before being returned safe and well to the bomb disposal unit he was attached to.
Aman’s story really continues six years later. He enters the country illegally but registers as an asylum seeker, where he is safely established with Uncle Mir in Manchester. Aman goes to school and integrates well making friends with Matt, playing football and thinking he is safe and secure from the nightmare of the past. However, one morning he and his mother are physically taken from their house and put into an asylum seekers’ detention centre. Their request for asylum is turned down and they are faced with the prospect of being sent back to Afghanistan. The injustice of this decision galvanises Matt and his Grandad into action to prevent this happening.
This is a good opportunity to introduce children to the issue of whether it is right to send asylum seekers back to the hostile place they suffered so much to escape from. What can children do to help? Finding out what Amnesty International has to offer might be a place to begin, and enable children to develop an informed and balanced approach to including immigrants and asylum seekers in their own communities.
By Liz Robertson.