Given our current troubled times, perhaps it is unsurprising to find children’s books and YA literature springing up that deal with war, fleeing, immigration and integration. The next five books are all going to deal with these current issues.
The first book in this little series is Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan, translated from Arabic by the author (Lantana Publishing).
Dominic: It’s about a boy called Yazan. Everything around him is changing and he can’t go to the park because there are people fighting on the streets. It’s too dangerous. It’s important for children like me to read this book. It tells you what life is like in Syria.
Emma: The shadows on the floor look like bad news. Someone’s broked (sic) the houses. It’s sad that Yazan can’t go outside.
This book tells the story of Yazan who can no longer go to the park. He no longer goes to school. He even starts to miss it “which was a surprise”. It’s too dangerous to be outside and Yazan’s mother has become so preoccupied she doesn’t even paint anymore. But Yazan’s concerns aren’t about the news; he wants to go to the park. One day, Yazan decides he’s going to the park, takes his red bike and leaves the house alone. Everything is different to how it used to be. I won’t spoil the ending, but needless to say, he makes it home again safely.
The illustrations in watercolour and pencil are beautiful and the colours really help to convey Yazan’s feelings – dark and gloomy when he’s worried or angry compared to the red of his bike or bright colours in his park at the end. At the back of the book, Nadine explains the effect of the situation on her own colour choices, which is reflected in the illustrations. She also explains to the reader why she is writing this book.
One of my concerns had been about broaching this subject with 4-year-old Emma and whether she would find this all a bit scary (Dominic aged 5 had experienced nightmares about bombs falling on our house off the back of an aid collection for Syria). While the pictures are at times dark and eerie and, as Emma comments, the buildings pictured are damaged, they aren’t portrayed in a particularly scary way.
In her letter to the reader, Kaadan begins asking, “Have you ever been stuck inside the house when you’re desperate to go outside?” Most children probably can. I think it’s really clever that she has taken such a serious issue and created story around a situation that a child who has never experienced war can understand. Emma doesn’t really get why Yazan can’t go outside yet her comment above shows that she can empathise with his feelings of being stuck indoors. Ultimately, I thought this was a great book to introduce the situation to a younger child.
Having helped with various collections for the amazing grassroots movement Derby Refugee Solidarity, Dominic is already aware of war and refugees but on quite a superficial level. This was a good book for him to consider the children like him growing up amid war and he seemed quite impressed that this book was actually set in Syria.
For anyone local to the East Midlands, who would like to help provide aid and support for refugees both here and abroad, please get in touch with Derby Refugee Solidarity to find out more about their current campaigns (www.derbyrefugeesolidarity.org).