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Refugee Book Blog: Dear World. A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace by Bana Alabed

In 2016, eight-year-old Bana Alabed starting using Twitter to tell the world about what was happening to her family under siege in Aleppo, Syria. This book is her story about what happened to her and her family.

Originally I presumed this was a children’s book, but with the intense situations and colour photographs showing the brutal consequences of war, this is not one I would recommend for a young audience. Interspersed with letters to Bana written by Fatemah, her mother, Bana tells of her best friend dying, her home being specifically targeted by bombers and the arrival of her new baby brother against a backdrop of destruction and fear.

As a parent to an eight-year-old myself, I found this account absolutely heartbreaking and in places, difficult to read. In one of her letters, Fatemah says she now laughs about worrying about whether Bana was eating too many sweets: “What I wouldn’t have given for those to have remained my greatest concerns. To worry about what you ate, and not whether you would even have any food to eat”. Arguing about sweets is a regular occurrence in our house and this really put the situation into perspective for me.

With colour photographs accompanying the text, this book is very vivid, offering a child’s perspective on the horrors of living through war: destruction, violence and death. A reminder that war does not just touch the lives of adults, but that children too are caught up in the fighting. For anyone questioning why refugees are leaving, hand them a copy of this book and ask them if they would stay. Had this been written by an adult, it would be a powerful testimony. The fact it is written by a child makes it even more so.

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Refugee Week Book Blog: Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan

Starting now to focus more on the current refugee situation, my other recommendations today look at why people are leaving their home countries. A great book for younger children is Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan, translated from Arabic by the author (Lantana Publishing).

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”. His parents are preoccupied 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.

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. 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. The illustrations in watercolour and pencil are beautiful and the colours really help to convey Yazan’s feelings.

One of my concerns had been about broaching this subject with (then) 4-year-old Emma and whether she would find this all a bit scary. While the pictures are at times dark and eerie and the buildings pictured are damaged, they aren’t portrayed in a particularly scary way.

What my kids had to say:

Dominic (8): 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 (4): The shadows on the floor look like bad news. Someone’s broked (sic) the houses. It’s sad that Yazan can’t go outside. 

For more World Kid Lit suggestions, you can also visit the World Kid Lit website

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Refugee Week Book Blog starts on Monday

On Monday, I will begin my Refugee Week Book Blog, recommending books on the topic of refugees and migration.

I aim to post at least two books a day, one adult title and one children’s book. These books can be used to inform ourselves but can also serve as a starting point for conversations with both adults and children. The picture books I will recommend this week are particularly important for opening our children’s eyes to the world around them and helping them to understand what may be happening around them.

Please join me as we stand in solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers around the world.