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Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

Refugee, by Alan Gratz
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press

I finally made it through the l-o-n-g waiting list at my library and had the chance to read this astonishing novel. And I am here to tell you — I rarely outright cry when I read a book, but I was weeping at the close of this monumentally human story.

Alan Gratz weaves together three distinct stories of young refugees which span almost 80 years of the 20th and 21st centuries. Josef, a Jewish boy evading the Nazis in 1930s Germany. Isabel, a Cuban girl whose family attempts to escape the Castro regime by raft in 1994. And Mahmoud, who with his family flees the civil war in Syria in 2015.

Children from Ravensbruck Concentration Camp

The nightmarish worlds each of these children finds him/herself in are presented here with the grim reality of shock, despair, intense grief, paralyzing fear, the relentless onslaught of another and yet another horrific wave of violence, suffering, loss, distress. As we follow their escape routes, we are overwhelmed, aghast. Our hearts are crushed along with theirs. These are not narratives wherein everyone comes through nicely with merely a scratch, rescued in the 11th hour. No, they are stories based on real children, composites of true refugee accounts, and as such they are strewn with enormous tragedy.

Yet it’s these very stories, so bleak and monstrous one cannot fathom experiencing them, that we comfortable ones must face, hear, acknowledge, mourn, that motivate us to live with sacrificial love and empathy, that cause a welling up of longing to be one of the compassionate ones in our world.

Cubans flee Havana, August 1994

Are you saturated with bad news from the current daily news cycle and feel you cannot bear to read something dark and depressing? Take heart. Because in the darkest moments, that is when Gratz ushers in the sunstreaked twists that’ll leave you reaching for a tissue. It’s not the onslaught of evil that made me weep, but the moments when gutwrenching depths of love, tough-won tenderness, pierced-heart kindness, reach into the morass of misery to bring redemption, mercy, and rescue.

Syrian refugees cross into Hungary, 2015

Gratz hopscotches back and forth between the three narratives so that we track the journeys of all three families throughout the novel. He then orchestrates a final movement in which the disparate lives impact one another in surprising, profound ways. Here is the hard won kernel of hope, goodness, humanity, here at “the end of all things” as Frodo and Sam would say.

Obviously timely. Highly recommended for ages 13 through adult. Be aware — if my review hasn’t cued you in already — there’s a boatload of grief and violence here, so be wise in handing this to younger readers.

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Still a few weeks of summer left. These books are full of warmth and joy. A perfect fit.

Dog on a Frog?, written by Kes & Claire Gray, illustrated by Jim Field
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press

Cats on mats and pigs in wigs are standard fare for kids’ books.

In this funny romp of a story, the dog prefers to sit on …a frog. Which is none too pleasant for the frog. This leads the frog to create a whole new list of Rules Pertaining to Where Animals Sit. Dogs, according to this very bossy frog, now sit on logs. Not frogs. So.

And what about cats? And bears? Or gnus? And even canaries? Yup, this frog has got everyone covered. Great fun and cram-jam with bouncy rhyming pairs that will have kids eagerly pitching in to the storytelling. And wait’ll you see where the frog ends up sitting. He is one smart cookie. A barrel of fun in bombastic colors for ages 2 and up.

Wet, written and illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
published in 2017 by Godwin Books

I love this book with its gentle exploration of a truly child-friendly subject — wetness. Its ambling pace, conversational tone, child’s perspective, quiet observations, are early childhood gold in my estimation.

There’s the wetness of a pool. The possibility of cannonballing in to get wet all at once, or of dipping in just a toe. There’s the wetness of paint on a park bench, and the wetness of tears damping a dad’s shoulder. Tender and joyful, accompanied by warm, minimalist drawings.

 Brilliant for ages 2 and up.

Miss Jaster’s Garden, written and illustrated by N.M. Bodecker
originally published in 1972; reissued by Purple House Press

Dear Miss Jaster lives in a grand old house by the sea. In the gardens surrounding her home lives a small hedgehog named, obviously, Hedgie. The two are cordial friends, Miss Jaster setting out bowls of milk in the evening for Hedgie, Hedgie listening dreamily to Miss Jaster’s piano playing.

One day Miss Jaster, planting her flower gardens, accidentally showers Hedgie with seeds of Sweet William and Baby’s Breath. Waters him, too. (She is a bit near-sighted after all.)  When Hedgie blooms, then breaks into rapturous cavorting about the lanes, Miss Jaster is convinced that a thief is absconding with bits of her garden! 

In 1972, this was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. It was the first story both written and illustrated by N.M. Bodecker, a Danish-American illustrator whose work graces many children’s books including the classic Edward Eager fantasy novels. Purple House Press is dedicated to bringing rare gems back into print, and this is indeed a gem. Ages 4 and up.

Little Sister Rabbit Gets Lost, written by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
first published in Sweden in 1987; English edition 2017 by Floris Books

The classic Swedish stories of Little Sister Rabbit are available in English now, and this one is a sweet starting spot.

Small and enthusiastic, Little Sister Rabbit is off today for an adventure All By Herself. It starts off swimmingly with puddle stomping and pebble plopping. Her heart swells with independence. But happiness ebbs swiftly when she discovers that she’s lost.

Peeping into one burrow after the next, Little Sister Rabbit wanders her way into many places a young rabbit does not belong. The night feels like a mighty lonely place until rescue arrives. Who could it be? Pure charm for ages 2 and up.

Chirri & Chirra In the Tall Grass, written and illustrated by Kaya Doi, translated from the Japanese by Yuki Kaneko
published in 2017 by Enchanted Lion Books

Chirri and Chirra are tiny sisters, so tiny the white clover in the lawn are towering trees and bumblebees make cunning companions.

Join them on a bicycle-and-tea adventure through the lawn-forest as they dine on honey sponge cake balls courtesy of the local hive, sip freshly squeezed juice flavored with yumberry fruit by the flower chafers, and in general have a fantasy-filled afternoon.

Miniature worlds delight us all, and this one is so beautifully drawn and realized by Kaya Doi. Pure charm for ages 3 and up. There are more Chirri & Chirra books to investigate if you love this one.

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring, written by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Andrew Joyner
published in 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Garcia and Colette are great friends but disagree on what the most enticing place is to explore — outer space or ocean depths. So they agree to disagree, build a rocket ship and submarine, and go their separate ways.

And they each discover realio coolio stuff about space and the ocean. But they also discover that venturing off is not quite as fun with no compatriot by your side. After a splashy reunion, they figure out how to have their cake and eat it, too! Singing language, a wonderfully-paced story, and Andrew Joyner’s brilliant illustrations combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable story. Perfect for ages 4 and up.

King of the Sky, written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press

Finally, this gorgeous, poignant story, a perfect example of why picture books are not only for young children. This beauty strikes a chord in the hearts of middle grade through adult readers perhaps even more so than the very young.

Our narrator is a school-age boy, a war refugee who has fled his beloved home in Italy, land of “sunlight, fountains, and the vanilla smell of ice cream in my nonna’s gelateria.” He now resides, apparently, in Wales. In this new place, his spirit is sodden as the ceaseless rain, lonely as the smoke from a hundred grey chimneys , hopeless as the smell of coal dust and mutton soup. Nothing about it feels like home.

A vital ray of light emanates from Mr. Evans, a kindhearted, retired coal miner who trains racing pigeons.  Their growing friendship, the thrill of these home-coming birds, the distances spanned, and one champion racer, all touch the boy’s life with the modicum of belonging and miracle needed to heal his heart and make this contrary place — home.

Laura Carlin’s stunning illustrations are complex, emotive, deftly conveying both dreariness and camaraderie, doubt and joy. She is brilliant. Check this out for older-than-typical picture book readers, ages 7 and up.

 

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June 20th is designated by the United Nations as World Refugee Day.

I have no idea, really, how your heart cannot break for the plight of refugees, fleeing unspeakable violence, crushing famine, and intense persecution. Some are so terribly young, to have experienced such trauma.

These innocents then face long years in crowded refugee camps, repeatedly dashed hopes, painful losses. When they do finally arrive in a new land of hope, they are sometimes met with suspicion, resentment, and meanness.

Oh, dear world. We must do better. Let’s cultivate compassion in ourselves and our children. Today’s books are stepping stones in that direction. I’ve arranged them in order of accessibility by age. Links to past posts with many other excellent titles are included at the end of the post.

Where Will I Live?, written and photographed by Rosemary McCarney
published in 2017 by Second Story Press

Coming to us from Canada, this striking photoessay brings the contemporary refugee situation into brilliant focus for young children.

McCarney provides Mr. Rogers-esque words to explain this tragedy to the very young. “Sometimes scary things happen to good people. When soldiers fight or danger comes, families must pack their things and search for a safe place to live.

As she traces their varied journeys, one little refugee girl wonders aloud where she will land and live. Brief photo captions essentially tell the story while McCarney’s excellent, child-centric photos reveal harsh realities in a palpable yet cushioned, non-traumatic way.

If you want to build a heart of compassion in young children, this is a fabulous, top-of-the-list title. Ages 18 months and up.

My Beautiful Birds, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
published in 2017 by Pajama Press

A young Syrian boy flees with his family to a refugee camp in Jordan when their home and city are destroyed. The hardest part of leaving is saying goodbye to his beloved pigeons.

Although this may strike us as surprising, it really does reflect the workings of a child’s heart, doesn’t it? The pieces of ordinary life and familiarity which glue a child to his home are often unknown and undervalued by adults, yet fasten these little ones to a place or a person with emotional superglue.

In his new refugee camp home, anxiety and grief weigh the boy down, silence him, while his family and friends try to begin new routines of life, until the day when a group of new, beautiful birds flutters into the camp and resurrects joy in his young heart.

Based on the experiences of a young boy in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, this glimpse of the overarching as well as deeply personal, individual losses for refugee children is poignant but not too heavy. Colorful, clay-sculpted illustrations create friendly, engaging visuals as well. Ages 4 and up. Thanks, Canada.

Azzi In Between, written and illustrated by Sarah Garland
first published in the UK in 2012; first U.S. edition 2013 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

War in an unnamed Middle Eastern country creeps ever closer to Azzi’s family, then with one pounce drives them from home in a sudden, frantic rush. Azzi flees with her mother and father, but her dear Grandma must stay behind.

Hiding under blankets, driving through darkness, anxiously making their way through checkpoints, racing to an overfilled boat, crossing tumultuous seas — fear and panic engulf each stage of their journey. Next comes the confusion of learning new ways in an utterly new land — new language, new clothes, new etiquette, new everything.

Gradually Azzi grows accustomed to her surroundings, but the separation from Grandma remains so very hard to bear. Their final reunion resolves this story happily, a necessary ingredient for this book’s young audience.

This superb graphic-novel narrative of the refugee experience will immensely help children (and adults) better understand and have compassion for refugees in our midst. Highly recommended for ages 4 and up.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, written by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr
published in 2016 by Orca Book Publishers

The incredible artwork in this book has been created by a Syrian artist from stones he finds along the Mediterranean coast near his home of Latakia.

Canadian author Margriet Ruurs glimpsed his work on-line and a global collaboration began, resulting in this poignant narrative. Ruurs weaves a simple, poetic account of a young Syrian girl, her happy life grounded at home, harrowing flight from war, and warm welcome to a new land of hope. The depth and spirit of the book come from Nizar Ali Badr’s powerful sculptural pieces. It is remarkable how much emotion is conveyed through his artistic compositions.

An Arabic translation is included along with a lengthy explanation of how the book was created. Inspirational in a number of ways, for ages 5 and up.

The Color of Home, written by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Karin Littlewood
first published in the UK; published in the U.S. in 2002 by Phyllis Fogelman Books

Hassan is a young Somali refugee, an overwhelmed newcomer in his school. Despite the children’s kindness, there is a dark cloud in his heart and an inability to communicate in those difficult English words.

At painting time, Hassan uses brilliant colors to create a picture of his former home, the sunbaked land and piercing blue sky flooded with light and happiness. When he layers angry strokes of black bullets, bruised purple skies, and snarls of blood red atop this scene, however, his teacher glimpses the pain he carries.

Through the help of a Somali translator, Hassan is able to tell his difficult story and move towards healing. The terror and violence of war are portrayed here, though with some subtlety and a rapid, hopeful resolution. Vibrant watercolor illustrations will draw young children into the story. I’d guess this would suit ages 5 and older but you will need to use your judgement.

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival, written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines
published in 2016 by Pajama Press

This stunning book tells the story of Tuan Ho, who at age 6 was forced to flee Vietnam with his mother and sisters.

It was 1981. Tuan’s father, who had worked for the American army as a translator, had fled a year earlier as communist soldiers descended to execute all “enemies of the people.” It was now too dangerous for the family to wait any longer for word from him, and in a hail of bullets, Tuan races away from his home.

His flight would be traumatic: terror, grief, gunfire, strangers, and perilous days adrift at sea. This taut account conveys exceptionally well just what refugee children endure, enlarging our compassion and will to be among those who welcome, comfort, and receive them today.

Deines’ brilliant paintings easily carry the weight of this story and knit our hearts to Tuan’s family. An afterword, accompanied by some personal photographs from Tuan,  provides background to the exodus of the “boat people” from Vietnam and tells more about Tuan’s family’s journey. This picture book is clearly meant for very young children but because of it’s content, I’d encourage you to use your judgement. Probably ages 5 or 6 and up. Again, this one’s from Canada.

The Banana Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World, written by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
pubished in 2017 by Kids Can Press

Again from Canada, this book is part of the fantastic Citizen Kid series from Kids Can Press. I have reviewed quite a few of these titles over the years.

Deo Rukundo flees from his war-torn home in Burundi only to be separated from his family in the midst of the chaos. He makes his way, barely, to a refugee camp in northwest Tanzania. There he finds enough food and water to survive, yet also bumps up against tough gangs which have formed and which make life miserable for other boys.

When a man arrives with a whistle round his neck, a real, leather soccer ball, and a plan for these rival boys to play soccer together, Deo initially declines, but his world and relationships are transformed when the coach succeeds in drawing him in.

Highlighting the transformative power of play to help bring healing to children of conflict, this book soars via Shane Evans’ gripping mixed media illustrations, It includes an afterword about the man on whom this story is based and the work of Right to Play and other similar organizations. Ages 7 and up.

Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom, written by Dia Cha, stitched by Chue and Nhia Thao Cha
published in 1996 by Lee & Low Books in cooperation with the Denver Museum of Natural History

Those of us in the Twin Cities remember well the arrival of thousands of Hmong refugees from Southeast Asia to our bitterly cold state back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Most of us knew almost nothing about them let alone the heroic roles many had played on behalf of our own nation. Now we have several Hmong state senators, hundreds who have earned doctorate degrees — yet many still do not really understand all that this people experienced.

This story of one 15-year old’s terrifying journey out of Laos to Thailand and eventually to the United States, dramatically informs us about their sweet life in Laos destroyed by war, the terrors and losses endured, the harrowing journey made, while simultaneously highlighting the incredible artwork of Hmong embroiderers.

The book is illustrated by photographs of an immense, detailed story cloth stitched by the author’s aunt and uncle in a Thai refugee camp. This painful story should be required reading for any Minnesotan as well as those in Denver, Fresno, and elsewhere who rub shoulders with Hmong Americans. Share it with ages 9 and up. The lengthy, fascinating afterword tells more Hmong history and craftsmanship.

Mohammed’s Journey: A Refugee Diary, written by Anthony Robinson and Annemarie Young, illustrated by June Allan
published in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Mohammed was just six years old when he and his mother were forced to flee for their lives from Kirkuk, Iraq, but the dark times for his family had begun years before that. As ethnic Kurds, members of his family were harassed and killed by the Hussein regime. The last straw was a vicious beating for all, including little Mohammed, and the disappearance of his father at the hands of soldiers.

His harrowing flight was only bearable because there was literally no choice. Mohammed arrived in the UK an emotionally scarred boy, but through the compassion of those welcoming refugees there, he and his mum were able to begin new lives.

This book is part of a series from the UK in which young refugees tell their stories in their own words, accompanied by family photographs and illuminating illustrations. Harsh realities, made accessible to kids ages 10 and up.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees, written by Mary Beth Leatherdale, illustrated by Eleanor Shakespeare
published in 2017 by Annick Press

So many excellent humanitarian titles come from Canadian presses and I’ve tried to highlight this fact today.  I am so thankful for this Canadian priority. Here’s a final one for today.

In a book geared towards older readers, probably ages 10 and older, Mary Beth Leaderdale unfolds the distressing, true stories of five children over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries who have fled persecution.

Ruth is a Jewish girl who fled Naziism by boat to Cuba. Phu is a Vietnamese boy who fled the communists as one of the “boat people” in the crisis of the 1970s. José fled Cuba in the Mariel Boatlift of 1980. Najeeba is an ethnic Hazara who fled Afghanistan for Australia. Mohamed left the Ivory Coast as an orphan and eventually crossed the Mediterranean from Libya.

Their stories are wrenching, with many shocking details spelled out. They bear the grit of reality and spare few punches for governments who denied or attempted to deny safe harbor to refugees or abused them upon arrival. Succinct background notes on the conflicts the children fled and maps of their journeys help give context. By-the-numbers lists provide bold relief from the longer narratives. Sections telling about the lives each of these kids grew up to lead, provide hope.

It’s an eye-opener for older kids prepared to grapple with painful realities.

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, written by Ibtisam Barakat
published in 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
170 pages

Ibtisam Barakat was just 3-1/2 years old when the Six Day War erupted, displacing, traumatizing, and utterly changing her life, her family, her people. 

Her powerful, gorgeously-written memoir of those childhood experiences brings us into the world of Palestinian refugees with eloquence and sorrow. The profound importance of home and family, the trauma of abandonment and separation, the grief of loss, are remarkably imparted through her lyric prose. 

Understanding the on-going Palestinian heartbreak is critical for us. This year marks 50 years since the Six Day War. That’s an intolerably long time to be displaced, while simultaneously short enough to keep these memories sharp. 

I highly recommend this book for ages 14 through adult. The cultural details are fascinating, and her war-time experiences offer universal insights into the lives of  refugees fleeing other conflicts. It’s catalogued as children’s nonfiction in my library but this is really not a children’s book. War, trauma, memories of a sexual assault, and even some graphic descriptions of her brothers’ circumcisions at ages 7 and 8 — all are written with a measure of subtlety, yet with candor and vigor. They are emotionally challenging. There certainly are those younger than 14 who could handle this book, but I’ll leave that to your discretion.

I’ve reviewed many other excellent books about refugees in the past. I strongly encourage you to find them through these links to earlier posts. 

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sowing seeds of peace and refuge

I’ll highlight a few of those picture book titles here:

The Journey

Refuge

Four Feet Two Sandals

How Many Days to America

And here are links to some chapter books/middle grade novels about the refugee experience, any of which would make a fine read for an adult as well:

The Day My Father Became a Bush (undefined; vaguely European)

Home of the Brave (Sudan)

The House of Sixty Fathers (China)

Inside Out & Back Again (Vietnam)

A Long Walk to Water (Sudan)

The Red Pencil (Sudan)

Join me throughout the rest of the summer for a world tour introducing children to cultures from Greenland to Zimbabwe through fabulous picture books. Just follow the blog to receive notice of these posts via e-mail.
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And spread the word on these excellent resources for growing understanding and compassion by sharing this post via social media or word of mouth!

 

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I want to think that all of us, no matter our opinion on the recent Executive Order in the U.S., have hearts of compassion for refugees.

One thing I am concerned about is the politicization of compassion. That in order to support the president, some might choose to suppress thinking about the war-weary, talking about the current humanitarian disaster, remembering brave people who sheltered Jews at the risk of their own lives, and cultivating compassion for the downtrodden, persecuted, threatened ones in our world. In an attempt to feel positive about the order, it is tempting to downplay the wretchedness of the situation. That is a tragedy.

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Let’s choose to walk in others’ shoes and increase our understanding and compassion, no matter our political persuasion. Shuttering our hearts is not a value of any decent political or religious group.

To that end I’ve compiled a list of books that I’ve previously reviewed. Each is linked to the original review.

I encourage us — all of us — to read books that help us feel more compassion. It’s not political.

1. I did a post about Muslims and refugees a little over a year ago with links to many of the best titles on my blog. You can access that here:

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sowing seeds of peace and refuge

2. This past year I shared many stories about sheltering Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Here are those links:

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Anne Frank

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Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto

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Irena’s Jars of Secrets

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The Butterfly

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Always Remember Me

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Passage to Freedom

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Hidden

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His Name was Raoul Wallenberg

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The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of how Muslims Rescued Jews during the Holocaust

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The Greatest Skating Race

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The Lion and the Unicorn

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Odette’s Secrets

3. Here are more titles about the immigrant and refugee experience not included in that first grouping:

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We Came to America

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Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land

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The Journey

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Goodbye, 382 Shin Dang Dong

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Grandfather’s Journey

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The Matchbox Diary

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My Father’s Boat

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My Name is Sangoel

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The Thanksgiving Door

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In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

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Ting Ting

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The Turtle of Oman

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It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

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A Long Pitch Home

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Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War

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Dreams of Freedom

4. Finally, I love this nativity story reminding us that Jesus, Joseph, and Mary were refugees:

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Refuge

 

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Today I have two more excellent nativity tellings to offer you, widely differing in style and substance.

First, coming from the UK, is this poignant, thought-provoking version…

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Refuge, written by Anna Booth, illustrated by Sam Usher
published in 2015 by Nosy Crow

I bought this small book last year, but had to order it from the UK. This year, you can purchase it in the U.S. as well, and I hope you do!

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Anna Booth’s telling of the Nativity is different from any you’ve read before. The baby is born on page two! Rather than dwelling on all the events leading up to the birth of Christ, the bulk of this story focuses on what happened afterwards.

Very lightly touching on shepherds and kings, the text pushes forward to Joseph’s “dream of danger” and the secretive, long, worrisome journey out from Bethlehem into a land of strangers, seeking — and finding — refuge.

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Yes, the Holy Family were refugees! What an immensely important connection for us to make. Booth accomplishes this with grace and finesse. Not a heavy, clobbering word will you find. Instead, her economical, gentle text carries a lovely sense of humanity, tenderness, empathy.

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It’s illustrated by Sam Usher in his marvelously-loose, quiet, ink-and-watercolor illustrations. I love his work! Here he brings a hush to the town of Bethlehem, immense warmth to the family, and solemn vastness to the star-studded night skies. It’s definitely one of my new favorite Nativity stories. Ages 2 and older.

Here’s the Amazon link: Refuge

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The Nativity, retold and illustrated by Julie Vivas
first published in Australia in 1986; this edition 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A dear friend of mine introduced me to this telling of the Nativity (Thank you, Christine!) which features a Mary who is truly great with child! I love this real-mama interpretation.

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The retelling is nimbly done using phrases from the King James Version of the Bible, pared down a bit in order to move things along and lessen the cumbersome nature of the language.

Vivas’ vision of these events is at once earthy and whimsical. I love her rounded, very physical bodies, exuding the true humanity of this small family, rustic shepherds, eager sages, and sweet, unmistakably-male, baby.

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The color palette is strikingly different from traditional versions, with loads of pastel Easter-y tints predominating. And Vivas does not constrain herself to historically-accurate images. Ancient mid-Eastern architecture cozies up to Jesus in his stripey footie-jammies.

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Her levity is at its height in her portrayal of the angels, which I’m not in love with, but then, I’m remarkably picky about angels. I do love that there’s nary a blond hair to be seen on all the pages! Ages 2 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link: The Nativity

Both of these untraditional, very human approaches to the story will surely appeal to kids who have heard this story a hundred times and offer them fresh perspectives.

There are almost 2 dozen more Nativity stories listed in my Subject Index under Holidays — Christmas. They’re marked with a diamond.

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The Journey, written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna
published in 2016 by Flying Eye Books

I’ll just tell you right from the start — this stunning book is one of my all-time favorites of 2016. 

The plight of the refugee.

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How hardhearted would a person have to be to not feel the anguish, the immense loss, the tearing away from home, perhaps forever; the distress, misery, vulnerability, and abject terror that heaves itself upon ordinary people — 

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young moms leading small, forlorn children;

elderly men and women straggling away from villages which sheltered them all their lives; traumatized ones still in mourning; desperate, anxious, young men, fleeing the threat of conscription into armies requiring unspeakable violence.

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Not a world any of them imagined being a part of.

And yet…the images and stories engulfing our world in the past several years are so relentless and overwhelming. Their sheer volume threatens to numb us against this grief.

Francesca Sanna’s phenomenal book, however, brilliantly, incisively sets us in the midst of just one family plunged into war, to experience along with them their chaotic nightmare.

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A loving family. The encroaching darkness of war spills into their lives like black ink flooding across a cherished picture, overtaking them.

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A father gone. A heartsick mother gathers her children to flee. Covert, exhausting, staggering — the phases of their journey unfold like ominous scenes from a Hitchcock film.

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Sanna’s gorgeous images — her minute figures set against an enormity of obstacles — set our nerves on edge. By contrast, the palpable love and togetherness of this mother and her children tenderize and warm our hearts. I was staggered by her work, the way she captures the tumult and emotion of the refugee experience.

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This image of the mother weeping after her children are safely asleep is superb, isn’t it?

This journey ends in hope. Anything else would be unbearable for the young children whose hearts will be moved, certainly, by this story. 

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As we head into a time of gathering together for various holidays, it seems the perfect time of year to share this gorgeous book in our households and consider together what small role we might play in the relief of suffering for the displaced.

Highly recommended for ages 3 to 100.

 

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March is Women’s History Month. I’m hoping to share some weekly lists on this subject all month long…we’ll see how time allows.

There are gobs of biographies already in the Orange Marmalade archives, so if you’re looking for ideas to celebrate the intelligence, creativity, passion, insight, kindness, skill, fortitude of women throughout history — check out the Subject Index.

liberty's voice cover imageLiberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus, by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Stacey Schuett
published in 2011 by Dutton Children’s Books

I’ll open with the story of the poet who penned the lines engraved on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired,your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Given the xenophobic rhetoric being flung around our country today, it’s the perfect time to be reminded that this voice of altruism and refuge is what it looks like to be a great nation.

liberty's voice interior silverman and schuett

Read about Emma’s well-to-do upbringing in New York and her life-changing encounter with a flood of Jewish victims of violence in Russia seeking sanctuary in the U.S. Kaleidoscopic color infuses these pages making it a most appealing book to share with children ages 5 and up.

solving the puzzle under the sea cover imageSolving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor, by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raúl Colón
published in 2016, a Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

From early childhood, Marie Tharp loved maps. Certainly trotting about the country with her mapmaker father had something to do with that. 

Tharp had to overcome gender stereotypes in order to pursue her love of science, then went on to pioneer the way in mapping the bottom of the world’s seas.

solving the puzzle under the sea interior burleigh and colon

Such an intriguing pursuit! Her story is presented beautifully here by a talented, award-winning team. Ages 6 and up.

a passion for elephants cover imageA Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss, by Toni Buzzeo, ill. by Holly Berry
published in 2015 by Dial Books for Young Readers

One of the highlights of my life involved watching elephants from the open veranda of a lodge in Tsavo National Park, Kenya. What a glory, elephants!

a passion for elephants interior buzzeo and berry

Cynthia Moss has spent a lifetime observing, learning about, and protecting these enormous creatures. Her story is vividly told and energetically illustrated here in this top-notch account. I really enjoyed this; a delightful choice for ages 4 and up.

shining star cover imageShining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Lin Wang
published in 2009 by Lee & Low Books

Anna May Wong grew up at the turn of the century, the daughter of Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. From the get go she was fascinated by drama, enamored with film stars, dreaming of starring in the movies herself.

shining star illustration lin wang

Anna achieved her dream, but was humiliated by the industry’s treatment of Chinese-Americans. After years of taking roles tainted by negative stereotypes of Asians, Wong made a decision to buck the racist system. Read her thought-provoking story, a great follow-up to the discussions surrounding the Academy Awards. It’s long-ish — try it with ages 7 and up.

sonia sotomayor cover imageWomen Who Broke the Rules: Sonia Sotomayor, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2015 by Bloomsbury

Here’s another in the same series as Dolley Madison, which I reviewed for President’s Day. 

Krull writes snappy biographies, moving us right along without bogging down, yet including vivid anecdotes that make these women human and approachable. Dominguez contributes friendly, warm illustrations that keep the pages welcoming.

sonia sotomayor illustration angela dominguez

Sotomayor had so many hurdles in life — an alcoholic father, juvenile diabetes, an impoverished life in the projects. But her nickname as a toddler was Little Pepper — so that tells you something! She needed all that spunk and drive to become the first Latino member of the Supreme Court. This is a 46-page bio for ages 8 and up.

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