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Reading, Writing and Refugees – The New York Times

“With a cat as the protagonist, the story can be softened a little bit,” Ms. Shrodes said. “It’s an easier way for people to open their minds.”

‘My Beautiful Birds,’ by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Most of Suzanne Del Rizzo’s illustrations tell cheerful, whimsical stories. Her artwork has appeared in a book about a pig that desperately wants to fly, and one about a gerbil.

But in “My Beautiful Birds,” published in March by Pajama Press, Ms. Del Rizzo ventured into darker territory, as she told the story of Sami, a Syrian boy who evacuates his home when the fighting becomes too dangerous and has to leave behind his pet pigeons.

The author, who lives in Oakville, Ontario, said that she wrote the book because her own children had been asking about the conflict in Syria and she struggled to explain it to them. Then she saw an article about a boy in the Zaatari camp who had tamed some wild birds, and thought his story could be the basis for a picture book. The boy’s story is accompanied by colorful, mixed-media images, made of clay. “I wanted to find more kid-friendly resources to approach the topic, because it’s pretty scary stuff,” she said.

‘Stepping Stones,’ by Margriet Ruurs, with art by Nizar Ali Badr

Nizar Ali Badr makes art from stones that he gathers and arranges into shapes that tell a story. When the Canadian children’s author Margriet Ruurs came across photographs of his work on Facebook — images of desperate families walking with all their belongings on their backs — she immediately wanted to use his artwork as a foundation for a picture book about refugees. It took her months to finally reach Mr. Badr, who lives in Latakia, Syria, and doesn’t speak English. But eventually she asked if he would team up with her on a children’s book that told the story of families leaving their homes to escape the war.

Their book, “Stepping Stones,” a dual-language picture book from Orca Book Publishers, in English and Arabic, has been a best seller in Canada. The book has been used in classrooms and for fund-raisers to support Syrian families that resettled in Canada. Ms. Ruurs said that she had received calls from teachers who told her the book resonated with students from refugee families. “I’ve had librarians and teachers phone me and say, ‘The children in my class said, “This is me, it’s about me, it’s my story.”’”

‘Dear World,’ by Bana Alabed

This fall, Simon & Schuster will publish a memoir by Bana Alabed, an 8-year-old girl whose family fled Aleppo for Turkey in late 2016. Bana chronicled her experience of the Syrian war on Twitter, where she now has more than 367,000 followers. In the spring of 2019, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers will publish a picture book adaptation of the memoir, for 4- to 8-year-olds.

Middle Grade


‘Escape From Aleppo,’ by N. H. Senzai

This forthcoming coming-of-age novel follows Nadia, a Syrian girl who turns 12 as the Arab Spring begins in 2010. After a failed democratic uprising in Syria, civil war breaks out and Aleppo is bombed, forcing Nadia’s family to evacuate. The novel will be released in January by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

‘Refugee,’ by Alan Gratz

Mr. Gratz’s middle-grade novel, which Scholastic published in July, alternates among three narratives that explore the lives of child refugees in different decades and parts of the world. The stories, which are interconnected in surprising ways that are revealed at the end, feature a Jewish boy whose family flees Nazi Germany on the St. Louis ocean liner; a Cuban girl who leaves Havana in 1994; and a Syrian boy from Aleppo, whose family survives a bombing and struggles to make it to Germany, where they will seek asylum. By weaving the stories together, Mr. Gratz draws parallels between the plights of refugees decades ago with those seeking asylum today.

‘The Boy in the Wine Cellar,’ by Katherine Marsh

Ms. Marsh, a former managing editor for The New Republic, explores the plight of refugees in Europe in this novel, which will be published by Putnam children’s division. The story features an American boy living in Brussels who helps a 14-year-old Syrian refugee who has lost his family and is hiding from the authorities.

Young Adult


‘A Land of Permanent Goodbyes,’ by Atia Abawi

In her forthcoming novel, Atia Abawi, a foreign correspondent who covered the conflict in Afghanistan, tells the story of Tareq, a Syrian boy who survives a bomb strike that kills some of his family members, and then must escape ISIS-forces in Raqqa. He, his sister and cousin eventually make a run for Greece.

Ms. Abawi, whose parents left Afghanistan as refugees, visited a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, when she was researching the novel, and saw connections between her own family’s flight to safety and the risks that desperate Syrians were making to escape an entrenched civil war. “As a former refugee I saw a familiarity that I couldn’t shake,” Ms. Abawi wrote in an author’s note. Philomel Books is to release the novel in January.

‘The Lines We Cross,’ by Randa Abdel-Fattah

A coming-of-age story with a Romeo-and-Juliet-like romance at its core, “The Lines We Cross” unfolds in Australia, where Mina, a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan, has settled with her family. She forms an unexpectedly flirtatious friendship with Michael, whose parents are hard-core anti-Muslim and anti-immigration activists. The novel was published by Scholastic in May.

Ms. Abdel-Fattah said that she wrote the novel in hopes that Mina might make young readers empathize with refugees. “Some readers have written to me and said it had changed their whole perspective on the refugee debate,” she said.

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