More books being written about refugee crisis

NEW YORK • A new chapter has opened. Authors are now humanising the issues surrounding the Mid-East refugee crisis for younger readers.

Some of the most shocking images have been photographs of children: a drowned toddler lying on a Turkish beach and a five-year-old boy from Aleppo in Syria, shellshocked after he was pulled from the rubble of a bombed building.

Authors, moved by these images and news reports, are taking on the subject.

More than a dozen new and forthcoming titles feature young Muslim refugees as protagonists, from picture books aimed at readers as young as four to novels for middle- and high-school students.

Some books touch on issues such as the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the sectarian rift between Sunnis and Shias.

Suzanne Del Rizzo's picture book My Beautiful Birds is based on an article she read about a Syrian boy - staying in a refugee camp in Jordan - who had tamed wild birds.

In her book, she writes about Sami, a boy who trains pigeons and must leave them behind when his family in Syria flees to safety in Jordan.

To research her young adult novel A Land Of Permanent Goodbyes, Atia Abawi travelled to Greece and spoke to Syrians in a refugee camp. The experience helped shape her book about a family that escapes an ISIS stronghold for Istanbul and then Greece.

In Alan Gratz's middle-grade novel Refugee, a boy's home in Aleppo is destroyed. The family must contend with smugglers and militants in heading across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

"I wanted to make individual refugees visible and turn statistics into names and faces that kids could relate to," Gratz said.

The wave of children's books about Muslim asylum-seekers is arriving amid the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since World War II, as millions of civilians - many of them children - flee the fighting in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Teachers and librarians have embraced these titles as a way to explain the refugee crisis to children.

Gratz has been invited to speak at more than 40 schools.

Ms Mollee Holloman, an elementary school librarian in Manteo, North Carolina, helped to organise a recent book-signing for Gratz that drew about 80 children. She hopes Refugee will give children more empathy for those displaced by war.

"He's giving us the perspective of a child and that helps these students see outside the world they're living in," she said.

In Canada, where more than 33,000 Syrians resettled last year, picture books featuring Syrian refugee characters are being used in some schools to explain the crisis and give students perspective on what some arriving Syrian students might have been through.

Ms Carrie Gelson, an elementary school teacher in Vancouver, was eager to share My Beautiful Birds with student Nour Alahmad Almahmoud.

When the 12-year-old Syrian girl, whose family went to Canada from a refugee camp in Jordan in late 2015, read the book, she was overwhelmed and ran outside in tears.

"I cried because it's like this book makes me remember everything," she said. "I felt like this family in the book is my family."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2017, with the headline 'More books being written about refugee crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe