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Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Check Off your Reading List Challenge 2014.

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Sign up here to join us! Here is the July-September linky. We are also very excited to share that Pansing Books will be giving away copies of Slated by Teri Terry to two lucky CORL participants from July-September.

Carrie Gelson of There is a Book for That is also hosting #mustreadin2014.

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These three picturebooks portray the voices of three children caught in between conflicts. I hope that they would soon find their way to you. They are obviously in need of refuge, silence seekers all of them.

IMG_5481The Silence Seeker

Written by: Ben Morley Illustrated by: Carl Pearce
Published byTamarind, 2009
Borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

Unlike other picturebooks about refugees, this is written from the perspective of a child named Joe from the receiving country of an “asylum seeker.” Joe misheard his mother and thought that she said “silence seeker.” With Joe’s “capacious heart” (with special thanks to Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses), he endeavored to help out his new neighbor with the sad eyes and who is often found sitting on their doorstep, to find all the “quiet places” in their little town.

I have never met

a Silence Seeker before.

Every morning

he sits on the doorstep.

Sometimes he closes his eyes.

I think he’s listening for a Silence.

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As Jo drags along the silence seeker to his usual haunts that he thought will provide some semblance of peace and quiet: the laundry room, the canal, the dump, and under the flyover – he discovered to his dismay that all these spaces are run over by mischief-makers, homeless old folks, or kids listening to loud music. Whether or not they did find ‘silence’ I shall leave for you to discover.

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While I am not a huge fan of the art used in this picturebook, the story shows the little things that young people can do to make life a little easier for others who are going through difficulties. I love Jo’s well-meaning intentions, his peanut butter sandwich, his wide-eyed and open-hearted initiative to welcome a stranger to his community. It is also not clear what the setting of this book is. This has its strengths and weaknesses. While it allows the story to effectively transcend cultural boundaries with the deliberate lack of specificity, it also misses the opportunity to share authentic details and helpful backmatter about a specific receiving culture or refugees coming from a specific country. Here is a video clip of Ben Morley talking about his book:

Sami And The Time Of The TroublesIMG_5468

Written by: Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland Illustrated by: Ted Lewin
Published byClarion Books, 1992
Borrowed from the public library. Book photos taken by me.

Sami is a ten year old boy from Lebanon. His father died from a bomb which blew up in the market place.  Like any ordinary boy, he attends school, plays with his friends, goes to the beach with his grandfather, mother, and sister – this only happens though during good days. He is able to make sense of his daily existence by categorizing his days into either good days or bad days.

Today is one of the bad days. It has been bad for a long time. We cannot go outside at all because of the gunfire in the streets. My sister Leila does not leave my side.

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During bad days, he and his family would seek shelter in their basement as loud crashes make their walls and carpets tremble. It is during these moments of uncertainty when Sami’s grandfather would remind them of cherished moments of togetherness out there in an occasionally-peaceful world, freeing their spirits from the shackles brought about by their present circumstance:

Everyone is silent, waiting, and my mother comes over to our mattress to hold Leila. My grandfather says, “Remember the sunsets we have seen? Remember how the sun seems to touch the earth? So close, so close. Yet the sun is millions of miles away.”

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In a moment he and my mother join my uncle around the radio on the other side of the room. They hope to learn something, they hope to hear good news.

This picturebook is one that any reader can easily fall in love with. The paintings are glorious, and the narrative filled with subtle lyricism that neither trivializes nor overly-dramatizes what Sami is going through. My favourite full-page spread is the one found below:

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I was avidly looking for backmatter that would provide some detailed historical account of what is happening in Lebanon back in the early 90s which is around the time that the book was published. The story also mentioned something about the day that hundreds of children marched in the streets holding out placards for the fighting to stop. Unfortunately, there is neither Author’s Note or Illustrator’s Note that is included in this picturebook. Despite that, I believe that this picturebook is definitely a must-find. For teachers who wish to make use of this in the classroom, here is a one-page downloadable PDF file created by manchester.edu which includes suggested activities that can be done with the students.

IMG_5475Azzi in Between

Written and Illustrated bySarah Garland
Published byFrances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2012
Borrowed from the public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Azzi was born to a country at war. While she is aware that there are soldiers everywhere and people are dying, her life pretty much stayed the way it had always been: she still attends school, plays with her friends in the afternoon, her father still works as a doctor, her mother is still a seamstress while her grandmother continues to weave blankets.

It was a phone call in the middle of the night, however, which changed their entire lives.

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This is a recurring theme across most picturebooks that deal with war and conflict: the phone call received at strange hours, a strident knock at the door, and the frantic rush to leave one’s home, bringing nothing but the clothes on one’s back. Azzi was fortunate that she had both her parents with her as well as her best bear, Bobo. However, her grandmother had to be left behind to look after the house.

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Leaving home is not as easy as it sounds, and with striking artwork, Garland was able to depict how the sea voyage from Azzi’s home town (not identified in the story) to her new country is like in the image below – pay close attention to the characters in color:

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This is a beautiful example of how the words and the images in well-crafted picturebooks perfectly complement each other. What is found in the prose is the distilled essence of Azzi’s experience, with the art saying so much more, enough to tug at anyone’s heartstrings.

Their new temporary home in their receiving country is very different from their old home as they were only provided only one small room with a communal bathroom outside.

“I’ll soon be allowed to work,” said Father. “Then I’ll make a good home for us.”

But Azzi thought, “How can we make a good home without Grandma?”

Azzi is not just concerned for her own safety, but her beloved grandmother’s as well who was left behind. Their family now seemed so far away and their previous life a thing of the past. How could her grandmother even find them in their new country that was so vast and filled with so many confusing things with language and food that they are unfamiliar with? Whether Azzi would see her grandmother, I shall leave for you to discover.

What I also found very important in this picture book is the presence of a cultural broker in Azzi’s school. Teachers are often not very sensitive to children coming from different countries who do not speak the receiving country’s language. Azzi was naturally scared, confused, anxious, worried:

The school was so noisy! Children ran past Azzi. Their clothes were different, their language was different, and nobody stopped to say hello.

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The valuable role played by Sabeen who speaks Azzi’s language was transformative, as it allowed her to connect with someone who can understand her, and teach her what is expected of her in her new school. There is also the act of planting seeds which may also be likened to Azzi’s experience of growing new roots in unfamiliar soil.

As you can see in the book pages above, the story line appears to be quite similar to a comic strip with the panels and the text bubbles, making it quite distinct from other picturebooks that deal with the same theme. It is also longer than the usual picturebook format with the stipulated 300 words, but it’s a very poignant read that is bound to move any reader’s sensibilities. As I was looking for resources that I could include here, I chanced upon Zoe Toft’s (of Playing by the Book) review of the book. Do take a moment to visit that post as it also includes a number of helpful links that teachers can make use of.

Currently Reading…

I have finished re-reading My Name is Mina by David Almond for our GatheringReaders book club this week. We had a pretty interesting discussion yesterday about it at the Jurong West Public Library.

https://gatheringbooks.org/2014/08/19/gatheringreaders-virtual-discussion-on-david-almonds-my-name-is-mina/

I would really recommend teachers to read this lovely book. I was once again taken by Almond’s lyrical language and his sharp eye for beauty and pain.

I was not able to re-read Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe, but we did have a lovely conversation about it this weekend with my adult book club (Saturday Night Out for Book-Geeks) and naturally we had to eat Mexican food for dinner.

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I am now currently getting creeped out by The NIght Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. Definitely not a book you should be reading very late at night, alone in your bed. It is a curl-up-and-read kind of narrative – add the chills and the whispering leaves vibe, and you’re all set to be transported to this world that Auxier created. The voice is distinct, and yes, it reminded me a bit of Ray Bradbury. And that is saying a great deal.

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Reading Challenge Update: 184, 185, 186 (25)

11 comments on “[Monday Reading] Children Caught in Between Conflicts: Azzi, Sami, and the Silent Seeker

  1. Book clubs and book talks… sounds awesome. Your themed reading has inspired me to do my own. I may start a mini one in September or October about the Philippines!

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  2. Off to see if I can find a cop of Sami and the Time of Troubles. Thanks for linking to my review of Azzi.

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  3. The picture books look lovely. I am always impressed when writers and illustrators can tell a story of war in a way that children can access.

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  4. These are important books to share! I’m bookmarking to add to my Children’s Lit class next semester. I still need to read Aristotle & Dante. I started it, but got bogged down at the beginning. Not really sure why. I miss having a book group! Love that yours is reading YA fiction!!

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  5. I am looking forward to The Night Gardener. It has been praised quite a bit. I am not usually into creepy books, but will read them when they are well written and friends persuade me to jump in.

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  6. Gleam and Glow – I forgot about that book, I need to pull it back out!
    Yes – could not read The Night Gardener at night after awhile!! Edge of my seat scary and suspenseful! The writing was amazing!

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  7. thelogonauts

    Great list as always. I forgot all about Sami – should look at that again, especially with Gaza. Will definitely check out Azzi!

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  8. Sami and the Time of the Troubles is one I have shared many times. I find it so powerful. An important list. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. bluestockingthinking

    I’m glad you shared Gleam and Glow. I think Carrie wrote about it a while back, and I wanted to read it then. I forgot to request it, but you just reminded me! Azzi looks powerful. Do you think it is ok for 4th graders? Have fun with The Night Gardener!!! You need a dark and stormy night to really amp up the experience 😉

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  10. Hi Myra,

    Thank you for all of these terrific titles. We are excited to read Azzi – Looks like an amazing story.

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  11. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] At Home in the Water: Four Picturebooks About Finding Refuge in the Seas and Non-traditional Families | Gathering Books

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