It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). 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.
These three recently published picturebooks for children written and illustrated by female writers and illustrators fearlessly tackle the refugee experience – in all its darkness, tragedy, and light. This is perfect for the social justice component of our theme for the first quarter of the year. While two of the books feature young, male protagonists (Marwan and Yazan), their mothers do feature prominently in both narratives.
Written and Illustrated by Nadine Kaadan
Published by Lantana Publishing (2018)
ISBN13: 9781911373438. Borrowed a copy from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Yazan has been spending practically all his days cooped up at home, when everything around him started to change. He is no longer able to go to the park like before. Even his mother who used to loved painting spends most of her days just watching the news.
This story allows the reader to imagine what it must be like for Yazan who is unable to leave his own home, bored out of his wits, and uncertain about what is going on. When he finally could not bear it, he snuck out and was so surprised at how deserted and changed everything is:
Yazan’s mother, relieved that he was safe, proceeded to craft their very own park, right at home. While it is unclear when the fighting would end, there can be colours and greens and sunshine within one’s home:
While I was taken by the art, I felt that the overall design and typography could have been done much better. I was especially taken, though, by the author’s note found at the very end:
I wrote this story because I saw children like Yazan in my hometown of Damascus. Their lives were changing, and they couldn’t understand why. All of a sudden, the Fridays that were supposed to mark our weekends became frightening instead of fun. Families were afraid to go outside and instead stayed home.
I noticed that my illustration style started changing. Where once I was drawn to dreamy tones, my palette became gloomy and dark. I felt the need to express what was happening around me so I decided to write this book.
I will be sure to find other stories created by Nadine Kaadan – a much needed voice in children’s literature.
Written by Patricia de Arias Illustrated by Laura Borràs
Published by: minedition (2018)
ISBN: 9888341553 (ISBN13: 9789888341559). Borrowed a copy from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
Unlike Tomorrow which is on the text-heavy side, Marwan’s Journey is sparse, lyrical, and packs an even more powerful punch with its distilled and lilting storytelling.
I walk, and my footsteps leave a trace of ancient stories, the songs of my homeland, and the smell of tea and bread, jasmine and earth.
There is displacement and uncertainty, yes, but there is also the decisive step moving ever-forward, never looking back, as Marwan’s mother advised him, when she was ostensibly alive. Her death was never articulated, but alluded to. It is this subtlety which made the story very effective for me.
I feel that more than anything, this is a whispered prayer, a fervent hope, a quiet wish – conveyed so beautifully in this picturebook.
Written by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb
Published by Candlewick Press (2018)
ISBN: 1536201731 (ISBN13: 9781536201734). Borrowed a copy from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.
The day war came there were flowers on the window sill and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.
My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose and walked with me to school.
Unlike the first two picturebooks, this one tackles the reality of war head-on. It does so, in a manner, which reminds the reader that it can happen to anyone at anytime. It is war’s unpredictability, its unexpected comings-and-goings, its sudden nature that makes it dreadful.
The images shown are stark, real, and decidedly unapologetic; it does not sugarcoat the face of war in an attempt to protect children’s sensibilities, nor does it attempt to gratuitously shock the reader. It simply is.
What is perhaps striking for me is this image of a young girl who has sought refuge in another city (see image below), yet she is perceived to have brought the war with her wherever she goes, in this new city which is supposed to serve as her sanctuary. Like a pariah, she is disallowed from any place where she can feel a sense of safety and stability.
Then an unanticipated act of kindness turns everything around in the end. It is not some false hope or an empty promise, but a call for action; a vivid, compelling, and very simple act that can prove to be life-changing for one who has lost everything.
The Author’s Note found at the end also brings forward this social justice component by urging readers to support charities such as Help Refugees. It provides a plan of action that anyone with a compassionate heart and has the means to help, can do so – in very concrete ways. I hope this book finds you soon.
#WomenReadWomen2019: 6 / 7 of 25 (country: Spain – Patricia de Arias was born in Spain, although resides now in Brazil and Laura Borras is based in Spain; Nadine Kaadan is originally from Syria.)
Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb are from the UK.