“Refugee” by Alan Gratz: A Book Review by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Refugee by Alan Gratz is a New York Times best seller, and for good reason.  I came across Refugee when my fourteen year old son was reading it for school.  My husband then read it and raved about it, so I decided to read it too.

Refugee follows the stories of three young refugees (all about 11 to 14 years old) from three very different cultures and time periods.

Photo Source: Back Cover Schoolastic Australia 2018 edition.

Initially, before reading the book, I thought to myself, “Why not a Vietnamese or Cambodian Refugee?”  I have lived in Vietnam (Hanoi) for three years and have a number of Vietnamese former refugee friends.  During my time in South East Asia I travelled extensively and also visited Cambodia.  As well as this, during my childhood, a number of refugees from both Cambodia and Vietnam came to my home country, New Zealand, and I attended school with some of them.  A Cambodian or Vietnamese young person would also fill the “timeline gap” in Gratz’ book, as most of these refugees were making their journeys from the mid 1970s.

There are refugees from numerous other countries and time periods throughout the 20th Century too.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees defines a “Refugees” as:

“…people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.  They often have had to flee with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs and loved ones. 
Refugees are defined and protected in international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention is a key legal document and defines a refugee as: ‘someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.’  By the end of 2017, there were 25.4 million refugee men, women and children registered across the world”.   Source: https://www.unhcr.org/what-is-a-refugee.htm

There have always been refugees throughout history.  Unfortunately mass human displacement has intensified during the 20th and 21st Centuries.  Battles have never just been between soldiers of opposing sides,  but recent conflicts have become, more and more, centred in our cities and towns, effecting ordinary men, women and children.  Our weapons have become more destructive.   As well as this, there are “environmental refugees”, those fleeing natural disasters, some of which have come about through “global warming” and human created environmental issues.

As I read Refugee it became clear that the three stories (of Josef, Isabel and Mahmoud) are very cleverly connected.  There is a reason for the Gratz’ choice of these three.  Through connecting them, the book shows, without needing to state it directly, the interconnectedness and commonality of all humanity: across cultures, faiths, times and places.

The characters in Refugee are fictional, but Gratz has successfully entered their hearts and souls.  Each is a “real” child with hopes, fears and dreams, set in the context of their own nationality/ religion/ race.  At the end of the book Gratz describes the inspiration behind each character, as well as minor characters in the stories who are real people, as are the events from history.  My husband says he found the book “confronting”.  I agree, but I also found it compelling: the stories are interspersed: first Josef, then Isabel, then Mahmoud, then back to Josef and so on.  The chapters end on “cliff hangers” and we want to read on, not only to see what will happen, but also because, as the interconnectedness of the three stories becomes apparent, they are also fascinating.  We all know that the journeys made by refugees are dangerous, life and death ventures.  We become embroiled in their worlds, we worry for them and hope for their eventual safety: elements that definitely make this book a page turner.

For me personally, I found that Refugee connected with my sense of humanity and social justice.  As a mother, I thought of how I would hate my children to go through ordeals like those suffered by the children in the book.  Refugee children are among the world’s most vulnerable and are often go without health care and education, due to being “on the run” and “countryless”.    They also suffer from the trauma of things they have seen and experienced, things which are sewn into the fabric of the “forever years” of their childhoods.  Many refugees and former refugees whom I have known personally say that they never expected to have to leave their homes.  We never know what the future will hold: it is a situation which no one would want to find themselves in, but which could happen anywhere.  Gratz expresses this in Refugee, particularly through his tying together of Josef, Isabel and Mahmoud’s stories.  This is a powerful book, by a skilled author, which young people– indeed any people– should read to understand the human face of this very important world issue.

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“Smile” by Raina Telgemeier. A Book Review by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

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This comic-style book is suitable for kids from about age 8 (depending on their reading level).  My 8 year old daughter and 10 year old son both read and loved it.

Set in San Francisco, USA, Smile tells the true story of how, at age 11, the author Raina Telgemeir broke her two top teeth, resulting in numerous trips to the orthodontist and other dental specialists.  The “journey of Raina’s teeth” in the early 1990s is a true story, and not just one about dental issues.

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Many young people have braces or other things that effect their physical appearance during the “transition” period (teenage years) between childhood and adulthood.  Many will sympathise with Raina’s fate and her concerns about the reactions of her peers.  (Having had braces myself, I “got” where she was coming from).

The story is very reader friendly, as well as interesting and engaging.  A major San Francisco earthquake happens during the course of the story and impacts Raina and her family.

Smile is a story of “growing up”.  The author is eleven years old at the beginning and around fifteen at the end.  As well as telling us the story of her teeth, Telgemeir chronicles the things that were most important to her at this time of life: friendships, romantic crushes, moving from Middle School to High School and, ultimately, her journey towards self-acceptance.  A great read with colourful illustrations, I highly recommend this book!Smile 1 fy

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Book Review by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp: “Dear World” by Bana Alabed

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Bana Alabed, a brave young girl from Syria, was born in 2009 in Aleppo.  Her early years were peaceful and happy, surrounded by a loving family.  The onset of war in her country changed her life and the lives of her family forever.

“Dear World” is Bana Alabed’s account of what living through a war feels like, through the eyes of a child.  Alabed writes in a simple, straightforward and very honest way and her book is very readable, both for adults and children.  It is also interspersed with writing by her mother, giving us an insight into the pain of a parent trying to protect her children from harm in the most terrible circumstances: circumstances which ultimately lead to the family deciding to leave Syria and become refugees.

Alabed says, “I dedicate my book to every child suffering in a war.  You are not alone.”   Her book is prefaced with a quotation from Anne Frank…. another very famous girl who wrote about her experiences living through a war.

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What struck me, as an adult, reading “Dear World” was the universality or Bana Alabed’s experience of modern war: the similarities of her story to that of children and young people (like Anne Frank) who have suffered as a result of war, in our world’s recent history.  The words, “When will they ever learn?” from Bob Dylan’s famous song come to mind.  Regardless of the time period and technology, the trauma experienced by children living through a war is the same.  Alabed is a child of our modern technological age, born in 2009 (the same year as my third son).  She plays with Barbie dolls, wears “Princess Barbie boots” and watches Sponge Bob Square Pants and Tom and Jerry with her two younger brothers… in between running to the basement during shelling.  There is a sense of a “normal” childhood, interspersed with the horrors of war.  Alabed has an I-pad and she uses it to communicate with the outside world.  Her “tweets for peace” in English become famous around the world and draw attention to her country’s plight.

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These same tweets also made Bana Alabed, then aged only seven, an enemy of the Assad government, who actively attempted to silence her.  As well as living in fear of the war, the Alabed family were terrified for their young daughter’s life and dressed her as a boy whenever they went out, to avoid drawing attention.  Alabed is an intelligent, sensitive and perceptive child who lives through her father being taken away by the secret police and the death of her best friend  Yasmin, whose body is lifted from the rubble after a bombing.

“After Yasmin was gone, I was even more scared to die….the way I missed Yasmin…gave me a feeling like I was sinking inside. I couldn’t talk to her. We wouldn’t get to dress up in our favourite princess dresses ever again. I bet Yasmin’s favourite dresses were all under the rubble still.” [pp.114-115].

Alabed tells us that all the things she loved about her childhood vanished because of the war: going to the local swimming pool, going to school or the playground or shops.  Hospitals, schools and public places became targets and even in their homes, people felt like “sitting ducks.”

Although Alabed’s story ends with her safe escape from Syria as a refugee (and it does not destroy the story to tell you that), it raises questions for us all. What use is our modern technology and ability to communicate with those in a war zone if we are unable to help?  And why, despite our technological advances, do we still live in a world where war is necessary? And where children suffer because of war?

Alabed also draws attention to the plight of refugees the world over.  At the beginning of her book she speaks of her pride in Syrian culture and sense of belonging in her family and history.

“I wanted to live in Syria always.” [p.15]

Her mother says they never imagined a war could happen there.

“I suppose that’s what everyone believes until it’s too late.” [p.51].

This puts me in mind of people the world over, who have had to leave their countries.  Everyone likes to feel safe in their homeland, the land of their ancestors, and to believe that their children and grandchildren will always live there.  Unfortunately, this is not always possible.  Alabed advocates for children still living in war zones everywhere and for fellow former refugees.

“…children are still dying and getting hurt everyday…we all have to help one another, no matter what country we live in.” [p.203]

“If you had no country or your parents or children were going to be killed, what would you do?” [p.201]

Here at the “Forever Years”, we see the world’s children as our own children.  “There but for the grace of God go I” (John Bradford) is a phrase that comes to mind.

I recommend “Dear World” to children and adults alike.  As J.K. Rowling says, it is “a story of love and courage amid brutality and terror.”  Through reading this book, we come to love its young author, Bana Alabed, and the strength of character she displays as she continues to send her message of peace to the world.

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A Tribute to Judy Blume (via the blog “A Mighty Girl”): Free Expression and the Freedom to Read, for Kids as well as for Adults!

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For over forty years, author Judy Blume has stood up for free expression and the freedom to read. The beloved author of many Mighty Girl favorites such as “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret”, “Deenie”, and “Tiger Eyes,” the 78-year-old Blume has been writing children’s and young adult fiction for decades. But what her many young fans rarely realize is that her frank discussion of topics like religion, puberty, and sexuality in these books — the same honesty that makes them so appealing to young readers — has made her one of the most frequently challenged children’s authors.

Even as a relatively new author, though, instead of bowing to the criticisms, Blume persisted in writing openly and honestly about issues affecting young people — and speaking up for authors, teachers, librarians, and others who face disapproval, insults, and even the loss of jobs and careers because they refuse to remove books from the hands of young readers. As such, she has become a champion for children’s freedom to read — and authors’ freedom to write — about topics that some find controversial.

In our blog tribute to Judy Blume, we honor her both as an author of many beloved Mighty Girl books and as a determined and forceful voice against censorship and book banning. In a time when Blume’s books still face frequent challenges, her experiences combating censorship — and her powerful words about the value of making complex and daring books accessible to kids — are more important than ever.

To read our blog post, “Protecting ‘The Books That Will Never Be Written'”: Judy Blume’s Fight Against Censorship,” visit http://www.amightygirl.com/blog/?p=7425

To learn more about Mighty Girl books that have been challenged or banned — including the reasons behind the bans — check out our blog post “Dangerous Words: Challenged and Banned Mighty Girl Books” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=4611

For a wide selection of Judy Blume’s much beloved young adult novels, visit our “Judy Blume Collection” at http://bit.ly/1vmwFMN

And, to introduce children to the woman behind these famous books, check out the recently released biography for ages 7 to 10, “Judy Blume: Are You There, Reader? It’s Me, Judy!” at http://www.amightygirl.com/broke-the-rules-judy-blume

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Two Parents Hope To End Child Sexual Abuse With A Storybook, by Madeline Muir

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Parents Kate and Rod Power are aiming to end child sexual abuse through educating kids about the dangers with a storybook.

“I’ve been a police officer for 15 years and have seen some terrible things involving kids,” Kate told the ABC.

“When I had my own three kids I thought being a police officer I knew enough to protect them but then a few things happened in my own community really close to my kids that made me realise I was wrong.

“I can’t protect my kids, they’re vulnerable, I need to teach them and let them protect their private parts if need be.”

Kate and Rod Power are trying to end child sexual abuse by safeguarding their children (and hopefully others) against sexual abuse, by educating them about protecting their private parts.

“I started thinking about what I remembered from my childhood and the thing that stuck the most was nursery rhymes so that’s how we came up with the idea to do the rule as a rhyming book so kids can engage with it and pick it up really quickly,” Rod told the ABC.

They came up with the idea of a child-friendly storybook called My Underpants Rule, to teach kids from four to eight that they have control.

(Read more and watch a fun video at the following link…)

http://www.kiis1065.com.au/entertainment/the-feed/two-parents-hope-to-end-child-sexual-abuse-with-a-storybook/

Top 15 Must-Have Children’s Books on Personal Safety and Emotional Health

Reblogged from:

http://somesecrets.info/

Complied jointly by Jayneen Sanders and Jane Evans.

Jayneen Sanders <http://somesecrets.info/about-the-author/> is a teacher, author, mother of three teenage daughters and an active advocate for sexual abuse prevention education both in the home and in schools.

Jane Evans <http://www.parentingposttrauma.co.uk/> is a trainer, public speaker, author and Mum. She has worked with families affected by a range of complex needs and trauma of 20 years and is committed to support everyone in raising children using only kindness.

Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse

1. SOME SECRETS SHOULD NEVER BE KEPT

by Jayneen Sanders

Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept is a beautifully illustrated picture book that sensitively broaches the subject of keeping our children safe from inappropriate touch. We teach water safety and road safety but how do we teach ‘body safety’ to young children in a way that is neither frightening nor confronting? This book is an invaluable tool for parents, caregivers, teachers and health professionals. The comprehensive notes to the reader and discussion questions at the back of the book support both the reader and the child when discussing the story. Suitable for ages 3 to 12 years. A free ‘body safety’ song, supporting teacher’s pack and other useful resources are also available from:www.somesecrets.info

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Jayneen-Sanders/e/B00BDCGZ1W/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

2. MY BODY BELONGS TO ME

by Jill Starishevsky

Without being taught about body boundaries, a child may be too young to understand when abuse is happening—or that it’s wrong. This straightforward, gentle book offers a tool parents, teachers, and counselors can use to help children feel, be, and stay safe. The rhyming story and simple, friendly illustrations provide a way to sensitively share and discuss the topic, guiding young children to understand that their private parts belong to them alone. The overriding message of My Body Belongs to Me is that if someone touches your private parts, tell your mom, your dad, your teacher, or another safe adult.


Sex Education

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3. IT’S NOT THE STORK!

by Robie H. Harris

Young children are curious about almost everything, especially their bodies. And young children are not afraid to ask questions. What makes me a girl? What makes me a boy? Why are some parts of girls’ and boys’ bodies the same and why are some parts different? How was I made? Where do babies come from? Is it true that a stork brings babies to mommies and daddies? It’s Not The Stork! helps answer these endless and perfectly normal questions that preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary school children ask about how they began.

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4. WHERE DID I COME FROM?

by Peter Mayle

Where Did I Come From? covers all the basic facts from love-making, orgasm, conception and growth inside the womb, through to the actual birth day. It names all the names and shows all the important parts of the body.

Where Did I Come From? tells the facts of life as they are – without any nonsense, and in a way that children can understand and parents enjoy.


Grief/Death

5. A PLACE IN MY HEART — UNDERSTANDING BEREAVEMENT

by Annette Aubrey

Through rhyming, the author deals sensitively with bereavement reassuring young readers that emotions they may be experiencing are ‘normal’ and shared by others.

 

6. BADGER’S PARTING GIFTS

by Susan Varley

Badger is so old that he knows he will soon die. He tries to prepare his friends for this event, but when he does die, they are still grief-stricken. Gradually they come to terms with their grief by remembering all the practical things Badger taught them, and so Badger lives on in his friends’ memories of him.

7. ISAAC AND THE RED JUMPER

by Amanda Seyderhelm

Picture book for 5-12 years about child bereavement. To be read by a parent, counsellor, teacher to a bereaved child. Full colour illustrations, and a list of questions at the back of the book to help children heal their grief process using creative activities. Isaac is heartbroken when his best friend Freddie dies. His house freezes, and his red jumper turns grey with grief. His friends try to console him but it’s only after Isaac receives a special visit from Freddie that he understands love and friendship last forever, and are alive in spirit. Isaac and the Red Jumper will appeal to anyone who is bereaved, and is looking for a creative way to heal. Amanda Seyderhelm is a PTUK Certified Therapeutic Play Practitioner.


Mental Illness

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8. CAN I CATCH IT LIKE A COLD?

By Centre for Addiction &n Mental Health

In simple, straightforward language, the book explains what depression is and how it is treated. It also prepares a child for working with a helping professional. And perhaps most important, it reassures a child that he or she is not alone.


Divorce/Separation

9. MUM AND DAD GLUE

by Kes Gray

A little boy tries to find a pot of parent glue to stick his mum and dad back together. His parents have come undone and he wants to mend their marriage, stick their smiles back on and make them better. This rhyming story is brilliantly told with a powerful message that even though his parents may be broken, their love for him is not.

10. DINOSAURS DIVORCE

by Laurene Krasny Brown

Dinosaurs Divorce will help children understand divorce and what it means.


Trauma/Violence/Anxiety

11. HOW ARE YOU FEELING TODAY BABY BEAR?

by Jane Evans

A gentle story to help children aged 2 to 6 years who have lived with violence in their home. Baby Bear lives in a home with the Big Bears, and loves to chase butterflies and make mud pies – they make Baby Bear’s tummy fill with sunshine. Then, one night, Baby Bear hears a big storm downstairs in the house and in the morning, Baby Bear’s tummy starts to feel grey and rainy. How will such a small bear cope with these big new feelings? This sensitive, charming storybook is written to help children who have lived with violence at home to begin to explore and name their feelings. Accompanied by notes for adults on how to use each page of the story to start conversations, it also features fun games and activities to help to understand and express difficult emotions. It will be a useful book for social workers, counsellors, domestic violence workers and all grown-ups working with children.

 

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12. A TERRIBLE THING HAPPENED

by Margaret Holmes

This gently told and tenderly illustrated story is for children who have witnessed any kind of violent or traumatic episode, including physical abuse, school or gang violence, accidents, homicide, suicide, and natural disasters such as floods or fire. An afterword by Sash a J. Mudlaff written for parents and other caregivers offers extensive suggestions for helping traumatized children, including a list of other sources that focus on specific events.

Note from Jane: I have used this book many times with children from very young up to 10 to 11 years as a way to let them fill in the blanks using gentle suggestions of possible feelings, often helping children who lack the names for their unprocessed feelings. The book can also be used with children who are dealing with grief.

13. THE HUGE BAG OF WORRIES

by Virginia Ironside

Wherever Jenny goes, her worries follow her – in a big blue bag. They are there when she goes swimming, when she is watching TV, and even when she is in the lavatory. Jenny decides they will have to go. But who can help her?

Note from Jane: A great book to use with anxious children as it helps sort worries through and make them seem more manageable. It emphasizes that we all have worries and what to do about them. I use this with older children too, as it always makes me get my own worries in perspective!

14. WHEN WORRIES GET TOO BIG

by Kari Dunn Buron

More than any other issue, ‘losing control’ can cause major problems for children. Through the irresistible character of Nicholas, this book gives young children an opportunity to explore with parents or teachers their own feelings as they react to events in their daily lives while learning some useful relaxation techniques. Children who use the simple strategies presented in this charming book, illustrated by the author, will find themselves relaxed and ready to work or play.

15. SITTING STILL LIKE A FROG (MINDFULNESS)

by Eline Snell

Simple mindfulness practices to help your child deal with anxiety, improve concentration and handle difficult emotions.