Thursday, June 18, 2020

Heartbreak, Hope of a Better Life in Graphic-Novel Memoir 'Stars'

World Refugee Day is coming up this Saturday, June 20, and for parents and teachers who want to better understand the refugee experience as they talk with their kids, there are plenty of books to turn to. Among the best I've seen is the new nonfiction graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered (Dial, 2020), written by Somali refugee Omar Mohamed in collaboration with Victoria Jamieson, the Newbery-Honor winning author-illustrator of the beloved Roller Girl (Dial, 2015).

The story is told from the perspective of Omar, who was forced to flee his home at age four with his baby brother, Hassan, after their father was killed and they became separated from their mother. Their childhood was spent in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, and young readers might find it shocking to see how different life is for refugee kids compared to their own day-to-day concerns. The boys go to bed hungry, spend hours in line for basic necessities like water and food rations. School is something Omar can only dream about, and once he's able to attend classes, he feels conflicted that he has to leave his little brother behind. Especially powerful is what happens to Omar's female classmates.

The back matter makes Omar's experience even more real, as he talks about where he's living now and the life he leads today. And how he's working to help other refugees who also dream of a better future. I found myself close to tears throughout. This is an important book for all readers, no matter the age, and for every day—not just World Refugee Day. As we work with children to understand the covid pandemic and how it impacts populations in our cities and around the world, as well as the anti-racism protests and calls for social justice, this is another part of that conversation about building a more just and inclusive world.

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