Published by Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, and recognized by Amnesty International Ireland for contributing to a better understanding of human rights.
It is likely that few middle grade readers know much of anything about the Syrian Civil War. Within a few pages of opening Without Refuge by Jane Mitchell, that will no longer matter-nor be true. Mitchell crafts a gripping and humanizing account of what could convince an ordinary family to leave all they’ve known and face unimaginable dangers. While the news often holds the human aspect of the refugee crisis at arm’s length, Mitchell sets readers into the heart of Ghalib’s struggle. Not only will readers care deeply about Ghalib, his little brother, and his older, once annoyed, sister, they will come to feel that Ghalib is just like them.
The book is important for that reason. We are not so different, though circumstances divide us. Ironically, many gatekeepers of books will argue that the violent conflict in Syria is too much for our American readers to handle, that it would be too upsetting. The author’s note revealing that every name she used in in the story was the name of an actual Syrian child killed as a result of the conflict. Real children are living experiences like the ones in this book. Surely we, and our children, can open our hearts from the safety of our homes and schools by reading their realities.
If you believe, like I do, that books are an important and safe way to catch glimpses into some of the grittier challenges life confronts us with, then read Without Refuge and consider making it available to young readers you believe can handle it. This book would pair well with Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai which focuses on the more immediate escape from the city of Aleppo itself. If you’re interested in offering readers multiple perspectives of refugees from across time and cultures, also consider sharing Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood, and Refugee by Alan Gratz. I’ve heard about a few others that are in my TBR stack as well. The truth is, children and families have been pressed into the terrible choice of leaving their homes for a chance at safety and survival across the centuries (or millenia). Refugees should not be vilified and othered. They share the same dreams for themselves and their children that any of us have.
OK, it’s actually Tuesday, but I read the book cover to cover last night between hockey practice and (a slightly extended pre-snow-day) bedtime, which was still technically Monday. And incidentally, the undies of this book are exquisite. Treat yourself to the hardcover and undress it.