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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Beautiul Birds, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Pajama Press, 2017. $19.95 ages 7 and up

"We walk all night,
and all day,
and all night once more.
I count footsteps,
never wanting to look
up again.
As the sun peeks over
the dunes to greet the
new day, we arrive at
the camp. Helpful hands
welcome us in. We made it."

Canada has welcomed, and continues to welcome, Syrian refugee families to many communities across the country. It is difficult to comprehend their joy at finding a place of peace, and their absolute sorrow for having to leave their country and so much more behind them. We have not been in their shoes. As books can do, this second release from Pajama Press today helps those who read it to see through a window into others' experiences and to begin to understand and empathize with their journey to a new life. 

Suzanne Del Rizzo imagines what it might have been like for Sami's family. War sends them scrambling on a long trek to a refugee camp. The realities of life there are grim, especially for Sami who had to travel without his much loved pigeons. The fear and uncertainty he is feeling does not allow him to adapt to camp life - he does not want to go to school, to play sports, to paint pictures. He is disconsolate until four wild birds fly over, respond to his love and attention, thus allowing Sami to find hope for the future and offer help to others.

"From the river of fleeing villagers, new families trickle
through the gate.
I spot a girl. Her eyes are brimming with tears for home.
A shy smile warms my cheeks as I move quietly closer ...
and gently hold out my hand."

A closing author's note provides information for her readers concerning work being done to help refugees by the United Nations Refugee Agency. The original art was created with polymer clay and acrylic, and also includes children's paintings on the endpapers. The inside images are colorful, textured and appealing. I found myself particularly attracted to the striking and unexpected variety in perspective.  There are the dark shadows of war; there is also light-filled promise for a better future. Books like this are needed to help our students and children begin to understand the plight of refugees around the world. Heartfelt and timely, this book deserves to be shared.

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