Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story

Twelve-year-old Mary and her Cherokee family are forced out of their home in Georgia by U.S. soldiers in May of 1838. From the beginning of the forced move, Mary and her family are separated from her father. Facing horrors such as internment, violence, disease, and harsh weather, Mary perseveres and helps keep her family and friends together until they can reach the new Cherokee nation in Indian Territory. Will Mary and her family survive the terrible move forced upon them?

Mary and the Trail of Tears is told from Mary’s point of view, which allows the story to be told with kid-friendly descriptions. While the descriptions are not graphic, some readers will be upset by the brutality that the Cherokees faced. For example, Mary’s grandfather is killed by a man who says, he “wouldn’t be happy until every Cherokee in Georgia was dead.” The Cherokees faced the constant threat of being shot or dying from disease. However, the story ends on a positive note when Mary and most of her family are reunited in Oklahoma.

The story highlights the difference between the Cherokees and the soldiers. The Cherokees loved nature and respected all people. In contrast, the soldiers were motivated by greed and hate. “Since gold had been discovered on Cherokee land a decade earlier, many Georgians were convinced we had gold hidden away. They didn’t understand that to us the most valuable things were other Cherokees.” Throughout the story, the soldiers show cruelty or indifference to the Cherokees’ suffering.

Each chapter begins with the date and location, which makes it easy for readers to follow the events that take place between May of 1838 and March of 1839. To help readers visualize the story’s events, black and white illustrations appear every 7 to 10 pages. The book ends with nonfiction support material including a glossary, and three questions about the Indian Removal Act of 1830. These accounts will help readers learn more about the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and the ten prison camps that were set up in Tennessee.

Mary and the Trail of Tears focuses on one girl’s story and the suffering that the Cherokee people faced during the Trail of Tears. Because readers will sympathize with Mary, the death of her family members will be upsetting. Despite this, Mary and the Trail of Tears should be read because of its educational value. By writing this informative story, the author—who is a member of the Cherokee tribe—sheds light on “one of this country’s darker chapters.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mary’s family and neighbors are forced out of their homes and the whites fight over the Cherokee’s belongings. “Georgians marched Raven out of his house with his hands tied in front of him. His hair was messy, and his cheek was swollen. . .They had hit Raven and bound his hands.”
  • When Mary’s grandpa runs back into his house, she “was afraid they were going to beat my grandpa or whip him when we got to the fort. Grandpa was only in the house a moment when a single rifle shot exploded.” Grandpa is killed.
  • The man who shot grandpa said that “he wouldn’t be happy until every Cherokee in Georgia was dead.” The man is not punished for his crime.
  • When Mary’s family is in the prison camp, they meet a man who had run away from the prison camp and then returned. He says, “The soldiers who were escorting us were cruel. I came back here because there is no place else for a Cherokee to go. . . There is no food or water, and many drowned falling from the overcrowded boats.” Through the man’s story, they learn many had died, including enslaved Africans.
  • While traveling, the children were slowing them down, so “the soldiers took babies from their mothers and put them in wagons with the sick and the dead.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Mary thinks about her grandma, who looked for medicinal plants found in the woods. Mary thinks, “The creator provided food and medicine we couldn’t grow in the garden.”
  • Grandpa sings a song after dinner. He explains that “It’s about us. It means the creator wants us to take care of each other. If a child is alone and crying, we need to take care of them.” Later a group sings the song.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

An ambitious and fiercely independent teenager, Julia Reyes never seemed to fit in with her family’s traditional Mexican values. Her sister, Olga, was who her mother considered a “perfect Mexican daughter.” Olga was content with living at home, helped her mother cook and clean, and never got into trouble. However, after Olga’s sudden and tragic death, Julia feels pressure to fill the gap in her family, despite not being able to live up to her mother’s expectations.

Dealing with grief and conflicting personalities, Julia and her mother “Amá” struggle to mend their relationship. Amá, who grew up in Mexico, wants an obedient and responsible daughter, while Julia, who was raised in America, wants to explore the world and dreams of being a famous writer. Eventually, the pressure from her mom becomes too much for Julia to handle. Julia struggles with her mental health and feels misunderstood by her parents and friends. To make matters worse, after exploring her sister’s room, Julia discovers that Olga may not have been a perfect daughter after all.

Julia is a very realistic and relatable protagonist. She works hard to figure out her place in the world even though she makes mistakes along the way. As the child of Mexican immigrants, Julia experiences both generational and cultural conflicts with Amá and her father “Apá” who, while physically present, is often emotionally absent from Julia’s life. Although she has her friend, Lorena, and a new attentive boyfriend, Connor, Julia realizes grief is a difficult experience and it can take a lot of time to heal.

The book has a strong theme of self-acceptance and acceptance of others. Although Amá has difficulty understanding Julia, she learns to see what makes Julia unique and different from Olga. Julia also must learn to stop comparing herself to her sister and accept who she is and what she wants to be: a writer.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tackles mature themes of death, suicide, abortion, and rape. The novel also contains Spanish words which are used naturally in the dialogue to better represent Julia’s culture, and most words and phrases are understandable within the context of the scene.  If you want to explore another book with these themes, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen should be on your reading list.

Overall, the poignant story explores the challenges of youth, especially the cultural and generational boundaries between first-generation immigrants and their children. Eventually, Julia and her mother must learn to see things from each other’s perspectives. Julia also begins to understand a lot about her mental health and how to heal from painful situations to become a stronger and more balanced young woman.

Sexual Content

  • After searching through Olga’s bedroom, Julia finds “five pairs of silk-and-lace thongs. Sexy lady underwear I imagine a very expensive hooker might buy.”
  • Julia describes a time Olga’s friend Angie came over and Julia “walked in on her touching Olga’s boobs.”
  • Julia feels uncomfortable around her friend Lorena’s stepdad. “Every time I know he’s going to be home, I wear my baggiest shirts and sweaters so he can’t gawk at my boobs. Sometimes it feels like he’s undressing us with his eyes.”
  • Julia falls asleep at Lorena’s house. When she wakes up, she sees Lorena’s stepdad, José Luis, crouched in front of her. “He looks like he’s doing something with his phone, but I’m not sure.” Julia is too exhausted to process what is happening. It is unclear what José Luis’ exact intentions were.
  • Julia and Lorena visit the lake with two boys. Julia wonders where Lorena has gone and assumes she and Carlos are “probably fucking somewhere, even in this cold, and most likely without a condom.”
  • Ramiro, a boy Lorena sets Julia up with, kisses Julia, but she doesn’t really enjoy it. “At first the kisses are soft and feel all right, but after a while, he spirals his tongue against mine.” Julia and Ramiro soon stop kissing. She feels uncomfortable kissing someone she barely knows.
  • Julia states that her tío Cayetano “used to stick his finger in my [Julia’s] mouth when no one was looking.”
  • During a party, Julia notices people “dancing so close they’re practically dry-humping.”
  • Julia watches a couple make out in public. “Their kisses are wet and sloppy, and you can see their tongues going in and out of each other’s mouths.”
  • Lorena’s friend, Juanga, starts to describe different penis shapes he has seen. “The craziest one, he says, was long and pointy.”
  • A man harassing Julia on the street says he has something to show her “’cause you have nice tits.” When an adult helps Julia, the harassers eventually drive away.
  • After her first kiss with Connor, her first boyfriend, Julia describes how “Connor is gentle with his tongue, and something about the way he touches me makes me feel so wanted.”
  • Lorena tells Julia she’ll have to “shave [her] pussy” before having sex with Connor.
  • Julia and Connor have sex. Julia looks away while Connor puts a condom on. She states, “it hurts more than I imagined, but I pretend it doesn’t.” This is all that is described.
  • Julia discovers Olga was “having sex with an old married dude, hoping he would one day leave his wife.”
  • After taking a pregnancy test with fuzzy results, Lorena believes she might be pregnant.

Violence

  • Julia describes the appearance of her dead sister at the funeral stating, “the top half of her face is angry—like she’s ready to stab someone—and the bottom half is almost smug.”
  • Julia explains how Olga was “hit by a semi. Not just hit, though—smashed.”
  • It is implied that Julia tried to kill herself by cutting. The scene is not described.
  • In a support group, Julia meets a boy who is “here because his stepdad beat him with cords and hangers when he was a kid.”
  • On the journey to America, it is implied El Coyote raped Amá and “held [Apá] down with a gun.”
  • While visiting Mexico, Julia hears gunshots in the street and sees “two dead bodies are lying in the middle of the street.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Julia’s uncle once teased Olga’s boyfriend, Pedro, for being innocent. Julia remembers “tío Cayetano trying to give him a shot of tequila once, and Pedro just shaking his head no.”
  • Lorena and Julia smoke weed at Lorena’s house. Julia explains she has smoked weed “a total of five times now.”
  • At a birthday party, Julia’s father, and her uncles drink tequila.
  • At a party, Lorena and Juanga take shots while Julia opens a beer, “which [Julia] regret[s] immediately.”
  • At another party, “the girls all choose Malibu rum,” while Julia drinks “Hennessy and Coke.”

Language

  • Profanity is used in the extreme. Profanity includes ass, crap, fuck, hell, shit, and bitch. For example, after Olga’s death, Julia’s mom was screaming and “telling the driver and God to fuck their mothers and themselves.”
  • Lorena calls Julia a “bitch” for underestimating her intelligence. When Julia is on a bus after skipping school, she believes “the school has already called [her] parents and [she’s] in some deep shit again.”
  • Lorena tells Julia to give papers about a college tour to her “crazy-ass mom.”
  • Pissed is used often. At Olga’s funeral, Julia decides “it’s easier to be pissed,” rather than sentimental.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Julia shares that she and her mom argue about religion often. Julia “told her that the Catholic church hates women because it wants us to be weak and ignorant. It was right after the time our priest said—I swear to God—that women should obey their husbands.”
  • Amá forces Julia to attend church meetings. Julia wonders “who in the world would want to spend their Saturday night talking about God?”

by Elena Brown

Illegal

One day Ebo finds that his older brother, Kwame, has left their village in Libya to make the journey to Europe. Soon afterward, Ebo decides he must go after him. Ebo clings to the hope of finding a better life and reuniting with his family.

Ebo’s journey to find his brother is fraught with danger. He faces the possibility of death at every turn.  He often turns to the gift of song to provide comfort for himself and those he meets. He is told by a bus driver, “Ebo, you can’t solve everything with a song.” However, his lullaby calms a baby on the bus and, as a thank you from the driver, earns him passage to Agadez, the next stop on his journey. In fact, it is his song that guides Kwame back to him. When a woman needs a last-minute replacement wedding singer, Ebo steps in. When Kwame hears the voice, he follows it, leading him to Ebo. Ebo’s refusal to stop singing, even in the face of difficulty, and his willingness to help those around him emphasizes the message of perseverance and hope despite all odds being against him.

Throughout his journey to Italy, Ebo encounters many people who offer him aid which develops the theme of kindness and respect for others. After their raft capsizes, Ebo and his friends are saved. Ebo tells readers, “People are so kind . . . Although they hardly have anything, people give us blankets.” For every person who mistreats Ebo, there is another who helps him. These moments show that although not everyone is welcoming and kind, there are still those who help. As Ebo says, “They must help us. We are people.”

Family and friendship are driving forces in Ebo’s story. Even when his “new life” is bleak, Ebo maintains hope that his hard work, kindness, and strength of conviction will result in a better life. His commitment to his family and his new friends gives Ebo purpose. The brothers are finally reunited and in the end, Kwame even urges rescuers to save Ebo before helping himself, which ultimately leads to his death. Kwame sacrifices himself for his brother’s well-being.

Accompanying the powerful storytelling, Giovanni Rigano’s illustrations strikingly capture the characters’ emotions. Some pages of the story are told only through his illustrations, such as when Ebo is alone and not speaking. For example, in the refugee camp, the images show Ebo who is haunted by the death of his brother. The full-color illustrations are occasionally grim. One such picture is of a decomposed dead man. Other images of death are less graphic, and many deaths occur off-page. Many die from drownings and they’re shown disappearing into the water.

Some pages feature word boxes and speech bubbles to distinguish between narration and dialogue. Ebo’s narration is provided in pale yellow word boxes, while speech amongst characters uses white bubbles. Differentiation between past and present, as well as certain contextual details and unpictured dialogue, takes the form of light blue boxes. Each page has 9 to 16 short sentences. The text along with Rigano’s illustration makes the graphic novel easy to follow.

Twelve-year-old Ebo’s youthful spirit makes him a convicting narrator. His story is both tragic and hopeful. However, Ebo’s story shows moments of hope and how familial love can help ease the pain of loss and grief. Older children can learn a lot from hearing an immigration story from the voice of a peer. Readers will gain compassion for refugees when they are shown what children their age have faced. Despite the suggested age range of 10+, younger readers may find the deaths along the journey disturbing. Readers who would like to explore the topic of refugees further should read Refugee 87 by Ele Fountain and the graphic novel When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed.

Sexual Content

  • A peer of Ebo’s means to degrade Sisi. The boy says, “I wonder what brothel she’s working in now.”
  • A woman’s wedding singer cannot perform because he “kissed the bridesmaid and upset her fiancé.”

Violence

  • The immigrants could face death at any point. They often voice their concerns to their friends and family.
  • While the immigrants are waiting to go off to sea, a man says, “Move or there’s a bullet in your back.” The illustration shows the men firing large guns into the air.
  • A child in Ebo’s village taunts him about Kwame leaving. The child says, “He’ll be swallowed by the desert sands just like your sister before.”
  • After a boy talks poorly about Sisi, Ebo hits him. The picture shows just after the punch’s impact and the speech bubble reads “Oomph.”
  • Ebo sinks under the water, beginning to drown before someone pulls him out.
  • The wedding singer is shown in a picture holding his nose which is bleeding, presumably after being punched.
  • Razak, a friend Ebo met along the way, tells a story. A group who was going to Europe “died of starvation, and no water, slowly, slowly . . . and their boat became a floating coffin.” He says at least their own deaths will be quicker.
  • A man falls off the back of the truck, but the truck does not stop. Ebo realizes the drivers do not care.
  • A man is told to get out of the jeep. When he does not listen, he is shot. The accompanying images show a gun being pulled from the driver’s waistband, the gun being pointed to the man’s chest along with his speech bubble which reads “Please . . . no!” And finally, the jeep is shown from a distance with the sound bubble “Bdam.”
  • A woman explains her reason for leaving home: “The war came.”
  • Cammo, one of Ebo’s new friends, dies overnight, either from the cold or exhaustion. The image shows him limp, being pulled from under the jeep where he was sleeping. Razak wants to bury him, but they cannot because they’re tired and “the desert ground is too hard.” Instead, they cover Cammo with a cloth. That is the last image of Cammo before they leave him.
  • A woman’s baby flies from her arms when the ship is nearly tipping. Ebo catches him, though, before any harm can come to him.
  • Railing snaps and many people fall overboard. The water is “hard as stone.” The images show people sinking below, though their fates are unclear. Later, Ebo realizes that some screams are coming from inside the sinking ship and that those people have no way out.
  • Ebo is shown working in a well. A dead animal, potentially a sheep, is shown limp in the water, attached to a string.
  • In Tripoli, Razak says they must “steer clear of the street gangs,” not drink the drain water, watch their money, be careful about rabid dogs, and “watch out for the army” and “the police.” Pictures depict each rule. For example, the rabid dog has his teeth bared and is spit flies from his mouth. The gangs do not have weapons, but their fists are balled.
  • While ill and sleeping, Kwame must bat a swarm of rats off of Ebo’s body.
  • In the chaos of the sinking ship, a baby is handed to Ebo. When Ebo and Kwame try to find the mother, she is “gone” and likely drowned.
  • While Ebo and the baby are rescued, Kwame goes under the surface. He emerges only once more before being lost to the sea. The images show him from Ebo’s perspective as well as Kwame’s own view under the water.
  • IN Ebo’s imagination, both Kwame and Razak’s bodies are shown under the water. They float, Kwame with empty eyes, while fish prod them.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Uncle Patrick, according to Ebo is always either “his bed, his chair, or a bar.” One time, Ebo finds him drunk with blood on his shirt.
  • Ebo finds a pack of antiseptic wipes and trades them for food and other goods. He is shown treating people’s injuries by wrapping them in a wipe.
  • Some cartons of cigarettes are pictured in the cargo of a jeep.
  • Ebo gets very sick with a fever. He must be carried by his family. He says he feels freezing but is told he is too hot. An observer says, “without medicine, that kid won’t last long,”
  • Ebo’s friends find someone who has medicine for Ebo, but they are all aware that “the wrong pills can kill.” However, Ebo is given the medicine and he gets better.
  • It is rumored that one week, none of the ships that left returned. Razak says, “Last month they lost all their boats.” Kwame supports the rumor, saying, “I heard no one got a phone call. Not one family!”
  • In the book’s epilogue, Helen, a refugee, tells her story. This provides a woman’s perspective of the journey to immigrate. Helen gives readers a brief history of her life, from childhood to the present day. She faced the death of her mother and that of her friends during her journey. Helen says that they tried to bury them, but “the sand will not cover them long.
  • During Helen’s journey, a boat of over 400 people capsizes. Helen, who is pregnant, is starved and dehydrated. Helen hides under the floorboards of a truck. The police walk on the floorboards, which results in the loss of her baby. Helen’s story is told over the course of five pages.

Language

  • One man calls another an idiot.
  • The driver calls the jeep a “stupid machine.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Luck is often mentioned. For instance, a man tells Ebo, “I hope you bring this ship luck.”
  • A friend of Ebo, Cammo, does not like that Ebo took the water from a dead men’s jeep. He says, “You cannot disturb the dead.” Later, after they drink the water, Cammo says, “I’m too tired to fight off evil spirits; You rest with the bone men.”
  • When discussing their odds of surviving the journey a friend, says, “We must rely on luck and many prayers.”

by Jennaly Nolan

A Thousand White Butterflies

As if being new to the United States wasn’t hard enough, Isabella’s first day of school is canceled due to snow!

Isabella has recently arrived from Colombia with her mother and Abuela. She misses Papa, who is still in South America. It’s her first day of school, her “make-new-friends” day, but when classes are canceled because of too much snow, Isabella misses her warm, green, Colombia more than ever. Then Isabella meets Katie and finds out that making friends in the cold is easier than she thought!

 A Thousand White Butterflies is a beautiful story that shows that friendship can flourish despite differences. Like many children who have immigrated to America, Isabella misses her home and her father and she worries about making friends. Readers will enjoy seeing Isabella making a new friend and show her friend part of her culture. When the two girls build a snowman, “Katie helps me put Papa’s ruana on the snowman. We add a sombrero vueltiao.” While the story starts with Isabella being upset about moving to America, it ends on a high note with Isabella looking forward to going to school with Katie.

The large cartoon-like illustrations show the magic of snow and friendship. Each illustration shows Isabella’s emotions including frowning, crying, and smiling. Readers will enjoy finding a cat that appears in almost every picture. Each page has 2 to 4 simple sentences and many of the sentences include Spanish. Even though A Thousand White Butterflies is a picture book it is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. The end of the book includes the author’s notes on how the immigrant story pertains to their lives as well as a glossary of Spanish words.

Isabella’s story will help readers become more compassionate as they learn about immigration. A Thousand White Butterflies would make an excellent book for parents to read with their children. Parents could use the story as a conversation starter about moving, making new friends, or being kind to others. While the story introduces the idea of immigration, it stays away from the political debate and shows how one specific child has been impacted by immigrating to America. Readers who would like to explore how immigration affects families should also read Mango Moon by Diane De Anda & Sue Cornelison.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

When Stars Are Scattered

Omar and his younger brother Hassan have spent most of their childhood inside the A2 block of the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab. After fleeing from his family farm in Somalia and becoming separated from his mother, Omar’s main concern is always protecting his only remaining family member, his nonverbal brother Hassan. Not only does Omar shield Hassan from the grueling chores of finding water and cleaning the tent, but he also cares for his brother when Hassan suffers seizures, or when he is teased by the other kids for only saying one word: Hooyo—“Mamma.” Omar also hopes one day his mother will find him and Hassan, and so he keeps all days the same. So, when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future…but it would also mean leaving his brother, his only remaining family member, every day.

When Stars are Scattered is an easy-to-read, beautifully illustrated graphic novel. Omar Mohamed’s story comes to life in this graphic novel about his childhood in a refugee camp. The story shows the heartbreaking events that lead to Omar going to a refugee camp when he was only four. Omar’s story chronicles the hunger, heartbreak, and harsh conditions he endured. The story also sheds light on other issues including women’s access to education, starvation, family loss, and the constantly looming struggle to get on the UN list that invites refugees to interview for resettlement. Despite difficulties, Omar is still able to create a sense of family and home in the midst of difficult situations.

Like all people, Omar is a complex character who struggles to make the right decisions. He also often has conflicting emotions. For example, Omar wonders if his mother is dead or alive. He thinks, “I love my mom, but sometimes I hate her for leaving us. It’s like these two feelings are tearing me apart.”

At one point, Omar wonders if school is a waste of time; however, his foster mom tells him, “Prepare yourself and educate yourself. So you can be ready when God reveals his plan to you.” Eventually,

Omar falls in love with the power of learning and the potential of resettlement. Omar begins to learn what it feels like to build a new life by focusing on what he is given, rather than remaining torn by what he has lost. It is in this way that Omar moves from searching the stars for his mother to actually feeling that, “Many years ago, we lost our mother. But maybe she is not gone. She is in the love that surrounds us and the people who care for us.”

The story teaches several important life lessons including not to judge others and to make the most of your life. Appreciating what you have is the overarching theme of When Stars Are Scattered. Omar’s best friend tells him, “I didn’t ask for this limp. But I didn’t ask to live in a refugee camp either. . . I guess you just have to appreciate the good parts and make the most of what you’ve got.” Despite his struggles, Omar makes the most of what he has been given and thanks God for the love of others.

Based upon the real-life story of Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered navigates themes of familial loss, grief, struggle, and finally, hope, all while addressing the permanent feeling of a temporary refugee camp and the heartbreak of a war-torn home country. Omar shares his story because he wants to encourage others to never give up on home. Omar says, “Things may seem impossible, but if you keep working hard and believing in yourself, you can overcome anything in your path.”

When Stars Are Scattered not only encourages others to remain persistent, but also sheds light on the conditions of the refugee camps without getting into a political debate on immigration. Instead, the graphic novel focuses on Omar’s story—his hardships, his hopes, his despair, and his desire to help others like him.

The narrative is occasionally intense and heavy in its consideration of grief and the lifestyle of a refugee, which may upset younger readers. However, the serious and very important subjects that When Stars are Scattered covers are overall presented in a digestible way for young readers. The graphics that illustrate the story are absolutely captivating for all, while the humor and uplifting optimism that perseveres throughout this novel can fill the hearts of any audience.

Sexual Content

  • Maryam’s family needs the money, so they allow Maryam to get married despite the fact that she is only in middle school. “Maryam’s husband is old, but he’s not too strict.”

Violence

  • When Hassan hugs a boy, the boy pushes him away. The boy tells Omar, “I don’t know why you bother taking care of this moron. He’s a waste of space. You should let him wander off into the bush to get eaten by lions.” Omar punches the boy, and they get into a fight. An older woman breaks up the fight.
  • While Omar is at school, Hassan wanders off and some kids “[take] his clothes, and… He’s pretty badly hurt.”
  • When Omar’s best friend says he’s going to America, Omar thinks about the resettlement process. He thinks, “I heard about one guy… His case was rejected by the UN and he couldn’t handle it. He… He killed himself.”
  • During an interview with the United Nations, Omar talks about the village he came from. Omar was playing under a tree when he heard men yelling at his father. Then, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” Omar ran to his mother, who told Omar to take his brother and run to the neighbor. The neighbor hides them inside, but “then I heard gunshots and screaming, and soon the whole village was running. There were angry men everywhere.” Omar and his brother run and stay with the people from the village, but they never see their mother again. The event is described over three pages.
  • When Fatuma describes her sons, she notes that “they were killed in Somalia” but there is not any explicit description as to how they were killed.
  • When Hassan tries to help Omar with collecting water one day, Omar gets frustrated and shoves Hassan, yelling “leave me alone!”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Some of the men in the refugee camp chew khat leaves. Omar explains that “a lot of men in camp chew Khat. They say it kind of helps you . . . forget things.”

Language

  • There are multiple times where some of the children are called by names based upon their physical appearance. For example, one child is called “Limpy” based upon a physical disability. Omar is also called “Dantey” for being quiet.
  • The story has some mild name-calling, such as idiot, jerk, and dodo head. For example, Omar thinks that one of the boys his age is “kind of a jerk.”
  • While walking to school, someone yells at two girls, “Hey it’s the mouse and the shrimp.” In reply, someone says, “Tall Ali… You’re like… A towering tree of an idiot.”
  • In class among the girls, A boy says, “You’re just jealous because you’re, what, number seventeen? I didn’t know we had seventeen girls in class. My goat could’ve done better than you.”
  • When Tall Ali becomes frustrated at Hassan for not understanding a game, he says to Omar, “ I don’t know why you bother taking care of this moron! He’s a waste of space. You should let him wander off into the bush to get eaten by lions!” Then he says to both Omar and Hassan, “Now I know why you’re orphans. That’s probably why your mom left you.”
  • When Jeri gives a presentation in school about how much he wants to be a teacher when he grows up, another classmate exclaims, “what a kiss-up.”
  • When Omar learns that all the teachers speak in English, he thinks, “Oh crud.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When community leader Tall Salan tries to convince Omar to go to school, he says, “Omar, only God knows what will happen in the future.” Omar’s foster mom Fatuma also says, “I think you should look deep inside yourself and see what God is telling you to do. If this is God’s will, then He will make everything okay.”
  • Omar and his brother practice Islam. Because of this, Omar recognizes that “Like every morning, I hear the call to morning prayers over the loudspeakers. It’s early, but today I was already awake.” There is also a chapter dedicated to discussing the Holy Month of Ramadan. This chapter shows Omar and his friends celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, which is the holiday at the end of this month. It is also recognized that Omar’s camp, and others near it, have a “loudspeaker that, five times a day, called everyone to prayer.”
  • When Omar decides to go to school, he prays “that [he’s] making the right decision.”
  • Omar’s foster mom tells him that God has given Hassan gifts. “Hassan is considerate, helpful, and friendly.”
  • When the community comes together to help Hassan, Omar thinks, “We may be refugees and orphans, but we are not alone. God has given us the gift of love.”
  • During Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, Muslims are supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset. Even though many in the refugee camp are always hungry, “people in the camp fast anyway… Just because we’re poor and hungry doesn’t mean we can’t observe the holy month.”
  • During Eid, Omar prays “for me and Hassan. That we’ll find a way out of this refugee camp—that someday we will find a home.”
  • When a social worker brings Omar a school uniform, he thinks, “you just try your best, and God will find a way to help you when you need it.”
  • Even though life has dark moments, Omar believes that “God will deliver an answer, and you’ll find a faith out of the darkness. The kindness of strangers. The promise of new friends.”
  • When Omar is waiting to see if he will be resettled in America, he thinks, “We’ve done all we can. It’s in God’s hands now.”

by Hannah Olsson

 

 Land of the Cranes 

Nine-year-old Betita knows she is a crane. Papi has told her the story, from even before her family fled to Los Angeles to seek refuge from cartel wars in Mexico. Long before that, Aztecs came from a place called Aztlan, which is now the Southwest U.S. This place was called the land of the cranes. The Axtecs left Aztlan to establish their great city in the center of the universe -Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. But it was prophesied that their people would one day return to live among the cranes in their promised land. Papi tells Betita they are cranes that have come home.

Then one day, Betita’s beloved father is arrested by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported to Mexico. Betita and her pregnant mother are left behind, but soon they too are detained and must learn to survive in a family detention camp outside of Los Angeles. Even in cruel and inhumane conditions, Betita finds heart in her own poetry and in the community, she and her mother find in the camp. The voices of her fellow asylum seekers fly above the hatred keeping them caged, but each day threatens to tear them down lower than they ever thought they could be torn. Will Betita and her family ever be whole again?

Land of the Cranes is told from Betita’s point of view. Her voice comes through in the narration and in the poems she writes for her father. She also draws simple illustrations that help convey her emotions. Even though the story is told from a child’s point of view, younger readers may be upset by the harsh treatment and a brief description of sexual abuse.

Written in prose, Land of the Cranes has some beautiful language. However, Spanish words and phrases are scattered throughout the book, which may cause confusion for non-Spanish speakers. In an extended metaphor, Betita refers to her and her family as cranes. Expanding on this metaphor, when she thinks about her mother’s pregnancy Betita talks about the “egg” and the “nest.” One reason Betita is worried about the “egg hatching” is that “Mami has lost / two babies before. / They worry that this one / might get lost too.”

Land of the Cranes explores the “zero tolerance” policy of ICE detaining undocumented immigrants and the harsh condition of the detention centers. One of Salazar’s purposes for writing the book is to show an example of “a larger, tragic, and true story of the criminalization of migration that spans hundreds of years.”

Younger readers may be disturbed by Land of the Cranes because it deals with the difficult topic of immigration and families being torn apart. In addition, readers may have a difficult time understanding some of the language and when Spanish is used, there are not always context clues to help readers understand the words’ meanings. Despite this, Land of the Cranes would be an excellent book to use as a conversation starter. Sensitive readers may want to skip Land of the Cranes and read Efren Divided, which explores the same topics but uses a more child-friendly manner.

Sexual Content

  • A young woman has a girlfriend.
  • Betita’s friend tells her a secret. “There was a man who cooked our food / who would lock me in the closet with him. / He did things. / He told me it was supposed to feel good / but it didn’t. It hurt so bad, I threw up.”

Violence

  • Betita’s Tio, Pedro, was killed by a cartel. Papi says, “A cartel hurt Tio Pedro / made him disappear / when he didn’t give them / the money they wanted.”
  • A woman in the detention center explains why her family fled to America. She was fearful that the cartel would hurt her family. The woman saw the cartel “kill a man for not paying the rent on his cart. I knew we would be next.”
  • A woman guard tells Betita to undress. Betita stomps “my feet on her foot . . . The guard grabs me by the arm / shakes my body like a sheet /and starts to pull up my blouse.” The guard tries to “hit Mami,” but another guard stops her.
  • A young woman tries to fight the guards, who are putting her in a cell. “They get her up and open the / gate to our cell, and give her a shove. . . She lunges at one of the guards. / The guard’s fist smashed into her nose / which sends her back like a rag doll. / Then the other guard rushes her / while she is down / and kicks / and kicks/ and kicks/ her in the stomach / and in the face.”
  • Betita’s friend was taken to a detention camp for children. Her friend says the guards “hit the kids / who tried to run out of the doors or cried too loudly.”
  • While sleeping, a guard checks on the prisoners. “I count one kick in my face / while I slept, from a guard.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a quinceanera, “Tio Desiderio is on guard / at the bar, making sure some /of her pimply-faced guy friends / don’t try to get beer.”
  • Papi tells Betita that a cartel is “a group of men who sell / drugs / guns / and people / sometimes.”

Language

  • Several of the guards at the detention center call the prisoners “donkeys.” For example, a guard yells, “Burros, time to eat!”
  • The guards call the prisoners names including wetback, perra, and stupid.
  • Betita doesn’t like her friend’s “booger of a brother.”
  • When a guard pushes a prisoner, the prisoner yells, “Don’t push me, you piece of scum!”
  • Dang is used twice.
  • Freaking and damn are both used one time.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Betita’s mother thinks about her brother, who was killed by the cartel. “Mami lights a candle daily / to a small statue of La Vigen de Guadalupe / and a picture of Tio Pedro faded in the frame. . . She prays for protection under her breath.”
  • When her father is deported, Betita cuts a piece of her father’s pillow and “put it on Mami’s Virgencita / smoosh it between the moon / and the angel / and pray for protection. ‘Please, Virgencita, don’t / take Papi with you too.’”
  • When Betita and her mother are taken to a detention center, “Mami prays Tio Juan / will reach Fernanda and that she will / know where to find us. . . Virgencita, protect us, por favor, Mami says.”
  • Betita tells the story about how the Mexican people are cranes. “Several tribes including the Mexica / traveled south like cranes / when Huitzilopchitli. . .The god of war / announced his / prophecy that they /would move south / to build their great /civilization in the / ombligo of the world.”

Mango Moon

One day Maricela’s father doesn’t come home. With her father in a detention center awaiting deportation, Maricela’s whole life changes. Her mother has to work two jobs, her family had to move in with Maricela’s aunt, and she has to change schools.

Maricela misses her father so much that it makes her stomach hurt. And everywhere she looks, she’s reminded that her father is gone. She misses him pushing her on the swings. She misses him coaching her soccer team. And she misses him whenever she sees the moon, the bright orange moon that is just like the mango Maricela was eating the last time she and her father looked at the night sky together from their porch.

Mango Moon tackles the difficult topic of deportation by focusing on one girl’s struggle. Maricela and her brother were born in the United States, and her mother has a visa. But Maricela doesn’t understand how her father can be sent to a dangerous county because “Papi never did anything wrong; he just didn’t have papers.”

Beautiful illustrations show Maricela’s range of emotions—confusion, loneliness, fear, and sadness. Her father’s absence is felt in every picture. On one page, Maricela hugs her father’s picture, and on another, she reads her father’s letters. The most touching picture is when both Maricela and her father are looking up at the same moon, but Maricela is in her backyard and her father is in a detention center. In the illustration, her father is holding a card that Maricela made for him. The illustrations highlight Maricela’s emotions, which often contrast with the bright illustrations. Most of the illustrations have mango color, which helps remind the reader of Maricela’s last night with her father.

While Mango Moon doesn’t talk about the political aspect of immigration, the story does show the devastating effects of families being separated. Unlike many stories, Mango Moon doesn’t end on a happy note. Instead, Maricela expects her father to be sent to another country, alone. Like many children of undocumented immigrants, Maricela is teased at school which only adds to her worries. Maricela’s story is heartbreaking because it shows how Maricela’s life is shattered.

Any parent who wants to broach the subject of immigration should read Mango Moon with their child. Even though the story is a picture book, young readers will need help understanding the difficult subject. De Anda writes about immigration’s hardships in a child-friendly manner that shows it is “all right for us to cry.” Many children may face similar hardships to Maricela, and Mango Moon can help them process the confusing emotions of having a parent deported. Even if you are not in a similar situation, Mango Moon can help kids grow empathy and understand the pain of losing a parent.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Efrén Divided

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares for the family. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings, Max and Mia, feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. And according to the neighborhood talk, families like his are in great danger. Sure enough, Efrén’s worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, Mexico.

Now it’s up to Efrén to be brave and figure out how to act soper himself. While Apá takes an extra job to earn the money needed to get Amá back, Efrén struggles to look after Max and Mia while also dealing with schoolwork, his best friend’s probably-doomed campaign for school president, and his fears about what might happen to his family next.

When disaster strikes, Efrén is faced with crossing the border alone to see Amá. More than ever, he must channel his inner Soperboy to help him keep his family together.

Efrén Divided shows the struggle of undocumented workers from a middle schooler’s perspective. Efrén’s story does not discuss the politics of immigration, but instead focuses on Efrén’s struggles. Efrén worries about his parents being deported because they live in a country that does not want them. When Efrén’s mother is deported, Efrén feels shame and confusion. However, Efrén’s story doesn’t just focus on his family life. The reader also gets a glimpse of Efrén’s school life, which gives the story additional depth and shows how being in the country illegally affects many people.

While the story is engaging, readers may have a difficult time understanding some of the dialogue. When characters speak in Spanish, there are not always context clues to help readers understand the words’ meanings. However, the back of the book contains a glossary of Spanish words. Additionally, the conclusion has several events that seem out of place because they are not natural extensions of the story.

Efrén Divided uses an engaging story to shine a light on the difficulty that American-born children face when their parents are undocumented. The story makes many references to The House on Mango Street, which may make readers want to also read that book. The story highlights the importance of family and friends, as well as the need to “surround yourself with good people. People who will bring out the good in you. Not the bad.” Readers who enjoy Efrén Divided should also check out New Kid by Jerry Craft and When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Efrén’s brother, Max, pees on his clothes. Efrén tries to put him in the bathtub, but Max “pulled on Efrén’s hair and swung his legs wildly. One of his kicks nailed Efrén in the jaw, causing him to bite his lip.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Efrén’s friend, David, now lives with his grandmother because his mom drank a lot.
  • When Efrén goes to Mexico, he follows signs advertising beer.
  • In Mexico, Efrén meets a man who tells him about the drug cartels.

Language

  • “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation 6 times.
  • Heck is used once.
  • Some of the kids call David “El Periquito Blanco” which means the white parakeet.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Efrén and his family bless themselves.
  • When Efrén and his father are going to San Diego, they have to pass a checkpoint. Efrén prays, “Please, God, . . . let it be it closed. Let it be closed.”
  • When they pass the checkpoint, Efrén “bless[es] himself—this time thanking God for everything He’d given him.” Then, Efrén lists what he is thankful for.
  • Efrén and his father talk about going to mass to give thanks. The next morning, they go to mass, which “felt a bit more special than usual.” The family prays, but the specific prayer is not mentioned.

Refugee

Three kids. Three different time periods. Three refugee families flee their countries. Each family faces unimaginable dangers. But they have no choice but to press on and hope for a better tomorrow. Although decades separate them, they discover that they are all connected in the end.

Joseph is a Jewish boy living in 1930’s Nazi Germany. His family boards a ship set for Cuba. They hope to avoid the concentration camps and certain death. But will a country on the other side of the world take them in, or will they be sent away?

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. Her family faces hunger, violence, and an uncertain future. But when her father is threatened with jail, the family sets out on a homemade raft. They hope to make it to Miami. Can they make it to America and keep their family together?

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. His country is being torn apart by war. Violence, death, and destruction are everyday occurrences. When his family’s neighborhood is destroyed by bombs, they head towards Europe. Can they safely make it to a country that welcomes refugees?

Refugee sheds light on the historical and political aspects of each time period. Readers will learn about Kristallnacht, The Night of the Broken Glass, as well as the history of how the war in Syria began with Assad bombing his own people. Isabel’s story also explains the U.S. policy of “Wet Foot, Dry Foot.” The end of the book has historical information as well as a section on what readers can do to help.

Each section of the story is told from a young person’s point of view. This gives the book a tragic feeling because none of the young people have any control over the events that lead to their need to flee. The harrowing story of each family does not shy away from the harsh realities of the time period. Each family has stories of cruelty, violence, and death, which are often described in graphic and frightening detail.

The goodness of random strangers is seldom. However, in Josef’s story, a Hitler Youth protects Joseph, and the captain and most of the crew of the ship treat the Jews with respect. The story shows how small deeds can make a huge impact. Even though the story shows the kindness of a few, cruelty and violence overshadow the kindness in the book.

As Mahmoud and his family try to escape the violence, he realizes that it was easy for people to forget about the refugees until “refugees did something they didn’t want them to do—when they tried to cross the border into their country, or slept on the front stoops of their shops, or jumped in front of their cars, or prayed on the decks of their ferries—that’s when people couldn’t ignore them any longer.” Mahmoud struggles with wanting to stay invisible but wondering if he needs to be visible. “If you were invisible, the bad people couldn’t hurt you, either. If you stayed invisible here, did everything you were supposed to, and never made waves, you would disappear from the eyes and minds of all the good people out there who could help you get your life back.”

The publisher recommends Refugee for readers as young as nine, but younger readers may be upset by the horrors of war and the tragic decisions the families must make in order to survive. Younger readers who are interested in World War II may want to begin with the books Lifeboat 12 or Resistance, which also tell compelling stories without the graphic violence.

Refugee is an engaging story that brings the suffering of refugees to light. The situations that the characters face are emotional, but the characters could be better developed. Since each chapter focuses on a different family, the story was often disjointed. Some readers may have a difficult time following a story that changes characters every chapter. The book shows the reasons the family left but doesn’t mention the difficulties that countries face when dealing with thousands of refugees coming into their country.

Although the story is easy to read, the book’s emotional impact is hard-hitting. Refugee takes the reader on a harrowing journey where each family must deal with a tragic loss of life and cruelty from others. Refugee shows how families have been impacted in past and current times. The story gives voice to the current refugee crises and shows the desperation of people who want to live without fear of death.

Sexual Content

  • While in Havana, Isabel sees “couples kissing under palm trees.”
  • Isabel’s grandfather flirts with a young girl. He tells her, “Your face must be Summer, because you’re making me sweat!” Isabel knew that “Lito was giving her piropos, the flirtatious compliments Cuban men said to women on the street.”

Violence

  • During WWII, Nazis break into Josef’s home and “threw him to the floor. Another shadow picked up Ruth by the hair and slapped her. ‘Be quiet!” the shadow yelled, and it tossed Ruth down on the floor beside Joseph.” The strangers trash the house, gather his family into the living room, and arrest his father.
  • A group of Hitler Youth attack Josef after school. The group “fell on him, hitting and kicking him for being a Jew, and calling him all kinds of names.”
  • During a medical check, Josef’s father becomes agitated and starts mumbling. Josef “slapped his father across the face. Hard.” Josef tells his father that the medical examiner is “a Nazi in disguise. He decides who goes back to Dachau. He decides who lives or dies. . . .” Josef’s father is scared into silence.
  • Crew members ransack the room of Josef’s family. “They swept Mama’s makeup and perfume off the vanity and smashed the mirror . . . they tore the head off Ruthie’s stuffed bunny.”
  • While in a concentration camp, Josef’s father says how the Nazis choose one man to drown every night. “They would tie his ankles together and his hands behind his back and tie a gag around his mouth, and then they would hang him upside down, with his head in a barrel. Like a fight. . . They would fill the barrel with water. Slowly. So they could enjoy the panic. So they could laugh. . . He would thrash around and breathe water until he drowned. Drowned upside down.
  • Josef’s father jumps into the ocean and when a policeman tries to help him, Josef’s father yells, “Let me die! Let me die!” Josef’s father survives.
  • A group of men tries to take over the ship. One of the passengers slam “the helmsman and sends him tumbling to the floor. The mutineers quickly surrounded the other sailors, threatening them with their makeshift clubs.”
  • When Cuba sends the ship away, a policeman “swept the gun back and forth, and the other policemen drew their pistols and did the same.” The captain is able to convince the passengers not to attack the police.
  • While he is running from Nazis, soldiers shoot at Josef. “A pistol cracked, and a bullet blew the bark off a tree less than a meter away. Josef stumbled again in panic, righted himself, and kept running.” Josef and his mother are caught and taken to a concentration camp.
  • Boys attack Mahmoud’s friend because he is a Shia Muslim. “. . . Khalid had been curled into a ball on the ground, his hands around his head while the other boys kicked him. . . With a battle cry that would have made Wolverine proud, Mahmoud had launched himself at Khalid’s attacker. And he had been beaten up as badly as Khalid.”
  • Mahmoud’s mother was a nurse who came home “every day with horror stories about people she’d helped put back together. Not soldiers—regular people. . . Children with missing limbs.”
  • Mahmoud’s entire neighborhood is bombed. “The walls of his apartment exploded, blasting broken bits of concrete and glass through the room. . . His breath left him all at once and he fell to the floor with a heavy thud in a heap of metal and mortar.” No one in his family is seriously injured.
  • While trying to escape, Syrian armed soldiers stop the car at gunpoint and then pile in the backseat. As they are traveling, “gunfire erupted. .. and bullets pinged into the car.” One of the soldiers is killed. “Mahmoud screamed again and pushed the man away . . .” The scene is described over four pages. The family hides in a ditch until they can escape.
  • The rubber dinghy that Mahmoud and other refugees are in pops. “The cold water was like a slap in Mahmoud’s face. . . He tumbled backward, head down in the murky water, his arms and feet thrashing, trying to right himself. Something else—someone else—fell on top of him, pushing him deeper down into the water.” Later Mahmoud takes a life jacket off of a dead man so that he and his mother do not die.
  • As Mahmoud and his mother tread water, they grab onto a dinghy. A man “reached down and tried to pry Mahmoud’s hand from the dinghy. . . He sobbed with the effort of fighting off the man’s fingers and hanging onto the dinghy.” A woman takes Mahmoud’s baby sister but leaves Mahmoud and his mother behind. They survive.
  • A taxi driver pulls a gun on Mahmoud’s family and demands money.
  • When a group of refugees swarm the Hungarian border, soldiers “hurried to stop them, firing tear gas canisters into the crowd. . . Mahmoud’s eyes burned like someone had sprayed hot pepper juice in them, and mucus poured from his nose. He choked on the gas, his lungs seized up. He couldn’t breathe. . .”  Many of the refugees are arrested and taken to a detention center.
  • While being taken to a detention center, Mahmoud’s dad yells at a soldier, who then “whacked him in the back with his nightstick, and Mahmoud’s father collapsed to the ground. . . He kicked Mahmoud’s father in the back, and another soldier hit Mahmoud’s father again and again with his stick.”
  • While in town in Cuba, people riot in the streets. People “yelled and chanted. They threw rocks and bottles.” Isabel sees her father “just as he reared back and threw a bottle that smashed into the line of police along the seawall.” When the police catch her father, a policeman beats him. The scene plays out over four pages.
  • As a group tries to flee Cuba, “a pistol rang out again over the waves. . . The police were shooting at them.” The boat is hit, but no one is injured.
  • While Iván is cooling off in the ocean, a shark bites him. “The water around Ivan became a dark red cloud, and Isabel screamed. . . Iván’s right leg was a bloody mess. There were small bites all over it, as though a gang of sharks had attacked all at once. Raw, red, gaping wounds exposed the muscle underneath his skin.” Iván dies.
  • Before Iván’s body is pushed into the ocean, someone shoots a shark. “The shark died in a bloody, thrashing spasm, and the other sharks that had been following the boat fell on it in a frenzy.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Joseph sees a man, who “staggered a little, bumping into things as he tried to move through the tight little room. Joseph had seen drunk people leaving pubs in Berlin the same way.”
  • When Josef’s mother goes to the doctor to get a sleeping draught for her husband, she “told the doctor the sleeping draught was for me. . . and he made me—made me take it right there.”

Language

  • When the Nazis break into Josef’s house, one of the men laughs because “the boy’s pissed himself.”
  • A group of kids are called “Jewish rats.”
  • At a funeral, Josef’s father says, “At least he didn’t have to be burning in the hell of the Third Reich.”
  • “Oh, God” is used an exclamation once. “Oh, my God” is also used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Mahmoud and his family practice the Muslim faith. The prayer ritual is described through Mahmoud’s actions.
  • Mahmoud’s father says, “God will guide us.”
  • After taking a lifejacket off a dead man, Mahmoud says a prayer. “Oh God, forgive this man, and have mercy on him and give him strength and pardon him. Be generous to him and cause his entrance to be wide and wash him with water and snow and hail. Cleanse him of his transgressions. . .Take him into Paradise, and protect him from the punishment of the grave and from the punishment of hellfire.”
  • Mahmoud’s family and other refugees pray. Mahmoud “recited the first chapter of the Qur’an, Mahmoud thought about the words. Thee alone we worship, and thee alone we ask for help. Show us the straight path.”
  • After Joseph’s apartment is bombed, his mother cries, “Thank God you’re alive!”
  • During a funeral, a rabbi says a prayer, and “the mourners said together, ‘Remember, God, that we are of dust.’”
  • When Iván dies, his mother wants “to say something. A prayer. Something. I want God to know Iván is coming.”

Refugee 87

Shif has a happy life, unfamiliar with the horrors of his country’s regime. He is one of the smartest boys in school, and feels safe and loved in the home he shares with his mother and little sister, right next door to his best friend, Bini. Both boys dream of going to university. Bini hopes to be a doctor and Shif wants to be an architect.

Both boys’ dreams are shattered the day that soldiers arrive at their door. Soldiers accuse the fourteen-year-olds of trying to flee before they can be drafted into the military. The boys are sent to prison, where they discover the lengths the government will go to silence anyone who is seen as a possible threat. Shif and Bini’s only hope is to escape the prison, sneak across the desert, and enter another country.

Told from Shif’s point of view, Refugee 87 jumps into a hostile country where people face unthinkable cruelty at the hands of their government. Shif and the other prisoners are treated like worthless animals and are given little food. However, once Shif escapes from prison, he discovers many unexpected dangers. A woman tells Shif not to go to the refugee camps because “a tribe in this area kidnaps people who have escaped from our country. . . They have gangs who patrol the camps, waiting for anyone new. Children get good prices. . . Before selling you, they try to get hold of your family’s money.”

Readers will sympathize with Shif as they learn about the modern refugee crisis. Instead of delving into the political situation, Fountain keeps the setting vague and brings Shif’s hardships to life. Even though the story is told from Shif’s point of view, readers may find it difficult to believe that Shif did not understand the reason his mother was so cautious and the dangers people in his country faced. The easy-to-read story doesn’t waste words on detailed descriptions, which sets the fast pace of the story. However, the lack of detail leaves the reader with unanswered questions.

Even though the publisher recommends the story for children eight and older, younger readers may become upset by the story’s mature themes which include war, violence, death, and human slavery. Although the events in the story are not described in graphic detail, Shif faces the death of his best friend and other horrific treatment. The abrupt ending may frustrate readers because the conclusion does not tell readers if Shif eventually made it to the safety of Europe.

As realistic fiction, Refugee 87 will help readers understand why people flee war-torn countries and the dangers that refugees face. The story also touches on themes of friendship, endurance, and the predatory nature of humans. Refugee 87 explores the refugee crisis in a manner that is appropriate for younger audiences and will engage readers of all ages. Readers who enjoyed Refugee 87 or want to learn more about refugees should also read Refugee by Alan Gratz.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Shif and other prisoners are walking. One of the guards pushes Shif “in the back with the butt of his rifle and points ahead. He pushes me again. . . ‘eyes down!’ the guard shouts, and pushes me so hard that I fall to my knees on the stone ground.”
  • Shif and Bini try to escape the prison. As they run, the guards shoot at them. “Seconds later, I hear a bullet ricochet from the tree trunk. Another whizzes past my head like a bee. Puffs of dirt jump in the air as more bullets hit the earth around us.” The boys run and hide in a crack in the desert floor.
  • When Shif and Bini walk through the desert trying to escape from the prison’s soldiers, they hear a vehicle coming. As they begin to run, “There is a puff of dust from the ground beside me. Bullets. Which means they are close enough to fire at us. . . Bini shudders and yells out, then falls to his knees in front of me, clutching his arm.” Because of his injury, Bini tells Shif to leave him. As Shif runs, he “hears Bini shouting at the guards. I hear two shots behind me, then silence.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • Shif meets a woman who was injured. She tells him, “A land mine exploded when we were crossing the border. Two people we were crossing with were killed. I was hit with some pieces of shrapnel. We managed to get the pieces out, but the cuts were deep and I wasn’t able to clean them properly so they became infected.”
  • Shif stays with a family, who has a young daughter named Almaz. While shopping in the market, someone steals Almaz’s money. “Almaz darts down a dusty street after the man. I skid to a stop at the top of the street. Halfway down I see the man has stopped too. He is holding Almaz by the waist. She has her back to him and is struggling to kick him or twist around to scratch at his face.” Shif helps Almaz. “I push at his shoulder and try to grab his arm. He pins Almaz against the wall with one hand, then hits me in the face with the other. I fall backward; my cheek and nose explode with a coldness that almost immediately turns to throbbing pain.” Shif and Almaz escape. The scene is described over two pages.
  • While trying to escape the country, the smuggler yells at a woman who needs to pay more money. Shif hears “screaming and shouting in the corridor, and a loud cracking sound, then she is quiet.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Shif and Bini are shoved into a prison room, one of the men tells them, “Whatever you do, don’t piss on anyone in the night.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Shif and Bini hide from the soldiers, Shif prays “that we look like nothing more than two rocky bumps in the uneven desert landscape.”

 

 

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