Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com
Azzi and her parents are in danger. They have to leave their home and escape to another country on a frightening journey by car and boat. In the new country they must learn to speak a new language, find a new home and Azzi must start a new school. With a kind helper at the school, Azzi begins to learn English and understand that she is not the only one who has had to flee her home. She makes a new friend, and with courage and resourcefulness, begins to adapt to her new life. But Grandma has been left behind and Azzi misses her more than anything. Will Azzi ever see her grandma again? Drawing on her own experience of working among refugee families, renowned author and illustrator Sarah Garland tells, with tenderness and humour, an exciting adventure story to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
Endorsed by Amnesty International.
One of the things I find most crucially important in children’s literature is the opportunity it gives kids to “walk a mile in another’s shoes”. Within the pages of Azzi In Between, young readers can tread in the footsteps of a young refugee, forced to leave all that’s familiar and begin life in a new country. Scary thought! But the overwhelming message of Azzi In Between is one of optimism. Azzi and her family members go through very difficult times but there are positives about their new home: new friends, help from adults and children, access to support, and finding the familiar in a new place.
As a reader, I notice I’m enjoying graphic novels more and more. What I love as an adult about picture books can also be found in a graphic novel or comic book: the fact that the illustrations are able to weave another strand to the story, add another layer of meaning. I found myself scrubbing away tears over the plight of the refugees, mostly because of the sheer desperation in their faces and bodies as they struggled to get onto an over-full boat. How incredibly lucky we are, those of us who have never had to flee our homes and fight to survive!
Azzi In Between obviously worked well for me as an adult, but I think it will work well for kids as young as Grade 3 too. The text is mostly short sentences underneath each panel, with dialogue very occasionally in speech bubbles. This contributes to our feeling of looking at the story through Azzi’s eyes, vicariously experiencing her fear, loneliness and confusion. Older children will get even more from the story as they reflect on, and begin to understand what many of us take for granted. Children who are daunted by dense text will enjoy the format. Garland has a lovely simple illustration style that nevertheless portrays very real emotion and atmosphere.
I urge you to seek Azzi In Between out for your homes and libraries. It’s an important book, one that contributes to our understanding of the plight of refugees, and promotes human rights. It also makes an excellent resource for children who have themselves experienced life as a refugee, one that will show them they are not alone.
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