Escape from Syria

Escape from Syria, written by Samya Kullab and illustrated and colored by Jackie Roche and Mike Freiheit, is a graphic novel following the journey of a girl and her family from their home in Syria to a refugee camp in Lebanon to resettlement in Canada.

When the novel opens, Amina is returning home from school, where she got an A on a test, thinking about what she wants to be when she grows up. We don’t find out, however, because that’s when the bombing begins.

Her immediate family is spared injury, but their home has been destroyed. “After the explosion, Dad said all was lost. We had to leave.” They gather what they can, and Amina is a little reassured when her father tells her that “it will only be for a little while.”

The novel then jumps back and forth in time, showing snippets of their life under Assad (fearful) and their resettlement in Canada (difficult) while telling the story of their journey after the explosions in Aleppo.

I like that while giving a big-picture, comprehensive view of what a refugee’s journey might look like, this book does have a focus—the reality of life in the refugee camps. Among other things, it describes

  • the presence of loan sharks in the camps who take advantage of people’s desperation, charging high interest rates and using paid muscle to enforce payment
  • families encouraging girls as young as nine to marry, in an effort to protect them from sexual harassment
  • the exorbitant visa fees charged by the Lebanese government (A $200 fee to renew visas each year in Lebanon meant that many stopped renewing their visas, lost their legal residence status, and had to keep a low profile. It also meant that others would risk crossing the Syrian border in order to re-enter Lebanon and renew for free.)
  • the reluctance of many to go too far away from Syria (They hoped the war in Syria would be over soon and they would be able to return.)

This book masterfully combines a humanizing story with enough information to give readers a basic understanding of the situation. This is done in two ways. The first is the presence of maps and other visual guides throughout the text, and the second is a section of blind notes at the end of the book. These notes provide more information about some of the topics mentioned, including explanations of Arabic words, cultural notes, and detailed historical backgrounds.

I really enjoyed the art in this. It captures emotion really well, and in spite of the jumps in time, presents a clear and easy-to-follow narrative. I should warn readers that this book does depict some considerably graphic scenes, including a row of heads on spikes.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for an introduction to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Find it here: GoodreadsAmazon | Book Depository

The Things I Would Tell You

The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write is an anthology of literature written by twenty-two British Muslim women and edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. Rather than being a book about faith, this book is sometimes about the lived experiences of women who exist in the intersection of their Britishness and another identity and is sometimes simply an exhibition of these women’s literary talent. Some of the pieces are set in the UK; others are set in Palestine, Pakistan, and Yemen. View Post

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, is something of a classic in the world of Muslim children’s literature, and rightly so.

This concept picture book for ages 5–6 uses stunning illustrations of the objects that fill a Muslim’s life to teach about colors, connecting an everyday lesson with an introduction to Islam that small children can understand. View Post

Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein

Blackout! by Sumayyah Hussein (and illustrated by Majd Massijeh) is an early chapter book that talks about the Syrian refugee crisis in a way kids 5–9 can understand. Heartwarming and well-written, this story also touches on empathy, privilege, gratitude, and community. View Post

Nanni’s Hijab by Khadijah Abdul-Haqq

Nanni’s Hijab, a picture book by Khadijah Abdul-Haqq and illustrated by Vitchapol Taerattanachai, is a heartwarming and empowering book about a strong female character who uses her intelligence and empathy to win over a bully with love.

Everyone loves Nanni’s colorful hijabs. Everyone except Leslie, the new girl at school, who tells Nanni she hates her “stupid he-jobs,” spills milk on her, and pulls her hijab off one day on the playground. View Post