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.
When the book opens, we see Yusuf preparing his room to share with his cousin Ahmed, who is coming to live with them in Canada. Ahmed and his mom have lived in three countries since they fled Syria two years ago. Ahmed’s dad died during the last leg of their journey.
When Ahmed first arrives, he marvels at the the presence of electricity and hot water 24 hours a day. Yusuf is surprised and wonders about the life his cousin has led so far. But when an ice storm causes the electricity to go out, Yusuf gets to feel a tiny bit of what his cousin has been through.
One thing I love about this book is that although Yusuf is a good person and has good intentions, that doesn’t mean he can’t be ignorant. Yusuf can only begin to feel empathy when he learns more about what Ahmed has been through and how fortunate he himself is.
There is a discussion about what life was like for Ahmed and his family in Syria during the war, and while it does mention bombs and food supply, it focuses on how Ahmed felt—scared, angry, and worried.
There is a wonderful moment where Yusuf gets his privilege handed to him on a plate. He is expressing his frustration about the electricity being out and how his plans to entertain his cousin have been ruined. He says, “I’m just so tired of this whole thing. I want my life to go back to normal.” And his cousin Ahmed says, “I wish my life could go back to normal, too.”
I highly recommend this book for parents or teachers looking for a way to talk about the Syrian war or the refugee crisis with their children.
You can get a copy here: Ruqaya’s Bookshelf