Values: Love, Kindness, Compassion, Patience, Hope and Empathy.
This is the first graphic novel I have featured on my blog and as soon as I opened it, I was hooked. It made me wish I am currently teaching UKS2 (Years 5 and 6) as I would LOVE to explore this book with a class. Released this year, it is the true story of Omar Mohamed and his brother, Hassan, as they grew up in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya having fled rural Somalia. After witnessing his father's death and being separated from his mother, Omar walks with his younger brother for days to reach Kenya and Dadaab. There, they stay for fifteen years before being accepted for resettlement in the US where they both now live. Victoria Jamieson has told their story in a stunning way - staying true to their stories and experiences whilst making it accessible for older children and teenagers. I have to say though, I will be recommending it to adults too as it completely blew me away.
You could do so many PSHCE lessons or Values assemblies through this book. It opens up conversations about issues in our world that the children we teach may be far removed from (or not, as the case may be). Immigration and the status of refugees is the basis of this book, but there are also conversations around war, hunger, the right to schooling, education for girls, child marriage, bullying and racism that could be explored. As with any discussion of topics like this, you would need to think carefully about the children in your class/school, their life experiences and how best to approach these conversations.
As you read this graphic novel, you will be aware of the Value of love. Omar loves his brother Hassan as a brother and substitute parent. He cares for him at every moment and always puts his needs before his own. This relationship can make for an interesting circle time - Why is Omar so protective over Hassan? How does he know what Hassan wants/needs/feels despite Hassan being non-verbal? How does Hassan show he loves Omar too? We also see the love that Fatuma shows the brothers, despite being their 'surrogate' mother in the refugee camp. The book sensitively shows how Omar rejects her at first, grieving for his own mother and her whereabouts, but she never gives up on them. You could talk question: Who cares for you? How do you know they care for you? Why does Fatuma never give up on the brothers?
The Value of empathy runs through every page in this book. Omar and Hassan face many obstacles in their 15 years in Dadaab. They face hunger, bullying, confusion, over-crowding, rejection (their UN claim for resettlement takes many years to come) as well as the overriding experiences of losing their parents and the long walk to Dadaab as young children. Despite waiting many years to leave the camp, when the time comes, they have to say goodbye to everyone and everything they have known and head into the unknown which is very unsettling. There are so many different routes you can discuss empathy with the children at these various plot points. There are also the experiences of Maryam - the brightest girl in school being forced to drop out and get married to support the family. How would this make you feel? Why have her parents found her a husband when she is still at school? How do you think this makes Omar feel?
The Values of kindness and compassion also run throughout the pages. There are so many times that people, who have very little, are kind towards others. Maybe it is Fatuma giving her portion of food to the little boys; maybe it is Salan persuading Omar to attend school and not worry about Hassan; maybe it is Susana who tirelessly worked with Omar on his resettlement application; maybe it is the way Omar has now set up the charity Refugee Strong to empower and support the hundreds of thousands of refugees still in camps though education.
You can also discuss the Value of patience easily through this book. Omar describes refugee camps as waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for food, waiting for water, waiting for application forms etc. It is interesting to discuss patience with children when there is no end point. How hard must it be to wait patiently for something you so desperately want, but have no idea how long it might take? How might this affect your positivity? How might it affect your mental health? When do we see examples of this in the story?
Hope goes hand in hand with this discussion around patience. Omar works hard with very little to give himself and his brother the best possible chance of a future. He studies, despite no access to adults for help or resources for guidance. He is anxious about the future and what resettlement might mean, but he never gives up hope of a better life for them both, and ultimately this pays off. At the end of the book, Victoria and Omar include real photographs of Omar and Hassan as well as after words about their experiences after they went to the US and how their life has changed. Omar never stopped fighting for a better life for his family, and he is now working hard to change the lives of other refugees too.
This is such a powerful book and one that I will revisit time and time again as an adult. It is modern, educational, and will appeal to boys and girls. I will inspire others to tell their stories through the medium of graphic novels. I will be recommending this to all of the Year 5 and 6 teachers I know as well as teachers of KS3 and 4. Buy your own copy - you will not regret it. Follow Victoria Jamieson on Twitter @JamiesonV .
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