Refugee Week: Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland

posted in: Sarah Garland | 8

Today sees the start of Refugee Week, a UK-wide programme of cultural and educational events that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

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azziinbetweenMy contribution will be a week-long series looking at children’s books about refugees, and exploring children’s authors and illustrators who were themselves refugees. I’m kicking off today with an award winning, profoundly moving, wonderfully optimistic and thought-provoking book: the Amnesty International endorsed Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland.

Continuing warfare forces Azzi and her family to leave their homeland. They gather together a few precious belongings and then make an arduous, frightening journey to seek safety in a new country. Their new life calls for courage, resourcefulness and hope. How will Azzi settle into her new home, her new language? Will the family ever again see Azzi’s Grandma, who they had to leave behind?

Told in graphic novel format, Sarah Garland’s Azzi in Between tells the very timely tale of a young girl who is forced to flee from a country which could so easily be Syria (though it is unnamed in Garland’s book). Although not without plenty of opportunities to reflect on the almost unimaginable fear and terrible hardship many refugees experience, this book is actually full of optimism, not least because of the compassion shown to Azzi and her family. From the immigration officer to Azzi’s school teacher, everyone treats them with fairness and kindness – would that this were a true reflection of all asylum seekers’ experience!

 © Sarah Garland. Image used with permission.
© Sarah Garland. Image used with permission.

A book which explores dignity, strength and humanity in an accessible and reassuring manner, could this book be any more beautiful and worthy of a wide readership? Garland’s illustrations are at turns poignant, and comforting. From the sorrow in the eyes of Azzi’s Father to the friendly glances from Azzi’s new school friend you cannot but care deeply about the characters in this story.

Language, style, and cartoon strip illustrations are perfectly pitched for young readers, though young listeners can also easily enjoy this book; the horror of the situation is never graphic, and Garland’s use of text below the images rather than a lot of dialogue in speech bubbles means that this graphic novel is unusually easy to read aloud to those not yet reading for themselves.

If I could give you each a copy, I would. Azzi’s tale will stay in your heart a long time after you close the final pages.

 © Sarah Garland. Image used with permission.
© Sarah Garland. Image used with permission.

If you’re yet to be convinced here are some quotes from other reviews:

It is unusual to come across a picture book that one feels so strongly about that one wants everyone – whatever their age – to read it.” – The Observer

“[a] tremendous book – her best ever […], a little masterpiece.” – The Guardian

Visually this picture book is a tour de force.” – Books for Keeps

“...a small miracle of compassionate storytelling…” – The Times.

It’s also worth noting that earlier this year Azzi in Between won the inaugural Little Rebels Children’s Book Award, a new award for radical fiction for children aged 0-12, earlier this year.

Azzi in Between is an incredibly special book. It tackles a difficult subject with grace, charm, beauty and tenderness. It makes the world a better place.

Our first response to Azzi in Between was to plant a bean den. Azzi’s father brings some beans from the old country, and his daughter eventually manages to plant some of them in her new school’s garden, a physical sign of new growth, putting down roots and looking to the future.

A bean den seemed doubly appropriate as one also featured in our first introduction to Sarah Garland’s work – the sublime Eddie’s Garden, and so it was with double joy we managed to achieve something we’ve wanted to do for years!

A couple of months ago we planted runner beans.

beans1

beans2

And then about a month ago we planted them out.

beanden

There’s still some way to go as you can see (it would help if the sun shone more than once a month!) but, like Azzi, we live in hope!

We didn’t listen to any music whilst planting our beans, but music which could work well with reading Azzi in Between includes anything by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, a band which began in West African refugee camps.

Other activities you could enjoy alongside reading Azzi in Between include:

  • Finding out if there’s a local-to-you organisation which provides garden space and support for refugees. Click here to find out about such a project in New Orleans, or here for a project in my home town, Birmingham. Here‘s information on a project in Hull, whilst here‘s one in Sheffield. Here’s a lovely film about a Boston based project which sounds amazing:
  • Cooking Spicy Beans. Azzi’s mother cooks “spicy beans” from dried beans and whilst there’s no recipe in the book, perhaps she was cooking Fasoulia .Here‘s one recipe to try, and here‘s another.
  • Exploring all sorts of dried beans – now’s a good time (in the Northern hemisphere) to get cheap seeds, and you could see how many different sorts of beans you can find. Once you’ve a selection of dried beans you can use them to create collage pictures, pretend food play, counters, or fillings for musical instruments.

  • But before you move on to your next blog or book….

    Syrian refugees who fled the violence in Idlib region, walk amid Red Crescent tents in a camp set by the the Turkish army near Kavalcik, on the border between Syria and Turkey, on March 14, 2012. Photo:  FREDERIC LAFARGUE/AFP/Getty Images
    Syrian refugees who fled the violence in Idlib region, walk amid Red Crescent tents in a camp set by the the Turkish army near Kavalcik, on the border between Syria and Turkey, on March 14, 2012. Photo: FREDERIC LAFARGUE/AFP/Getty Images

    If you enjoy any of my posts this week I’d ask you to consider donating to the UNHCR’s Syrian Appeal – earlier this month the United Nations launched a $4.4 billion humanitarian appeal (the largest aid request in the Organization’s history) to assist the growing number of people suffering the effects of the crisis in Syria.

    Of the $4.4 billion, $1.4 billion will go to SHARP, assisting Syrians inside Syria, and $3 billion to RRP, which provides life-saving aid and protection to refugees in the immediate surrounding region. The crisis has driven over 1.5 million Syrian refugees into neighbouring countries with thousands more pouring across Syrian borders every single day. Around 50 per cent of these refugees are children.

    Here’s the link again if you wish to donate: http://donate.unhcr.org/syria

    Disclosure: I receive a free review copy of this book from the publisher. I was under no obligation to review it, and I received no payment for doing so.

    8 Responses

    1. What a great and important theme for the week. This book sounds like a must have to me. Such a shame, as you say, that refugees are not always treated with dignity and compassion when they come here.
      Stephanie recently posted..Pink Pirate

    2. Hi Stephanie, you’re right, this is an important theme. And the book is wonderful on every level – from the physical object, the illustrations, the story, the engagement.

    3. Refugee Week! What a great idea, Zoe, the US could certainly take a page out of that book and celebrate our refugees and their accomplishments and contributions. Azzi in Between sounds like a great book for kids to read. Thanks for sharing this welcomed book.
      Alex Baugh recently posted..The Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman

    4. I loved how the beans were used as a symbol in the story, as a bridge between the life Azzi had left behind and the beginning of her new life in her new country, and that it is someithng from home that had enable her to reach out to her new classmates. Simple but wonderful.
      Library Mice recently posted..Two brand new series from Holly Webb

    5. I am so glad that you are focusing on this powerful but neglected theme. About six months ago, I read Four Feet Two Sandals and was also deeply moved by it.
      bamauthor recently posted..AFRICAN ADVENTURES

    6. Totally Brilliant, love this post… what an important cause… and how great of you to find books about it… This looks like a really important read…
      se7en recently posted..How to Gift a Father on Father’s Day…

    7. […] the inaugural Little Rebels Children’s Book Award . This, coupled with the review it got over at Playing By The Book meant that it was one book that was very much on my […]

    8. […] sensibilities. As I was looking for resources that I could include here, I chanced upon Zoe Toft’s (of Playing by the Book) review of the book. Do take a moment to visit that post as it also includes a number of helpful links that […]

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