by Alyssa Hollingsworth, published 2018
“The middle school cafeteria always makes me wish for the school in Istanbul. We often shared meals there, seated on the ground, with little to give. But most important, it was quiet.”
Trying to find an excerpt to capture this children’s book was next to impossible. This book is not just a sound bite. It is, instead, an honest experience of the life of a teenage refugee and his grandfather. They have landed in America, after fleeing the destruction of Afghanistan. The contrast between the Muslim culture they left and the American culture they entered is dramatic. And yet, there is no going back. Their home is gone, and here they are, hated by many Americans, who have lost the ability to understand with compassion what it means to flee a beloved homeland.
This children’s book is one of the many books now coming out in this genre of dealing with today’s social issues via fiction. Is it time for our young people to read a children’s book like this? At another time, I would have hesitated to say yes. I’ve wanted children to be children. But we can no longer pretend that ignorance of the suffering of people in our midst is acceptable. A book like this is a superb solution. The writing is excellent, the plot is very unusual – trying to earn enough money to redeem his grandfather’s instrument by trading. The social dilemmas are real. And within a few pages, we are hanging on the edge, hoping Sami will succeed. Along the way, the reader is educated about some of the customs of the Afghani people.
I would encourage families to read this children’s book as a family, and discuss it. In a short time, gratitude for what we have, and compassion for those who have lost everything, can become a real, lived experience for everyone. Compassion is not sectarian.