Over the past couple of years there have been several excellent picture books featuring families or individuals fleeing a war-torn home country and seeking refuge in another, often far distant land. But what of those who remain in such a place, a country such as Syria say, where war is all around?
This is the way of life for Yazan and his mother and father.
Yazan no longer sees his next door neighbour and friend, nor does he go to the park. In addition, school has stopped and surprisingly, Yazan misses it.
Artistically inclined, Yazan’s mother used to spend a considerable time painting, sometimes with her son watching, sometimes painting alonlgside.
It’s the news on TV that occupies much of her time and attention nowadays though, and his father is also preoccupied.
Yazan meanwhile does his best to keep busy himself; but how much doodling, pillow building and paper aeroplane making can you do before boredom sets in?
Going stir crazy he yells his ”I want to go to the park NOWWWWWWWW!!” request to his parents.
Then, ignoring his mum’s “Not today,” response, the boy ponders and then the temptation of his shiny bike is just too much.
Once outside however, nothing looks the same: no stall holder, no playmates, only alarming explosions all around. What should he do: continue his journey or return home?
Suddenly, catching sight of another person, his mind is made up. Then Yazan and his dad walk back quietly hand in hand.
Once home, what his mother does after giving him a huge hug and a warning about going out alone again, makes his heart soar. If he can’t go to the park, then at least she can bring one to him …
And that, for the foreseeable future, will have to suffice.
Over the years I have taught a good many young children who, with their parent(s), have fled conflict in various countries including Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and more recently, Syria; and although one never questioned them about their experiences, in time some did open up, often through their art, about what they had been through.
At that time there were no picture books such as this one for me to draw upon and it’s impossible to imagine what life for a young child must have been like.
Originally published in Arabic in 2012, Nadine Kaadan’s spare, matter of fact telling, in combination with her sometimes sombre, colour palette, create a powerful portrayal of the stark reality that expresses something of what she has witnessed. Towards the end, her watercolour and pencil scenes bring the light into the darkness of a child’s initial confusion, and one family’s near imprisonment within their loving own home.
I close by quoting the author’s final sentence in her letter to readers at the back of this moving book: ‘Today, we wait for a time when “tomorrow” can be a better day for all Syrian children.’ This is surely something we all hope for.
In the meantime, let’s share Nadine’s story as widely as possible.