Friday, December 9, 2016

Poetry & Fiction About the Refugee Experience

Hello and Happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Jone (whom I am so happy to have met in person!) at Check it Out for Roundup.

I've been reading a lot lately about Syria and the refugees, and it's heartbreaking to think about these families, right now, today, so desperate for safety and food that they must leave their homes for the great unknown. It's a terrible situation. It leaves me feeling a little lost because I want to help, and what can I do from my snug little studio? Donate to the cat sanctuary in Aleppo.

I've also just read three novels about refugees:

1. SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys. Set during WWII, it follows 4 teens fleeing the Russians for the coast where they will board a ship for freedom. Powerful writing, rich characters. And based on a true story! Books like this one are why I love historical fiction.

2. THE ONLY ROAD by Alexandra Diaz. A contemporary novel that follows 2 teens from Guatemala who travel across Mexico, surviving hunger, gangs, and the dangerous trains to get to their uncle in the United States. At one time I was working on a similar (middle grade) book, and I am really in awe of the details included in this book! I have learned so much -- mostly what courage and faith it takes to embark upon such a journey.

3. BONE SPARROW by Zana Fraillon. This one is not about the journey, but about being detained in a refugee center in Australia -- and the conditions there are pretty horrific. The book is like a cross between ROOM by Emma Donoghue (young narrator who was born at the center and has never known life outside) and THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS by John Boyne (unlikely friendship between one on the inside and one on the outside).

And I've also been reading SOMOS COMO LAS NUBES/ WE ARE LIKE THE CLOUDS by Jorge Argueta, illus. by Alfonso Ruano. Like Alexandra's book, it's about children leaving their homes in Central America. The two poems that follow are appear on the same spread and are presented in both Spanish and English, as are all the poems.

Caballo de carrera

En la espalda de m i papa
me pongo a cabalgar.
No me puedo quejar.
No hay en todo el
caballa tan hermoso
no tan veloz
como Felipe, mi papa.


I get up on my father's back
for a ride.
I can't complain.
Here is the desert
there is no horse as
or as fast
as my father, Felipe.


Desde que salimos de casa
no dejamos de cantar.
Dice mi papai
que si cantamos,
espantamos el cansancio
y el miedo
y nos volvemos cancion.

We Sing 

Since we left home
we haven't stopped singing.
My father says
if we keep singing,
we'll scare away all the tiredness
and the fear
and become a song.
I love the idea of becoming a song. And who needs a racehorse with a father like that? xo


  1. Refugees are how we all came to this country, with the various waves of migration over thousands of years. Our ancestors were all refugees. I feel a kinship with them, and I wish I could help, too. I also feel for the countries adjusting to the influx, too. Culture clash, resource shortages and misunderstandings are part and parcel of the process. Great post.

  2. Thanks for sharing all these books. Will definitely add them to my TBR list. The only one I'm familiar with is Jorge's book, which I reviewed not too long ago.

  3. I just watched "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" this week on Netflix. Such a powerful movie!

  4. Beautiful post, Irene. I loved Salt to the Sea and also Shades of Gray by Sepetys. These voice are so important to our understanding of what millions of displaced people experience, half of them under age 18. Thanks for the other titles and for the poems. I clearly see in the first one the challenge of translation. The Spanish has end rhymes that sound lovely together, and these get lost in the English. Thanks to Donna, I know to which movie to add to my Netflix list!

  5. I haven't read Bone Sparrow, so bookmarked it, Irene, but have read the others, most lately The Only Road, very difficult to imagine such courage and grit. The news today is that more have fled Aleppo. It's a sorrowful time there for so many. My parents had friends from Syria, long ago. I'm sure they are passed on now, but I wonder how their extended family is doing when I hear more news. In We Are The Clouds, I loved Racehorse and We Sing, too. The father showed him big courage, despite what must have been inner fears. Thanks for sharing so much today.

  6. Thanks for sharing these books, Irene. I've heard much about We Are The Clouds and will add it and the others to my growing list.

  7. We've been digging into Clouds this week at school, Irene - such a thoughtful collection. The Only Road is such an important book to share with students thee days - an eye opener.

  8. Wow, what wonderful recommendations. Thank you! Syria weighs heavy on my heart. As I prepare for the holidays the plight of so many in the world gets to me. I'm listening to a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. I am inspired by her tireless advocacy for doing right for everyone in times of such crisis. She gives me hope that I can press on to do good in some way as well. Have a good week.

  9. Appreciations, Irene.
    There can never be enough good books about the refugee experience.
    I hope yours can revive, in some form (poem, play script...) eventually.
    I would like to read these titles. Your summaries remind me of a newer refugee book I love by Patricia Reilly Giff: UNTIL I FIND JULIAN.

  10. What a wonderful list. We Are Like the Clouds is on it's way to me now. Thank you!

  11. These are going on my TBR list. Thank you for sharing.


Your thoughts?