OWN voice books are always important, and while we see a rise in minority voices claiming their own stories, to read a child’s story about war and hope by a child, is particularly impressive. Bana Alabed was born in 2009, she is an activist, a Syrian refugee, and now an author. Her clear voice doesn’t stumble and her perspective is unapologetic, yet hopeful. Over 40 pages she tells her story in her own words with beautifully warm and complementary illustrations filling the pages. For kindergarten and up, this book stands out in a crowded field of refugee inspired stories for its authenticity, strong author, and overall emotional connection.
Bana begins her picture book memoir by asking her mother why she was named Bana. Her mother explains that she was named after a tall bushy tree that grows in Syria. Her favorite tree. A tree that is qawai, Arabic for strong.
Bana then asks what it means to be strong. And once again her mother lovingly explains, that strong is to be brave even when you are scared, and to be sturdy so others can lean on you. It also means you use your mighty voice to speak up when something is wrong, you read, study, and exercise your body.
Bana appreciates her name, and being strong, because war came to her country. When bombs fell they had to hide, when her brothers were scared, she had to keep them distracted, when they moved to a new place where they didn’t know the language or any people, she had to be strong still.
As a young girl, Bana tweeted about the war, the book doesn’t touch on that, but it does show her being strong as she shares her story all over the world. It then returns to her and her mother discussing amal, Arabic for hope, and Bana imagines herself strong, reaching into the sky.
The book ends on a simpler note of acknowledging her little brothers’ names: Laith and Noor, lion and light. The Author’s Note at the end is just as powerful as the text of the book and provides more information about Bana’s experience and outlook. The way that war is handled is not overpowering for young readers, and will provide a great starting point of discussion. The relationship between Bana and her mother is warm and supportive and equally deserving of mention with the little people you share the book with, alhumdulillah.
“Kids shouldn’t have to always be strong. Every child deserves to live in peace.” Bana Alabed