This 320 page full color middle grade graphic novel is a powerful and moving read. The memoir focuses on the young Syrian boy who began reporting on the war from the perspective of children and sharing his work on social media. The raw emotion, the determination to make a difference, the familial love, are conveyed in a way that allows eight and nine year old readers to connect to living through horror with compassion and outrage and empathy. Older readers will also be drawn in and moved by the relatability of a boy their age having his world turned upside down. I particularly like how the book dispels so many assumptions and stereotypes by showing what life was like before the devastation, a bit about the role of outside forces and political oppression, and really creating a mood where you can imagine what you would do if you were in Muhammad’s situation. The book is heavy, but also has a lot of hope and and joy. I tend to like nonfiction graphic novels that are character driven like this one. I find I understand the scope of what they are enduring by seeing it through their eyes and feeling like I know them and thus can better grasp what their reality is. There are photographs at the end which further connect the readers to Muhammad and Syria, and I hope this book finds its way into classrooms, libraries, homes, and hearts, so that we might be better to one another. Readers of When Stars are Scattered will similarly love this book.
The book begins with eight-year-old Muhammad hanging around his father’s carpentry shop in Eastern Ghouta, playing soccer and pleading to by treats from the candy seller. When Assad’s soldiers come, destroy his soccer ball, and his family warns him not to trust anyone, including the new candy seller, Muhammad’s world is suddenly not so certain. When his family must seek shelter at a moments notice, homework is left, videogames paused, and fear very real.
Muhammad is the miracle child, born after the family didn’t know if they could have any more children, he is the fourth, and spoiled. Even with destruction and sheltering though, there is joy, more children are born in to the family, and while Muhammad’s status might be in question, his love of his little brother and sister, motivate him to do something to create a safer home.
At age 13, his father and uncle go for Jummah salat, and his father is killed while praying. At 15 Muhammad is done hiding, he knows he will never be safe and he starts filming and sharing stories of children as a way to honor is father and fight back against oppression.
With the support of his family, and constant worry that Assad’s army will target him, Muhammad keeps telling the stories of those with no voice. Eventually his following grows, catches international attention, and gives Muhammad purpose.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love the format for this story, you truly can’t put it down. It shows the emotion so powerfully that you cry when characters are lost. You know hundreds die every day, but the singling in on a character that you have grown to love dying moves the reader, add in that you know this was a real person and that Muhammad really endured the loss, and it reminds you of your humanity. The love the characters all have for their oldest sister is absolutely incredible. The pages of the family just being so connected are my absolute favorites.
The characters are Muslim and it is a part of their daily lives, there is no pulling out of the narrative and explaining or preaching. The women wear hijab, they plead with Allah swt, they reflect on Allah’s plan, they go for prayers at the masjid.
Death, destruction, war, fear. It is not sensationalized, and I truly think middle grade and middle school readers will benefit from reading, even the sensitive ones.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think the book would be wonderful to teach in the classroom tying literature, current events, and history together. I absolutely think every library, classroom, and home bookshelf should feature this book.
It can be pre-orderd here