Thursday, 2 January 2020

It’s the first Poetry Friday of 2020 and Carol is hosting at Carol’s Corner!

Happy New Year, Poetry Friday friends!

I am a member of the middle grade ARC sharing group, #BookExpedition. We are 12 educators — classroom teachers, librarians, and one visiting teacher (me) — from all around the U.S.

We request Advanced Reading Copies of middle grade books from authors and publishers, then share them within the group. ARCs travel via media mail from one member to another, finally landing in someone’s classroom or making their way back to the author. You can read more about how the process works here.

I am so grateful for the conversations we have in this group. Until I joined and began discussing books and classroom experiences with my #BookExpedition friends, I didn’t realize how much I had missed having colleagues.

Recently, three of the books that circulated in #BookExpedition have been about the refugee experience. I read:

Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai

Middle grade historical fiction in verse, published October, 2019

About: As World War II ends, two Japanese sisters must leave their settlement in Manchuria and make a harrowing journey back to Japan. (More information at Macmillan.)




House without Walls by Ching Yeung Russell

Middle grade historical fiction in verse, published June 2019

About: Eleven-year-old Lam escapes from Vietnam with her brother during the Vietnamese Boat People Exodus in 1979, when people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia fled their homelands for safety. Ching has been friends with the real-life Lam and Dee Dee since 1986. (More information at Simon & Schuster.)



Which Way Is Home? by Maria Kiely (debut author)

Middle grade novel historical fiction, due out May, 2020

About: Anna and her family escape from Czechoslovakia after the 1948 Communist takeover–based on the author’s own family history. (More information at Penguin Random House.)

It was fascinating to read these books together. I wonder if the popularity of Alan Gratz’s book Refugee opened doors for other authors to write refugee stories based on the real-life experiences of their family, friends, and cultures.

Under the Broken Sky and House without Walls had special appeal for me as sibling stories. Like the first person narrators in these two books, I am an eldest child and was always taught to protect my younger brothers. It was easy, but also heartbreaking, to connect with the bond between these siblings as they worked to survive and stay together.

In two of the books, Under the Broken Sky and Which Way Is Home?, the authors’ notes called upon readers to treat modern-day refugees with compassion and understanding. I recommend all three books for the light they shed on refugee experiences in the 20th century and today.

Here is a poem to pair with these books. It was written in response to today’s refugee crisis.

by Jason Fotso

Turn away the refugees.
We will not

open up
our homes and hearts

Close our doors on
the weak.

fear behind
love can put
strength in our

We cannot let them bleed into our

They share the blood of our

Our own
are endangered by
the refugees.

Read the rest at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

19 responses to “Poetry Friday: Reading about Refugees”

  1. Linda Baie says:

    I have ‘Under the Broken Sky’ on my list, but the others are new to me, Laura. Thank you! i have read the powerful ‘Refugees’ by Alan Gratz, wondered if everyone would be required to read it, would it change their fear, their prejudices? The reverso poem shows well the dichotomy in our country now, sad to read first, then love that second turn: fear rejected.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks for reading, Linda. Several people pointed out that this is a reverso — which I missed on my first several readings. I would like to go back and read Alan’s book.

  2. Sally Murphy says:

    I have the two verse novels on my wish list and you have made me even keen to read them. I love the poem – the reverso is a perfect form for the topic. A favourite picturebook in the last two years is Room on Our Rock, another reverso which explores the topic.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Hi, Sally. Under the Broken Sky is more reflective, I think, while House without Walls focuses on the things that happen to the refugees. In both books, the children find adults who become stand-in parents. Wonderful to read them side by side. I’ll look for Room on Our Rock.

  3. Carol Wilcox says:

    Laura- Thanks so much for these three titles, as well as this poem! Even if it does break my heart. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Next week , I’m starting my sixth graders and I will be embarking on a unit based on the book REFUGEE. I’m reading aloud OTHER WORDS FOR HOME, but can’t wait to add these to my collection also. Amazon, here I come!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      It would be great to use Refugee as an anchor book and give students lots of options for a book club or take-home book like Under the Broken Sky. I haven’t read Other Words for Home yet, but I’ve heard great things about it.

  4. Wow–what a powerful poem! Thank you for the glimpse and also for the book recommendations. I’m adding them to my list.

  5. Linda Mitchell says:

    Laura, your post touches me more than I can say.

    Read Jason’s poem backwards…it makes a lovely reverso. I wonder if he knows that?

    Someday, I may have the time for an ARC group. I’m so tempted. But, I am devoted 2020 to writing projects on my plate. I wish I could go into writing full time–but then I would miss library so much. But first. Publish!

    I look forward to these. If can can help by reviewing any, please let me know.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      How did I miss the reverso! I have to think that was planned, it’s done so artfully.

      I hope your writing and publishing dreams come true in 2020!

  6. Such a powerful poem addressing the change in our nation, now seemingly against empathy and compassion. I haven’t read these books but will look for them. Thank you, Laura.

  7. Lauren, I am fascinated by these books that you shared. I plan on presenting a workshop on a soaring issue on Long Island: mental health through the eyes of literature. Your title will make my list so I am off to request arcs to share with the teachers. The poem you shared is so powerful either way you look at it. I must say reading it backward resonated with me. Happy New Year.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Carol. You may want to check out the blog A Novel Mind. Author Sally Pla has been hosting people’s posts about mental health and kidlit.

  8. Mary Lee says:

    That poem works just like text of the Huck Award Winner, ROOM ON OUR ROCK. Powerful.

  9. Thanks for this timely collection of books on refugees, Laura, I’d like to read them all– also “Refugee” by Alan Gratz sounds like a must read! The poem is very strong, thanks for sharing all. BTW I sent you an email recently, when you have a moment let me know if you have gotten it, thanks!

  10. Oh, what a beautiful reverso (well, I don’t know if you call it a reverso when it’s not written out the second time). Such a huge and important issue. My visit to a refugee camp changed me forever–and I was already sympathetic to their plight and welcoming of asylum-seekers before that. Thank you, Laura!

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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