Inda Ahmad Zahri
Ford Street, 2021
32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95
Once Salih’s life was ice creams at the park, his favourite teacher and warm milk at bedtime but now, like his pet tortoise, he carries his home on his back as his family, and thousands of others try to escape the deafening blasts of bombs, the white dust shrouding the sun and the sound of crying in the darkness. There is some solace when an old man teaches him to paint his happy memories on the scraps of waste paper that blow past their nighttime camps and Salih encourages others to do the same. He has plans for the pictures, keeping each one and rolling it up and putting it in a bottle to scatter on the ocean. But when they finally get there, the sea is angry and tosses the bottles and the families hither and thither – will they find a safe, welcoming new home?
Written in 2018 when thousands fled across the Mediterranean to find sanctuary in Europe, this is a story that will bring a new world to young readers -that of being a refugee, or as in the recent conflict in Gaza, a life that means living with bombs and noise and dust and constant fear. Sadly, it might be all too real for some of our students so this is one that must be handled sensitively by a teacher who knows the students well. But if we are to acknowledge the perils that some of our students have faced and build awareness and empathy in those who have had an easier upbringing, then sharing stories like this is a way to do it. There are two sets of teachers’ notes to accompany this story – the first focuses on refugees generally and the activity which has students selecting the items they would take if they had to flee but which must fit into their backpack is very powerful’ the second focuses on a spread by spread examination of the book. Both give students a better understanding of what life is like for too many children in this world.
A story that puts life into perspective offering a way to help students deal with their own problems even if they are not as dire as Salih’s. .