My Beautiful Birds
Suzanne Del Rizzo, Author and Illustrator
Pajama Press, Fiction, Mar. 8, 2017
Suitable for ages: 6-10
Themes: Refugees, Refugee camps, Syria, Birds, Hope
Opening: “The Ground rumbles beneath my slippers as I walk. Father squeezes my hand. “It will be okay, Sami. Your birds escaped too,” he repeats. His voice sounds far away. I squeeze back, hoping it will steady my wobbly legs.”
Book Jacket Synopsis: Behind Sami, the Syrian skyline is full of smoke. The boy follows his family and all his neighbors in a long line as they trudge through the sands and hills to escape the bombs that have destroyed their homes. But all Sami can think of is his pet pigeons — will they escape too?
When they reach a refugee camp and are safe at last, everyone settles into the makeshift city. But though the children start to play and go to school again, Sami can’t join in. When he is given paper and paint, all he can do is smear his painting with black. He can’t forget his birds and what his family has left behind.
One day a canary, a dove, and a rose finch fly into the camp. They flutter around Sami and settle on his outstretched arms. For Sami it is one step in a long healing process at last.
Why I like this book:
Suzanne Del Rizzo offers a timely, compassionate and poignant story of a Syrian child refugee who flees his beloved home with his family and leaves behind his pet pigeons. Sami’s story is a journey of hardship, sorrow, and hope for a better future. The text is lyrical at times, but mostly it is honest. Conditions are cramped in the tent city, but Sami and his family are safe. But he has trouble adjusting to his new life. He continues to worry about his pigeons, until three birds appear one day and he finds his joy again. This is a turning point for Sami.
Del Rizzo’s exquisite polymer clay illustrations add depth and a life-like dimension to Sami’s story . Her stunning sunset with vibrant colors of pink, purple and golden hues remind Sami of his sky at home. He even sees his fluffy cloud-like pigeons.
I appreciated that the author focused on the refugee crisis that is affecting the most innocent and vulnerable, children. She doesn’t address political themes in the book, but focuses on the humanity of the situation for children displaced from their homes in Syria. Instead, her story is based on an article she read about a boy who found comfort in connecting with wild birds at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.
My Beautiful Birds is an excellent addition to any school library. It is age-appropriate and an introductory story about children who are displaced because of war or natural disasters.
Resources: Make sure you check out the Author’s Note at the end of the book. She talks about the displaced refugees in Syria that flee to nearby countries, but she also talks about the 65.3 million people who are displaced worldwide. For more information and resources about the Syrian conflict, visit the Pajama Press website.
Suzanne Del Rizzo has always loved getting her hands messy. She traded her job in scientific research for a career in children’s illustration with her first picture book, Skin on the Brink, which won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award and was a finalist for the Rainforest of Reading Award. Suzanne’s dimensional illustrations use Plasticine, polymer clay, and other mixed media to bring rich texture and imagination to her books. Suzanne and her family live in Oakville, Ontario.
*I was captivated by Patricia Nozell’s lovely review of My Beautiful Birds on her website, Wander, Ponder Write. Check out her website, because she is reviewing a lot of books about child refugees and immigrants stories from all over the globe.