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The Bone Sparrow

The human spirit shines through in this acclaimed refugee tale

Shortlisted for The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2016, The Bone Sparrow is newly released in paperback. It’s the story of Subhi, a boy who was born in a refugee camp. He has never seen the ocean or the mountains. But he knows that someday he will. As soon as his dad comes for him. The global refugee crisis is one of the biggest stories of our time, making this a timely and illuminating read. Based on verified reports of life in refugee camps, this lyrical and moving story aims to show our children the humanity behind the refugee label.

Subhi is an innocent. He lives for the moment. And for the stories recounted to him by his extended camp family. He dreams often of the ocean, whales singing under brilliant stars. He calls this the ‘Night Sea’, and ultimately it’s dream tides will bring resolution for Subhi. His rich interior life contrasts sharply with the barren, dehumanising nature of the camp.

I love the emphasis on storytelling as essential to our humanity. In camp, where almost everything has been stripped away, the community’s stories connect their past and present.

‘…the memories people tell each other to keep themselves alive in here…’

When Subhi meets Jimmie, a girl from the outside world, she brings her own stories. They realise that their future is not yet written. Jimmie’s restless sister, Queeny, feels this too. What if the outside world knew of their plight?

The pace is slow, mirroring the stasis of the refugee’s lives. But patient readers will be rewarded with a rapid escalation to a shattering conclusion, as the refugees attempt to scream their existence to an indifferent world. This book may disturb your children, but it will also show them the value of empathy in a sometimes harsh world. A noble and memorable book.

The Bone Sparrow is published by Orion Children’s Books, 240 pages.

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