When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

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This autobiographical graphic novel (try saying that fast ten times!) is something special.  It tells the story of Omar and his brother, Hassan, as they live a life many of us couldn’t even imagine.  It would be wrong to label the life currently being lived by up to half a million refugees in Kenya isn’t extraordinary, but that is what makes Omar’s tale stand out.  He is ordinary, he isn’t special, he is only like everyone else around him.

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The brothers fled Somalia during a civil war and call the camp their home.  This sprawling site is home to many refugees, each with a whispered story of the true reasons why they left everything behind.  Neither parent made it to the camp so the boys fend for themselves, although they do have the kind, caring Fatuma watching over them.  Life in the camp certainly isn’t easy with the youngest crying because of hunger, then, sadly, the cries disappear as the children grow old enough to live with the empty stomachs.

The story is one of hope weighed down by reality.  Omar needs to care for his brother, Hassan, who has a disability, while striving to be allocated a place in a stable country.  The camp is meant to be temporary, but for many it is permanent.  Education takes on great importance and also opens the stories of others up to the reader.  Each child highlights just how normal Omar is and how a happy ever after isn’t a given.

What really struck me was the message of getting busy living.  Omar’s past held true horror for his family while the future, for all the hope it brought, was something to fear due to it’s fragile nature.  Waiting for life to improve just wasn’t enough for Omar and this lesson is one that we could all learn from.  Live the present is something that I’ll take from this story.

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It has a Dickens feel to it as it presents the harsh world while telling a simple story – real and authentic because it is exactly that.  A children’s graphic novel that shows the reader what life is truly like for Omar and Hassan; not a fairy tale version.

 

Now for the teacher bit.  Although it paints a picture for children about life as a refugee, it also touches on the harsh things in life that can impact anyone.  Substance abuse, disability, getting old, falling out with friends due to jealousy and true trauma are all shown as a part of Omar’s life. You could spend a half term unpicking these threads with a class while they develop empathy towards others.  The trickiest part of the whole book to deal with for me was the very young pregnancy of Omar’s classmate.  My advice on this is to have an answer if a sharp thinking pupil wants to point the circumstances out.  Jamieson and Mohamed don’t pull any punches throughout and it would be wrong to omit this.

 

 

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Powerful, purposeful, gut punching at times; most of all true.  A must read.

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