Book of the Month: Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland (Frances Lincoln, 2012)Continuing our “Journeys” theme over on the PaperTigers website, our Book of the Month for May is the wonderful graphic novel for young readers and older, Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland (Frances Lincoln, 2012).

The cover image of a little girl clutching her teddy bear as she looks warily behind her while walking through a war-torn landscape sets the scene for what is to come, as Azzi and her family flee their unspecified Middle Eastern country and arrive as refugees in the Western city that will gradually become their home…the graphic format and the depth of this story aimed at young readers is also a quality read for older children through to adults…

You can read our full review here, and I also talk about it in my Personal View “Escaping Conflict, Seeking Peace: Picture books that relate refugee stories, and their importance“.

Azzi In Between is also one of the four books shortlisted for the recently inaugurated Little Rebels Children’s Book Award, given by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers and administered by Letterbox Library. The difficult task of deciding the winning book falls to guest judges Wendy Cooling and Elizabeth Laird, and the announcement will be made next week on 11 May at the new ARB London Radical Bookfair.  You can find out more about this exciting  award here, and follow news on the award’s blog.theme_2013_journeys

2013 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation Presented to Howard Curtis for In The Sea there are Crocodiles!

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

The Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation, awarded biennially since 1996, was founded to celebrate the best translation of a children’s book from a foreign language into English and published in the UK. It aims to spotlight the high quality and diversity of translated fiction for young readers and seeks to address a situation in the UK in which less than 3% of work published for children and young people has been from the non-English speaking world. The impact of the award has been reflected in the growing number of children’s books published in translation since it began. The Award is administered by the ESU on behalf of the Marsh Christian Trust.

On January 23, 2013 at a gala reception in London, UK, the 2013 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation was presented to Howard Curtis for In the Sea there are Crocodiles, written by Fabio Geda and published in the UK by David Fickling.

From thepress release:in the sea there are crocodiles

In the Sea there are Crocodiles is the harrowing story of a young boy traveling from his home in Afghanistan to Italy, in search of safety. Based on the experiences of Enaiatollah Akbari, his story is told with a sense of humour and adventure, and with great pace and tension. The judges described it as ‘a book of commendable literary quality, one that will nourish and inspire young people’.

Upon hearing the news that Curtis had won the award David Fickling, publisher, had this to say: “By every tweet, bulletin and news flash comes grim confirmation that there are indeed crocodiles in the sea, how wonderful then to hear the heart-warming news that Howard Curtis has won the Marsh Award for his brilliant translation of Fabio Geda’s amazing book, which shows indisputably that is is possible to swim safely in dangerous waters and reach our goal if we share the dogged determination, the sense of lightness and the pure human spirit of young Enaiatollah Akbari, oh, and if we listen carefully to our mothers too. This book is an inspiration, may the Marsh Award help carry it to every corner of the globe. It simply must be read.”

The 2013 shortlist – 5 books, 6 translators, 5 languages – demonstrates the high quality and diversity of translated fiction for young readers. The complete shortlist was:

Howard Curtis for In the Sea there are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda, translated from Italian,and published by David Fickling Books.

Fatima Sharafeddini for My Own Special Way by Mithaa Alkhayyat (retold by Vivian French), translated from Arabic and published in the UK by Orion Children’s Books.

Ros and Chloe Schwastz for The Little Prince by Antoine de St-Exupery, translated from French and published in the UK by The Collector’s Library.

Lucia Graves for The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafron, translated from Spanish and published in the UK by Orion Children’s Books.

Karin Chubb for Themba by Lutz van Dijk, translated from German and published in the UK by Aurora Metro Books.

Week-end Book Review: Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro,
Ships in the Field
Ford Street Publishing, 2012.

Ages: 8+

“Every night Brownie and I wait for Papa to come home.” – and when he arrives, “Round and round we whirl.”  This joyous ritual provides the opening sequence of Ships in the Field, a story whose essence is perhaps distilled into the notion of the transcendental power of love.  Acclaimed Australian author Susanne Gervay (I Am Jack, That’s Why I Wrote This Song) has based the story on her own childhood as the daughter of Hungarian refugees.  Told through the eyes, perception and narrative voice of a likeable, effervescent little girl, we learn that her beloved, funny Papa works in a car factory but used to be a farmer “in the old country, before it was broken”; and quiet, withdrawn Ma, who seems to have forgotten how to smile, was a teacher and now “sews dresses all day long”.  The girl’s confidante is her soft toy dog Brownie but she also longs for a real dog.

Every Sunday the family goes into the countryside and Papa says, “Look at the ships in the field.”  This makes the little girl giggle, for it conjures up a funny image, but it makes her sad too, because other people laugh at the way her father speaks – and so she staunchly joins him in his pronunciation of the word “sheep”.  One Sunday, near the “woolly ships”, she finds something very precious that signals a new chapter for all the family.

The undercurrents in the story are felt in the girl’s awareness of aspects of her family’s past.  It is never mentioned in her presence but it weighs on her nevertheless, and she confides in Brownie, “I don’t like war.”  Anna Pignataro’s beautiful watercolour illustrations perfectly capture the emotions – love, pain, joy – that emanate from the story.  As well as the ever-faithful Brownie, vignettes of a real dog appear throughout the story; and two notable sequences merge events from the past, depicting war and flight through the second-hand filter of the little girl’s knowledge and imagination.  The rough pencil outlines underlying the watercolours imbue the illustrations with energy and a sense of movement that is further emphasised in the variety of page layouts: the use of continuous narrative is particularly effective.

Ships in the Field is itself a multi-layered term, from straightforward mispronunciation to providing scope for metaphorical and poetic interpretation – or simply delight in its nonsense.  While offering a warm reading experience for young children, the book also poses questions for older readers and adults about how much young children can or should know about painful elements in a family’s past; and about the damage that can be caused by not bringing the past into the open, when children have already absorbed more than adults give them credit for.  Each rereading of this perfect synthesis between spoken and visual narrative offers something new, through the nuance of the writing or a dawning awareness of a visual motif.  Above all, Ships in the Field is a very special picture book of extraordinary depth, that carries a message of hope and reassurance that time does and will heal.

Marjorie Coughlan
October 2012

Week-end Book Review: Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Sarah Garland,
Azzi In Between
Frances Lincoln, 2012.

The cover image for Azzi In Between, showing a little girl clutching her teddy bear as she looks warily behind her while walking through a war-torn landscape, sets the scene for what is to come, as Azzi and her family flee their unspecified Middle Eastern country and arrive as refugees in the Western city that will gradually become their home.  What the cover doesn’t prepare you for is the book’s graphic format and the depth of this story aimed at young readers but also a quality read for older children through to adults.

War is depicted in shades of grey that contrast strikingly with the bright colors in Azzi’s happy, relatively unaffected home-life – but the war gradually encroaches until the day Azzi’s father, a doctor, receives a phone-call warning the family they must leave.  There follow the hurried departure, a terrifying journey and the bewildering newness of everything at their destination: the food, the language, school… Azzi also desperately misses her grandmother who has stayed behind, and worries that she may never see her again.

With the help of Sabeen, an assistant at school who was once a refugee like her, Azzi begins to settle in and make friends.  Then a school gardening project reminds her of the precious beans her parents have managed to bring safely all the way with them. Determined to plant them, she rushes home that afternoon only to discover that her mother has cooked them as a special treat for Azzi’s supper.  All is not lost, however, and there is much to be positive about at the end of the story: though more mature readers will pick up on the tempered quality of Azzi’s father’s answer when she asks if he is now happy – “I think you are making me happier, Azzi.”  Indeed, all the people Azzi comes into contact with are kind and welcoming but it is clear that her parents are managing to shield her from the brunt of their worries, as revealed by the shadows under Mother’s eyes, and the fact that Father is too tired when he comes home in the evening to share the new words he has learned that day.

Sarah Garland wrote Azzi In Between, which is endorsed by Amnesty International UK, after spending time with refugees in New Zealand.  She has created a gem of a story that is told with great sensitively and insight.  A perfect choice for reluctant readers and students like Azzi, learning English as a second language, every school should have this book readily to hand for every child to read – and perhaps it should also become compulsory reading for all government employees who work with asylum seekers.

Marjorie Coughlan
August 2012

PaperTigers’ Global Voices: René Colato Laínez (USA/El Salvador) ~ Part 2

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

My Life in the United States ~ by René Colato Laínez

Part 2 of 3 (Read Part 1 “The War in El Salvador” here)

For Christmas of 1984, my mother sent me a new pair of shoes from the United States. I still remember my father’s words, “These are good gringos shoes. These are very good shoes for the trip to the United States.”

On February 17 1985, my father and I left El Salvador. Two days later, we arrived in Mexico City. Then, we were stuck in Mexico City for almost two months. We could not continue our journey because Mexican immigration took all the money from my father. It wasn’t until April that my mother sent us more money for our trip. During my journey, my father and I crossed three countries and climbed the mountains from Tijuana to the United States. But we made it to Los Angeles. My shoes were not new anymore. They had holes everywhere. One shoe was missing the sole.

There are certain moments that mark your like forever. My journey and my new life in the United States as a new immigrant created a big impact in me and in my writing. In my book, My Shoes and I, I tell the story of my journey and in my other books I write about the new immigrant child in the United States. Most of my books are based in my life and some are autobiographical just like René Has Two Last Names/René tiene dos apellidos and I Am René, the Boy/ Soy René, el niño.

I experienced the silent period and many culture shocks. In El Salvador René is a boy’s name. I could not believe it that in the United States my beautiful name was a girl’s name, Renee. Children not only laughed because I had a girl’s name but also because I had two last names, “Your name is longer than an anaconda” “You have a long dinosaur’s name.”

I was able to adapt to the new country. I studied really hard and graduated with honors from high school. Then, I went to college and became a teacher. But I did not have legal papers yet. My mother became a resident thanks to the amnesty program. She applied for my papers but it was 1993 and I had not received my green card. I started to work as a teacher because I got a work permit. For two years, I received letters from LAUSD, “We need to have evidence of your legal status. Your work permit will expire soon.” But finally in 1995, I received the famous immigration letter. Yes! I had an appointment to get my green card. It was not green after all. It was pink!

The ideas to write many of my books are born in the classroom. One day, a first grader told me, “I want to write a letter to my mamá. She is in Guatemala and I miss her so much.” That night I wrote a story named Waiting for Papá/ Esperando a Papá and it became my first published book. This book is based on my life. I wrote about the war in El Salvador and my feelings when my parents were away from me. I added the situation of a boy waiting for his father in the United States. Just like in the case of my first grader who was waiting for his mother.

A few years ago, one of my kinder students was crying because her father was deported to Mexico. Soon all my students told me that they knew someone who was deported too. This was my inspiration to write From North to South/ Del norte al sur. In my book, Jose’s mother is deported to Tijuana and now he and his father travel from north to south, San Diego to Tijuana, to visit her in her new home, Casa Madre Assunta, a shelter for deported women and children.

I got the idea to write the The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Perez when I heard my next-door teacher screaming and ready to go to the office. One boy told her that a mouse took his tooth the night before and that he loves that mouse because he visited his house often. There were five children living in the same house. “This child lives among mice and rats. I need to call social service,” she said to me. She did not go to the office after I told her about that special mouse. It was El Ratón Pérez, the tooth mouse collector in Latin America and Spain. In Spanish speaking countries there is not a tooth fairy. There is a Mouse, El Ratón Pérez.

My ex-students usually come back to visit me when they are in high school or college. Many of them have lost their Spanish skills by this time. I want to instill in these students and my future students the importance of being bilingual. This was my inspiration to write Playing Lotería/ El juego de la lotería. In this book a boy practiced his Spanish in Mexico while he played lotería with his grandmother.

I will continue to write more books but my goal will be always be the same, to produce good multicultural children’s literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they can see themselves as heroes, and where they can dream and have hopes for the future.

René Colato Laínez is the Salvadoran award-winning author of many multicultural children’s books including  The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez, From North to South, René Has Two Last Names, I Am René, the Boy, Playing Lotería and My Shoes and I. He is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. René is “the teacher full of stories” at Fernangeles Elementary School. In his books, you can find culture, fun and hope for the future. Visit him at and read our 2006 interview with him here.

We are thrilled to have René  join us as PaperTigers’ Global Voices Guest Blogger for the month of July. Part 1 of his series “The War in El Salvador” was posted here while Part 3 will be posted here on the blog on July 25th.

PaperTigers’ Global Voices: René Colato Laínez (USA/El Salvador)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

The War in El Salvador ~ by René Colato Laínez

 When I was a child in El Salvador, I went to school, recited poetry, played with my friends and won a hula-hoop contest on national television. I might say that I had a normal childhood. But then, everything was upside down. For many days the school closed because of civil revolts. The radio and the television always talked about the army, guerrillas and the revolution in the country. The mad game came to El Salvador. The country was involved in a terrible civil war.

As I child, I did not really understand what was really going on. I asked myself many times, Why? Why were they doing this to the country? Before the war, when I heard a “boom”,  I clapped and jumped up a down. It was the sound of the fireworks for Christmas. A “boom” meant that Christmas was around the corner. But during the war, when I heard the first “boom”, I ran home and hid under my bed, while more “booms” went on and on. Because those “booms” were not the sounds of happiness, they were the sounds of war.

During the war, thousands of Salvadorans left the country looking for peace and better opportunities. Many of these Salvadorans traveled to the United States. My mom was the first one in the family who left the country. After many struggles, my father and I left El Salvador in 1985.

I arrived in Los Angeles, California and I had the determination to go to school to become a teacher. Now I am a kindergarten teacher at Fernangeles Elementary School. I am also the author of many children’s books.

In December 2010, Cinco Puntos Press contacted me to participate in a book. They were putting together an anthology about children and war and were wondering if I could consider submitting an essay for the anthology. Of course I said yes! I love Cinco Puntos Press books. I use their bilingual books in my classroom all the time. Participating in this anthology was an honor for me.

The name of the book is That Mad Game; Growing Up in a Warzone: An Anthology of Essays from Around the Globe. The editor of the anthology is J. L. Powers.

Now was the hard part. What to write about? I grew up during the war and I had so many memories. My fourth grade teacher was killed during the war. That morning, the school was closed. Instead of having class, all the students went to a funeral home that was located one block away from school. I also knew friends who were recruited and found dead days later in rubbish dumps.

But I wanted to write all the way from the bottom of my heart. I wanted to write about my family and how the war divided us. But it was hard! Remembering my mom saying good-bye at the airport, visiting my father in jail, listening to the terrible news that archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated and the final chaos at the cathedral during his funeral were all hard memories to put on paper. I must confess that I wrote my essay with tears in my eyes. Also it was a good therapy to write the essay. Yes, the war divided us but it could not destroy our love, faith and family bond.

The name of my essay is Left Behind in El Salvador and it is part of seventeen accounts of children in war around the world. That Mad Game; Growing Up in a Warzone: An Anthology of Essays from Around the Globe is a powerful book. You can hear the voices of the voiceless. In the news, they only talk about names of war leaders, bombings, dead and desolation. But they usually don’t talk about the people who are suffering in the war. Those people that their only “fault” is to live and survive in the middle of a war. This book is bringing light to these forgotten voices. The book will be available this August.

Book Description:

Seventeen writers contribute essays about how they became adults in times of war. Essays focus on modern history but take no sides. Vietnam from both sides. Bosnia. The Gulf War. Rwanda. Juárez. El Salvador. The list goes on and on. There are no winners, just the survivors left behind. Picking up the pieces.

In his review of That Made Game, Charles London, author of One Day The Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War  says “There is heartache in the stories J.L. Powers has assembled here, as well as loss and pain and death. They are about war, after all. But there is humor too, and also love and faith and hope, because they are human stories too, and as each one testifies in its own way, humans are able to heal.”

René Colato Laínez is the Salvadoran award-winning author of many multicultural children’s books including  The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez, From North to South, René Has Two Last Names, I Am René, the Boy, Playing Lotería and My Shoes and I. He is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. René is “the teacher full of stories” at Fernangeles Elementary School. In his books, you can find culture, fun and hope for the future. Visit him at and read our 2006 interview with him here.

We are thrilled to have René  join us as PaperTigers’ Global Voices Guest Blogger for the month of July. Part 2 of his series will be posted here on the blog on July 18th and Part 3 on July 25th

Excitement in London, excitement at PaperTigers!! 33rd IBBY International Congress!

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Excitement is building in London, England as the city gets ready to host some once in a lifetime events this summer! Athletes from over 200 countries will converge in London July 27 – August 12  to take part in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Two weeks later (August 23 – 26) children’s literature enthusiasts from around the world will gather at London’s Imperial College for the 33rd IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) International Congress. Here at PaperTigers excitement is also building as we have just learned our editor, Marjorie Coughlan, has been chosen to present her paper at the 33rd IBBY International Congress Parallel Sessions!

The main theme of the 2012 Congress is Crossing Boundaries: Translations and Migrations. Participants will explore how books and stories for children and young people can cross boundaries and migrate across different countries and cultures. The congress will look at issues such as globalisation, dual-language texts, cultural exchange and the art of translation. The programme outline has just been released and can be seen here.

Marjorie’s paper, Escaping Conflict, Seeking Peace: picture books that relate refugee stories, draws attention to picture books in English from around the world about children and young people who have been forced from their homes because of conflict. These are important stories that need to be told, whether they are biographical or fictionalised accounts, for understanding of the past, healing in the present, and hope for the future. Her paper arose in part from PaperTigers’ August 2010 issue that focused on Refugee Children and the abstract for her paper can be read here…. (more…)

Week-end Book Review: Mali Under the Night Sky by Youme

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home
Cinco Puntos Press, 2010.

Age 6-9

In Mali Under the Night Sky, Youme beautifully renders the true story of Malichansouk Kouanchao, who, the flyleaf tells us, “walked from Laos to Thailand when she was five years old.” Bordered watercolor paintings capture the simple beauty of her early life in Laos—napping with her family, catching tiny fish in the rice paddies, making spicy traditional foods with her aunts—with key words translated into Romanized Lao as well as the original Lao script.

“But something was changing where Mali lived…Fighting in neighboring countries was bringing danger to the land and the people. Even the birds were disappearing.” Youme pictures a child at the edge of her house, the wide space beyond empty to the horizon. It’s not safe to stay any longer. After a leave-taking that includes the traditional tying of strings around the wrists of each departing family member, Mali, her parents and siblings cross the broad Mekong, offering ritual flowers and rice with prayers for safety. They are met the next day by soldiers and are imprisoned with other refugees. Things look dark, but the strings on her wrists remind Mali of her home, and when she tells the others her happy memories, “their hearts were safe…soag sai—blessings.”

The real Mali, now a beautiful young woman, is pictured on the front flyleaf along with an introduction to her present work as an artist and anti-war advocate. At the back of the book, one of her paintings is reproduced beside her message to young readers: “…when we share about where we have come from, we all find that our homes are safe in our hearts…” A further statement by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Thavisouk Phrasavath describes the effects of war on children and how books like Youme’s about Mali are a balm to heal those traumas.

Cinco Puntos Press has made a significant contribution in publishing Mali Under the Night Sky. Its tender images and heartfelt words will touch children everywhere. While it ends with Mali in prison, young readers also learn of her subsequent success in life and dedication to healing the wounds of war. The book’s value to Laotian families in diaspora is of course incalculable.

Charlotte Richardson
June 2011

Primary Source Hosts a Global Read of The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Earlier this year I blogged about Primary Source when they hosted a Global Read of Mitali Perkins‘ book Bamboo People.  On March 2nd Primary Source will be hosting a new Global Read, this time focusing on Christina Diaz Gonzalez‘ YA book The Red Umbrella. The online discussion forum will be followed by a live web-based session with Christina on March 9th from 3:00 – 4:00pm EST.  Anyone interested in global issues is welcome to take part in this free event but must register online here.

The Red Umbrella follows a 14-year-old Cuban girl and her brother sent by their parents to live in the United States during the tumultuous period of 1960s Cuba. Christina says the story was ” loosely based on the experiences of my parents, mother-in-law and many of the other 14,000 children who participated in Operation Pedro Pan.”

Talking about why she wrote the book, Christina says:

“Obviously, this is a personal story and part of my family history. In fact, it’s an important part of American history and yet there wasn’t much written about it, especially from the point of view of the children who experienced it. The book showcases how the U.S. has always been a haven for those seeking refuge from injustice and oppression and how average Americans have stepped up to help those in need, even if they were foreigners in our country. I also wanted to show the pride immigrants (in this case Cubans) have for their homeland, but how, in the end, family is what matters most… home is not a physical place. It’s where you feel you belong, where you are surrounded by people who love and accept you.”

The Red Umbrella has been appearing on many YA book lists since being published in May 2010, including ALA/YALSA’s 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults. You can read an interview with Christina here, and there is also an amazing book trailer made by Christina’s brother-in-law:

Pegi Deitz Shea: Reading About and Reaching Out to Refugees

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

As we come to the end of our two-month focus on Refugee Children, there’s just time to remind ourselves of the important role books have in helping children to gain insight into traumatic events around the world, and to develop their own emotional response to them. We are fortunate to have so many gifted writers who are now writing such stories for children and young people of all ages (and publishers who are making these stories available). One of these writers is undoubtedly Pegi Deitz Shea, who has written about this far more eloquently than I ever could in her recent Personal View for PaperTigers: Reading About and Reaching Out to Refugees. Here’s an extract to ponder:

During the Vietnam War, I wished I had books about refugees, because the TV news overwhelmed me. As a child, I couldn’t process those images: Why are the children running? Did we hurt them? I thought we were supposed to be helping them? Will the children be okay? Today, the same need is exponentially true for youngsters. They are so barraged with audio-visual stimuli that it takes literature for them to slow down, absorb, share and process what’s going on in the world. And it takes teachers and parents to initiate that process.

Violence has become casual, entertaining, ubiquitous in the U.S. In Abe in Arms, my first novel for teens, Abe comes to America as an adopted Liberian war refugee. He receives initial therapy to help him deal with the loss of his family. But the deeper he gets into the American teen culture – sexual pressure, competitive sports, violent entertainment, substance abuse – the more absurd and worthless life becomes to him. These so-called “normal” teen experiences awaken in Abe untold traumas of sexual abuse and drunken days of slaughter. He becomes dangerous to himself and to others.

Without literature like this – and trusted adults to share it with – how can kids growing up far from disaster zones become aware of the life-and-death situations their counterparts face around the world? It is not only war, but also shattered economies and natural disasters that create refugees. But to kids tuned into the latest celebrity debacle, the earthquake in Haiti is old news, Hurricane Katrina is ancient news and the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean is etched on stone tablets. At the time of those tragedies, many schools generously and immediately responded to the call for aid. But the consequences of these events last a long time. Without books that last, how can we expect memories to last? How can we expect children to develop a lasting commitment to caring?