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.