Book Review: When Stars Are Scattered

When Stars Are Scattered
by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

I have not done a book review in a while! It is time…

This book is a children’s graphic novel. But stick with me. This one is worth reading as an adult even if you don’t have any kids at home and who are the right age.

I am familiar with one of the authors, Jamieson, who has written some of my sons’ favorites: All’s Faire in Middle School and Roller Girl, both of which I have read so many times I can recite lines. My son requested this book months ago from the library, when he heard she had a new book coming out. The request list for this one is quite long. Due dates for books have been postponed in our county due to the pandemic, and so getting books from reserve are taking a very long time.

We finally got our hands on a copy. But my son didn’t even crack it open for a few days. I finally told him, if you don’t want to read this, we should return it, as over a hundred other people are waiting for it. A little context here: I still read stories for about an hour before bedtime, mostly for my 5th grader, but sometimes my 9th grader comes and sits with us (pretending he is doing something else and not really listening—but he reveals himself every now and then). My rule is that the books have to be longer chapter books—no more reading graphic novels out loud. But for this one, I told him I would make an exception, and let’s see if we like it. If not, I’ll just return it right away.

Well, just by the fact that I’m am writing this should tell you the verdict.

Both sons were hooked, as so was I. This is the story of one of the co-authors, Omar Mohamed, who spent his childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya after fleeing Somalia. His feelings, his experiences, his hopes and dreams, his flaws and strengths are all so well told and illustrated. You can really imagine what life as a refugee is like. I also love that it is a children’s book, so that a child can put themselves in the shoes of another child and have an opportunity to practice empathy. There are so many adults severely lacking in this. We need our children to learn it from the moment they can relate to another and frequently ever after. There is no shielding from the difficulties here. I cry-read half the book.

It is also poignant. There are many Somalian re-settlers here in our community and have been among my son’s closest of friends. I asked him if they ever talk about their past or their parent’s past, but he said no. This book provides an important beginning to understanding, giving my son—and me-- a perspective and ability to imagine before those conversations start. Maybe it will also make it easier for him to talk about the complex aspects of adoption someday, knowing that other people have had painful histories. Even just to understand without talking is important, too: in acknowledgement that this son is not a wordy guy. He is the caring hugger, and my older son is the questioning talker, both equally valid forms of showing empathy and developing as people.

It’s a story that also gives meaning to immigration policies, and the importance of kindness, even to strangers. When people think all Muslims should be banned from entering, do they even think about the people that impacts? Imagine what may be the story of some of those individuals? Do we all really comprehend the cruelty of that idea, and the danger of categorizing people with broad strokes?

So hopefully, now you see why I am recommending this read to adults.

So, go get a handkerchief and check out this book.

Omar Mohammed is the founder of Refugee Strong