A week ago my thirteen-year-old daughter was looking for a new book to read. I recommended (mostly because it was recommended to me by my cousin Michelle and several others) that she should find Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga. I didn’t know too much about it other than it addressed refugees from Syria and that it had won a Newbery Honor award for 2020. (I personally usually prefer the honor winners over the actual winner.) For my pre-service teacher book group, I was starting Alan Gratz’s Refugee, which also featured a Syrian refugee. My personal interest was piqued, so I reserved it at the local library. Brooklyn, however, got to it first.
Just recently, I was able to pick it up and devour its contents within a 24-hour period. I loved it. Written in verse, it is both poignant and poetic, simple enough for younger readers to understand yet deep enough to drown in issues and passages to ponder. I wrote a similar book review on Goodreads, but I kept feeling like I was missing what really connected me to this book.
Knowing that she also inhaled the contents, I asked Brooklyn what she thought of Other Words for Home. She paused for a second in thought before she replied, “It’s sad…but it’s a good sad.” Then she bounced away, on to another activity. That made me think about “good sad” for a while, and it reminded me of a session I attended at the International Reading Association (now International Literacy Association) convention in Atlanta in 2007. In said session, Carolyn Coman and Joan Bauer addressed the topic of writing tough issues in young adult and middle grade literature. I’ve written a little about this before, but the essence I want to share here is that despite tough issues, despite the trouble that readers and characters encounter, there must always be hope.
Hope is what carries us through our own trials, and it is what carries Jude and her mother through their journey from a war-torn land, away from their family, to a strange new country where they don’t know the language, the customs, the culture. It’s what carries us through the difficulties of virtual learning, divisive elections, anti-maskers, and even my newly-acquired loss of smell. (I might write about this later.) Hope is something we all need more of, and when a book can deliver the hope in large doses, it succeeds!
To distort a famous poem from one of my least favorite poets, “Hope is a thing with pages” …or at least it should be. Keep reading, my friends. Find more hope. Then go and be the hope for someone else.