Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sandals, Blankets, Umbrellas, and Cartwheels

On January 15th of this year, I offered 3 picture books about various refugee experiences. I just found a couple more jewels about this subject with wonderful possibilities for ministry. 
Four Feet, Two Sandals takes place entirely in a refugee camp. After 2 years with no shoes, 10-year-old Lina finds in a pile of donated items only 1 of a pair of perfect-fitting sandals. She is puzzled and disheartened, but then she sees across the crowd Feroza, an unknown girl her age who is holding the other sandal. They make eye contact, but Feroza walks away. Eventually they become friends and take turns wearing the pair. Their friendship progresses as they share what they have in common besides the sandals, particularly the loss of family members.
When Lina hears that she and her mother are to immigrate to America, she receives new shoes so she gives her one sandal to Feroza. As Lina is leaving, Feroza gives back the one sandal and suggests that the sandals serve as reminders of their friendship and the hope that they will “share again in America.”

You’ll find in the story this sentence: “As-salaam alaykum.” (Peace be with you.), which is commonly heard among Muslims who also worship the God of Abraham. My favorite scene is when the girls creep up to the school window where only the boys are inside learning. They begin practicing writing their names in the dirt. Lots to talk about here. 
This story is based on Khadra’s experiences with refugees in Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan. An author’s note in the back is a must read for better understanding of refugees and camps. 

It would be easy to just talk about the plot elements of this story and the next. Instead pull your conversation towards more foundational issues such as lack of basic needs in these camps, fear of violence, anxiety, and how vulnerability builds relationships.

Picture Book: Four Feet, Two Sandals
Author: Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed
Illustrator: Doug Chayka
Original Publisher & Date: Erdman’s, 2007
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 7 and up, 2nd and up
Formats other than Book: None at present

Today’s second PBT book about refugees is primarily about a later stage of immigration, becoming acclimated to a new home and culture. The young girl in this book is called Cartwheel. That was what she loved to do before she and her auntie left their war-torn home.
Everything is strange for Cartwheel, particularly the language, which seems like a waterfall of strange sounds and shapes. Look for this in the illustrations. Cartwheel often feels alone and not like herself. Kobald represents Cartwheel’s first language as an “old blanket’ of her own words and sounds. Adorned with familiar items, she wraps herself in the beautiful orange blanket when overwhelmed by all the changes and new words & sounds.
 A friendship begins when Cartwheel sees a smile and a wave from a girl her age who is playing at a distance in the park. At first Cartwheel shies away, but later trips to the park have her looking for the girl. Eventually they meet. 
Despite the barriers of language, Cartwheel begins learning her new language a few words at a time. These are visually represented by light-colored shapes that are later incorporated into a growing white blanket that Cartwheel expands block by block just as a language would grow concept by concept.
The girls enjoy each other and soon Cartwheel’s new blanket becomes comfortable, allowing her to feel like herself no matter which blanket she uses. Help your audience see the first blanket as perhaps real but also symbolic. Then they will better understand the growing size of the second blanket, symbolic of her new language and how Cartwheel integrates it into her first blanket.
Also, look for the umbrella and the boat in this story. These are powerful symbols that are not explained. Encourage your audience to consider possibilities. Don’t shy away from these kinds of abstractions. Much of spirituality is loaded with abstract and symbolic content. These books offer good practice for children and adults that might be inclined to take stories only at their surface level. Great picture books offer much richer experiences if you are willing to look and listen a little deeper. 

Picture Book: My Two Blankets
Author: Irena Kobald
Illustrator: Freya Blackwood
Original Publisher & Date: HMH, 2014
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 
Formats other than Book: Tablet

As described in my earlier post about refugees [here], these books remind us of our scriptural charge to “welcome the stranger.” Understanding the struggles of immigrants helps in that process. Another possibility for ministry is to connect these stories to Bible stories or Bible characters.
I can see how one or both of these books connects with the sharing of the loaves and fishes, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus immigrating to Egypt, Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David’s relationship, and even Jesus and the woman at the well. Don’t see the connections? Let me know in a comment and I’ll explain.