International Literature and Refugee Stories

From the Syrian refugee crisis to what is currently happening at the Mexico-US border, the stories of refugees have become a bigger part of the narrative in US politics and even daily life. From reading Baddawi earlier in the semester, we already know the importance of stories about immigration and refugees. It is especially important that we read stories from international authors who have more of a background in the topic than an author from the United States who has not left the country, for example. There is so much fear and misinformation that selecting books with true or base-on true stories can help to educate students, at least. The treatment of the asylum seekers at our southern border earlier this week shows just how much we need these stories. It is all too easy to forget what is happening or believe the false accusations. Reading about why people actually flee, what they experience, and how they are treated in a new place can help to keep this on our minds and motivate people.

There are three titles I would like to recommend for reading either for yourself or for your classroom. The Bone Sparrow by Zane Fraillon tells the story of a refugee boy stuck in a detention center in Australia (The Bone Sparrow). With all the talk of and putting people in detention centers in our country, it is important to learn about something that is becoming an institution here and, hopefully, learn why this should be stopped. The second title, Earthless Trees, is a collection of stories written by teen and younger refugees about their journey and new life in New Zealand (Earthless Trees). A Land of Permanent Goodbyes, by Atia Abawi, focuses on a teenage boy in Syria throughout the refugee crisis. The last two titles are both written by refugees themselves (A Land of Permanent Goodbyes). While Atia Abawi was not a refugee from Syria, she is a refugee and was in the country as journalist during the crisis. This type of authorship is different than the first title listed which was written based on research on the conditions of detention centers in Australia. I would like to recommend a book written by someone with experience beyond research, but there does not seem to be any yet. All of these works are important novels for all ages to read to inform themselves on these topics as we fight for people.

Works Cited

“The Bone Sparrow” Amazon. Amazon, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2018.

“Earthless Trees” Christchurch Libraries. Christchurch Libraries, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2018.

“A Land of Permanent Goodbyes” Amazon. Amazon, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2018.

International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY)

When we started this assignment, I was surprised by how difficult it was to find a young adult book that was published outside of the United States, Canada, and Europe. At first, all the stories I found about other continents were written and published by people in North America or Europe. I used the Honour List published every other year by the International Board on Books for Young People to find multiple options and eventually chose Code Name: Butterfly for the book review post. The organization’s goal is focused on “encouraging international understanding through children’s literature” (IBBY Honor List). The way of the organization chooses books for consideration allows them to look at the best from each country. Each country that is a member or part of a National Section is allowed three nominations (What is IBBY). This keeps one country from having an overwhelming number of nominations and allows everyone to demonstrate their literary achievement. At one hundred and ninety-one honored titles, the Honour List is sure to have something on the topic you are exploring. The difficulty I faced in finding stories about other countries by people from those countries shows the importance of this award. While authors from the United States probably do a lot of research while writing a novel based in another place, you can only find out so much that way. A more accurate perspective can only come from someone who has lived there. It is important that classroom and libraries integrate more international titles so students have the opportunity to learn. If there is a larger demand, more books will be translated to English and more opportunities will open up for authors.

Besides Code Name: Butterfly there were a few titles that caught my attention. Charmaine Kendal from South Africa wrote Miscast which is the story of a young transgender boy and his coming out (Miscast). The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky is a mystery novel set around the disappearance of a teacher and the events surrounding it (The Golden Day).


Works Cited

“IBBY Honour List.” International Board on Books for Young People. IBBY, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2018.

“Miscast” Goodreads. Goodreads, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2018.

“The Golden Day.” Goodreads. Goodreads, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2018.

“What is IBBY.” International Board on Books for Young People. IBBY, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2018.

Review of Code Name: Butterfly

Ahlam Bsharat’s Code Name: Butterfly is a new take on the classic coming of age storyline often seen in young adult literature. The novel is set in Palestine during the Israeli occupation. There are no major events, dates, or technology given to pinpoint a year or decade beyond the main character is growing up after the second intifada which ended in 2005. Time passes in jumps and starts without a lot of notice to how long it has been since the last chapter. The background and meandering timeline of Butterfly’s adolescence creates a different perspective for an often written about theme.


This short novel progresses through young adulthood for the narrator by dividing into five parts. Her inner monologue gives the audience insight into the questions she is asking about herself, her family, and the state of the world she inhabits. Which side of the occupation does her father support? Will she follow her dream to leave Palestine? Why are all the marriages around her unhappy? Butterfly wants to know the answers to all of these questions, but instead stores them in her imaginary treasure chest along with her secrets. There bits of knowledge she keeps to defend herself against her friends in the future, others she keeps quiet about to avoid teasing, and others she keeps to protect her family’s feelings. Some questions she learns over the years in the book, such as when she gets her period and understands why her older sister gets to sit under blankets with special tea sometimes. Others, such as her father’s affiliation, remain unanswered at the end of the novel. In the second half of the book, the audience are told of some events that push Butterfly out of her musings and towards adulthood. Her older sister leaves the country for marriage, her father loses his job at the vineyard after decades of work, and her crush is martyred one morning for his protesting of the occupation. It is during all this when she settles on the codename Butterfly and she turns her imaginary treasure chest into a cocoon. All of her experiences, questions, and ideas are forming what will become her identity. The novel ends with a symbolic passage sparked by the realization that her community is fighting themselves instead of their actual enemies. The audience watchers her dreams of a butterfly bursting out of her inner cocoon throwing everything stored there aside as it soars away. All of the sadness and uncertainty are reconciled with a knowledge that “I knew I had what it took to go life’s distance” (Bsharat, 89).


The theme of hidden questions and secrets aligns with how the reader may feel throughout the story. Personally, I had to spend time looking up the history of the occupation of Palestine and different events to be able to have some sort of understanding of the world Butterfly is growing up in. The history of the this part of the world, as well as the United States hand in it, is not commonly discussion in our high school or colleges. Our lack of knowledge is mirrored by Butterfly’s as she begins to question the world around her. This is effective technique because it meets the audience where they are at instead of expecting people to already be experts. This novel is a good place to start when learning before moving onto more in depth and detailed stories about the region.


The novel’s use of secrets also gives insight into exactly differences between childhood in Palestine and childhood outside of there. After coming back from seeing her sister fly from Jordan to go live with her new husband, the audience listens as Butterfly describe how the kids in Jordan “can travel from city to city with their families … since there aren’t any check points. They don’t even have to carry their birth certificates everywhere” (Bsharat, 68). While she keeps this hidden away in her treasure chest, she comes to the realization that “In Palestine, children have to prove they’re children” (Bsharat, 68). Part of her coming of age is gaining perspective on her life. The overall movement of the novel away from childhood innocence to the harsher realities of adulthood is expertly impressed on the audience. Butterfly explaining to herself allows the audience to learn without being preached at or reading a dry news article.


Code Name: Butterfly would be a perfect fit for a teaching in a high school or college literature class. Its short length makes it reasonable for students to read during the school year and keeps the main points from being lost. The unanswered questions leave room for students to discuss possible answers and learn about the occupation of Palestine. It could be paired with Baddawi to show the history and the current situation in that area of the world. It could also be paired with an American coming of age story to challenge students to think critically about others’ experiences around the world.


Works Cited

Bsharat, Ahlam. Code Name: Butterfly. Trans. Nancy Roberts. London: Neem Tree Press Limited, 2016. Print.