BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Out of Iraq: Refugees’ Stories in Words, Paintings and Music by Sybella Wilkes, foreword by Angelina Jolie, in association with UNHCR

Out of IraqAlas, tragic headlines continue to repeat over and over: The front page of today’s New York Times reports, “Iraq’s Ills Lead Former Exiles to Flee Again.” [An online version of the article is available as “Iraq’s Troubles Drive Out Many Refugees Who Came Back.”]

Through a mosaic of history, politics, statistics, and true stories from Iraqi refugees, author and UNHCR (the office for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) Senior Communications Officer Sybella Wilkes provides a window into the everyday lives of the survivors – and thereby some of the worst victims – of the war on Iraq. Story by story, she shows the increasing consequences to the actual people who are desperately trying to rebuild their lives, often without success. The struggles that the children – the youngest, most tragic victims – must face are the most disturbing of all.

While the book’s intended audience is clearly younger readers – especially memorable throughout the book is the art of the Iraqi children – Wilkes does not shy away from the horrors of war, although she is restrained in any overly graphic descriptions of death and destruction. Many of the children here know nothing other than gunfire, bombings, and eternal fear. Chaos and worry have followed most families into exile, where too many have traded danger for poverty. Relative safety in refugee camps in other countries like next-door Syria also means unemployment as the host country does not allow the Iraqis to work legally. As the years pass, the concept of home remains a faraway dream.

In an effort to share the Iraqi refugees’ experiences beyond reading the book, Wilkes provides readers – and their parents and teachers – a page of suggestions on how to learn more and get personally involved. Knowledge is merely a beginning … action is necessary for actual change. From creating empathy by using “art, theatre and music … [to explore] how you and your family would feel about leaving your home and country,” to ways to raise funds for the UN Refugee Agency, to a young man’s testimony on how he is helping in Basra, Iraq, Wilkes gives solid examples of reaching out and doing more.

By teaching children now about empathy and active assistance, maybe those breaking headlines can change sooner than later. Out of Iraq makes for an enlightening start: for every sale of this title, UK publisher Evans Books will make a donation to UNHCR.

Readers: Children, Middle Grade

Published: 2010


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