Inspired by the stories of her childhood like ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ and ‘The Silver Sword,’ Catherine decided to write a story of her own, inspired by the unfolding migrant crisis. The result is ‘No Ballet Shoes in Syria.’ A book about a child displaced from her home in Syria, fleeing across Europe and trying to seek asylum in the U.K.
Eleven-year-old Aya, her mother and baby brother have just arrived in Britain seeking asylum from the war in Syria. Aya’s new life seems to be an endless cycle of queuing, worrying about being homeless and worrying about her mumma who is becoming increasingly quiet and blank-eyed.
It is one day, after hours of waiting in another endless queue at the local community centre, that Aya hears the tinkling of music coming from another room. Leaving baby brother Moosa in the care of a friend, Aya tentatively sets off to investigate and finds a ballet class in progress.
In her previous life in Syria, before things got bad, Aya used to love dancing and regularly attended lessons with Madam Belova. After some gentle encouragement, Aya begins dance lessons once more – this time under the watchful eye of Miss Helena. Through the power of dance, Aya is able to begin to think about her traumatic journey across the ocean, her Dad and the possibility of a safer future.
This is a beautiful, powerful story which gently highlights the incredible difficulties faced by asylum seekers once they have arrived somewhere they hope to be safe, the sometimes unfriendly attitudes encountered by those they’d hoped would help them, and how the common language of music and dance can help rebuild lives.
What I particularly loved about this story was the clever use of flashbacks to describe Aya’s life in Syria before the war and its gradual descent into the chaos which ensued. Young readers will be able to see how refugees like Aya are not so different from themselves – loving dancing and seeing their friends – they just have the misfortune of living in a country at war. The flashbacks are never graphic or gratuitous but they outline very cleverly the horrors many leave behind when they flee.
The attitudes of the adults and children encountered by Aya and her family when they arrive in Britain will provide interesting discussion points with individuals or a class, this is certainly a discussion worth having in today’s political climate.
A sensitively crafted, thought-provoking and uplifting story which I don’t mind telling you had me in tears at various points. Definitely suitable for readers aged 9+
*Many thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this title to review*