It’s hard for the average Western middle-class child, ensconced in relative safety, to imagine what it must be like to live in a country that is experiencing a revolution. ‘Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace’ by Bana Alabed, is a short, compelling book written by a mother and daughter describing what it’s like for a middle-class family when their city of Aleppo, Syria experiences government bombing and a breakdown of city services due to war and civil unrest.
Bana Alabed, age 7, her mother Fatemah, her Dad, and extended family all lived in one apartment building in Aleppo, Syria. This is a common living arrangement for close-knit extended families in Syria and the region. In the opening pages of the book, Bana’s mother describes so eloquently her hopes and dreams for baby Bana before Bana was born. One of the very things Fatemah Alabed delighted in delivering to her Syrian first child was the riches of growing up among that many family members who would cherish Bana as she grew up. It is the rich social capital of familial community that bombing so easily tore apart when everyone had to scatter to new neighborhoods and cities to avoid being hit.
It’s easy for the reader to put themselves in the shoes of Bana’s mother and in the shoes of Bana. Should they stay or should they go? Where should they live? How shall they eat? How will they deal with shortages? Is trying to maintain a normal life during conflict impossible or necessary? We develop ‘war wisdom’ along with Bana as she describes learning to distinguish between different kinds of armaments:
‘’If you haven’t been in a war, you might think there is only one type of bomb. But there are actually many different kinds. I learned about all of them quickly because I am a fast learner. One way you can tell the difference between bombs is by how they sound.
One has a long, high squeal like a whistle and then a big boom.
One is like a car engine revving, vroom, vroom, and then boom.
One is like a bap, bap, bap all the way down. This is a cluster bomb, which is like a big bomb with many smaller bombs in it, and sharp parts go everywhere when it hits.
One is quiet — there is almost no noise, and then, when the boom comes, it lights up the sky bright yellow. The stuff that makes the sky light up is called phosphorous. One time I woke up and went to get Mummy to wake up too, since it was morning. But Mummy said it was still the middle of the night. I told her I could see the sun through the window, it was light outside. But that was just the phosphorous.
A chlorine bomb is the worst. You need chlorine in a pool to keep the water clean, and it never bothered me when I went swimming. But in the air it stings your eyes so badly that you have so many tears even if you’re not crying.’
We all knew what to do when we heard the bombs: if they were far away, run to the room in our house that has no windows that Mummy used to store old clothes and things to clean the house. If they were close, run to the basement, or at least down to Uncle Wesam’s on the first floor.
Even if we were in the middle of eating dinner, as soon as we heard the rumble of the planes, we got up and left our food and ran down the two flights of stairs to the basement of our building.’’
As with any conflict situation with multiple points-of-view, the book has detractors. Yet this book, which discusses mostly family life during wartime, rather than specific politics during wartime, would make an appreciated classroom read for children learning about other children in conflict zones. It also would make a useful children’s book club read or mother/daughter book club read. Bana’s suffering and experiences speak for the suffering of thousands of Syrian children. While the experiences are painful to read, the book is not so heavy or graphic (unlike the Twitter feed) that a child in a classroom somewhere else in the world should be afraid to read it.
‘Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace’ by Bana Alabed
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Bana Alabed, born in 2009 in Aleppo, Syria, is known worldwide for her tweets during the siege of the city in 2016. Bana would like to become a teacher, like her mother. She tweets at @AlabedBana. Her mother tweets at @fatemahalabed. ‘Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace’ is Bana’s first book.
Karen Van Drie is an American expat librarian working in Istanbul, Turkey. She is on Twitter at @worldlibraries. She also hosts a bilingual celebration of reading culture at @EnSonNeOkudun. In her free time, Karen writes her own blog called ‘Empty Nest Expat.’