Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees – Mary Beth Leatherdale & Eleanor Shakespeare

2017 – Annick Press

56 pages

5/5 Gold Stars

I don’t care what grade level you teach, students love picture books. There is something funny and sweet about 7th graders sitting on the floor listening to their teacher read a picture book. And while Mary Beth Leatherdale and Eleanor Shakespeare’s new (new-ish – it was published in April 2017) book isn’t the traditional read-aloud picture book, it is something I’ll gather my students to sit, listen to, and see in the next week.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees tells five stories of refugees moving by boat to a new country. In the book we meet:

  • Ruth – an 18 year old fleeing Nazi Germany aboard the SS Saint Louis in 1939.
  • Phu – a 14 year old escaping Vietnam in 1979.
  • José – a 13 year old emigrating from Cuba in 1980.
  • Najeeba – an 11 year old escaping Taliban controlled Afghanistan in 2000.
  • Mohamed – a 13 year old who decides to leave the Ivory Coast in 2006 after Civil War kills his parents.

Each of their stories are short, about 10 pages long, and engaging. There is a first person narrative from the refugee (spoiler… they all survived) as well as more traditional nonfiction, third person narrative.

Each of their stories is illustrated in a style that I struggle to describe, but absolutely love. There is both a simplicity and complexity to the illustration that really drew me in. (This is possibly the worst paragraph I’ve ever written, but I’m leaving it because the illustrations are truly indescribable for me.)

As a geography teacher, I love that this book includes some great pieces for visual literacy. The stories all have a map that shows the journey, and I’ve made it clear how I excited I am about maps being used correctly before. The maps let students see the story playing out in front of them, and makes it clear that none of the refugees had an easy journey. There is a timeline of events for each story as well as what I can best describe as an infographic with important statistics. It’s a great break in text for those students who like to see things presented differently.

How can I use it in my class?

I’m starting to talk about refugees next week and what makes them different from other emigrants. I’m lucky enough to have 5 classes, so each class will hear and see a different story, but here are some ideas that should work for any of the stories.

  • Read the Introduction. It’s an important reminder of how lucky we are to be where we are – and sometimes we (including us teachers) need to be reminded of that.
  • Trace the journey on a more detailed map. What sorts of difficulties might refugees have faced as they made their journey?
  • Find a primary source showing how the push factors in their native country forced them out.
  • How was the story covered in the media at the time? Find an article or news clip seeing what American (or any country really) media had to say about this refugee crisis.
  • Make connections to today. Where is this still happening? (Syria). Are similar push factors at work? (Yes.)
  • Help your students see that this book is timeless – how would they write a story about one of the nearly million Rohingya running away from Myanmar for the safety (though for how long no one knows) of Bangladesh.
  • Pair it with fiction. Refugee by Alan Gratz is a perfect book to pair with this text. Our own @ecasey77 wrote a piece on Refugee last summer.
  • Connect the stories to the Global Goals. Which Global Goals would make a difference for refugees if they were accomplished?
  • Talk about the successes of refugees. There are plenty of lists of famous refugees but the not-so-famous Refugee Olympic Team that competed in Rio in 2016 shows a sense of determination that most of us could only dream of.
  • TAKE ACTION! There is nothing we can do to change Ruth, Phu, José, Najeeba, or Mohamed’s stories, but we can help people having a similar experience today. Whether you find ways to raise money as a class to support an agency that helps refugees, or you campaign businesses, media, and politicians to do something to help, there are ways for students to take action. My students wrote letters after learning about child labor in DRC and were shocked when a vice president of Apple and Samsung responded. Make a difference!
  • Show them the timelines at the front and back of the book. In light of recent comments by our president, it’s important to realize that countries we now hold in great esteem (Norway) were once countries that people fled from.
It was tough to be a Norwegian in 1865.

What books do you use to talk about refugees? Could you find a way to work this into your class? Comment or let me know on Twitter!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s