Sunday, July 29, 2018

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale, illustrated by Eleanor Shakespeare

One of the consequences of war is a high number of people who are forced to leave their homeland because of danger and/or persecution and seek asylum in other countries. Today, we see people seeking asylum from places like the Middle East, Mexico, and Central American countries. Many young readers may think that these stories they have been hearing about in the news and on TV about people fleeing their homeland are a new phenomena.

But, in fact, there have been a number of times that people left their homes to seek safety in the past. In Stormy Seas, readers will learn about five different young boat refugees who were forced to escape their homelands between 1939 and 2006.

The first story involves Ruth, an 18 year old Jewish girl who was lucky enough to get passage on the SS St. Louis in 1939, believing she was leaving behind the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany for safety in Cuba. But after arriving in Havana, Cuba refused to let the desperate passengers disembark, and when others country, including the US, refused to accept any of them, the ship was forced to return to Europe.

In 1979, the mother of 14-year-old Phu knew she had to get her son out of communist controlled Vietnam before he was forced into the army and certain death. Phu's mother paid a smuggler $3,500 for passage in an overcrowded boat, a dangerous trip made worse by pirates who stole everyone' money, jewelry, and food.

For José, 13, and his family, escaping Cuba really was a matter of life and death. His father had already been arrested twenty years earlier for plotting to overthrow Fidel Castro's communist government and now, in 1980, the family knew it would carry a stigma of suspicion forever if they remained in Cuba. Delays and rough seas made the 90 mile trip in an overcrowded boat very dangerous, as people became sick and stressed, and the boat began to take on water.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, life became dangerous for anyone who disobeyed their strict Sharia law. But for Najeeba, 11, and her family, the danger was even greater because they were member of the Hazara minority and as such, risked being killed. Najeeba's parents paid a smuggler $35,000 to get them passage to Australia and what they hoped would be safety. The family left Afghanistan in an overcrowded fishing boat that soon sprung a leak.

Lastly is the story of Mohamed, 13, from Maple, Ivory Coast in Africa. Mohamed's parents had been killed in a bombing and rebel forces had taken over his village. His older brother had already fled and Mohamed knew it was time for him to go, too. He walked to a refugee camp in Guinea, worked to save enough money to pay human traffickers for passage to Libya to be able to cross the Mediterranean Sea for asylum in Europe. And so once again, a child boarded an overcrowded boat hoping to find peace and safety at the end of his journey.

Mary Beth Leatherdale presents each one of these stories with compassion and understanding. She follows through, telling readers what became of each of the young people profiled and gives important statistics about their country and the refugees who left, and who were not always welcomed in the countries where they sought asylum. Their stories will certainly resonate with today's readers. There are also sidebars that give more information about each person's homeland and why they had to leave, and back matter that includes a timeline of people who sought asylum by boat, as well as resources for further reading.

Each of the young people survived their harrowing journeys and made new, successful life for themselves and their families. Their resilience, determination, and courage is so inspiring, and, I believe, they will also foster more empathy for today's refugees.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley


  1. Thanks for sharing. I have not seen it before. I am trying to share as many refugee books as possible.

  2. I have added this one to my list! Got to read!


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