My copy of Marjane Satrapi’s amazing graphic memoir, “Persepolis,” is dogeared and shabby looking from having been read so often. I’ve lent it out to ex-students now in high school, and each time I did I wished that there was something like it for my sixth graders. Last November, I saw this book reviewed in the New York Times, and immediately put it on my reading list:
Written and illustrated by Zeina Abirached, this memoir has the same type of arresting graphic art as Satrapi’s memoirs, but the story is all her own. Abirached was born in civil war torn Beirut in 1981, and she was ten years old when the war came to end . The Beirut she knew was cut in two – Muslim on one side and Christian on the other, with sand bags, barbed wire and oil drums and snipers criss-crossing the length and breadth of this beautiful, ancient city. Zeina and her family negotiate this dangerous terrain, “following complicated and perilous choreography” day after day.
One day, Zeina’s parents take this path to visit her grandmother, and then the shelling begins. Zeina and her brother are alone, waiting in the foyer of their apartment – the only safe spot in times like this. But, one by one, their neighbors arrive to offer companionship and comfort. Each has a story to share, each has been affected by this terrible war. Their stories, intertwined by familial and communal ties, paint a picture of life in Beirut before the war, when Beirut meant “restaurants , stores all lit up, street merchants, sidewalk cafes, and above all, the best “merry creams” in the world and the Mediterranean as far as the eye could see.” But the shelling continues, and even as Zeina’s parents arrive safely home, a bomb smashes through the building. Now, they must leave their beloved city.
The title of the book comes from a quote spray painted on a wall as they journey out: “To die, to leave, to return, it’s a game for swallow – Florian.” In her introduction, Trina Robbins write this about war: “From my untutored viewpoint, a bunch of old guys send a bunch of young guys out to kill and die while ordinary people like you and me, caught in the middle, simply try to survive. And sometimes, in the course of surviving, we do beautiful things.” This is such a lovely story about a part of the world that my sixth graders hear about a bit on the news but rarely get to read about. This story, the way it is told, and its perspective will make for a rich reading experience for my sixth graders, I am so glad that I finally got to read it.
I also read The Child of the Civil Rights Movement , written by Paula Young Shelton and beautifully illustrated by Raul Colon.
Shelton is the daughter of the civil rights leader and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young. In this book, she writes of growing up in the midst of the movement – when Martin Luther King, Jr. , Ralph Abernathy, and other civil rights activists gathered in the Young’s home to plan and strategize the march from Selma to Montgomery. And when that day arrives, she joins the march, first on foot and then, because her legs were so tired, on her father’s back, making history and advancing the cause of civil rights.