Monday, November 25, 2019

Zenobia by Morten Durr and illustrated by Lars Horneman

Zenobia by Morten Durr and illustrated by Lars Horneman
October 2018 UQP

Zenobia was once a great warrior queen of Syria whose reign reached from Egypt to Turkey. She was courageous. No-one gave her orders. Once she even went to war against the emperor of Rome.

When things feel overwhelming for Amina, her mother reminds her to think of Zenobia and be strong. Amina is a Syrian girl caught up in a war that reaches her village. To escape the war she boards a small boat crammed with other refugees. The boat is rickety and the turbulent seas send Amina overboard. In the dark water Amina remembers playing hide and seek with her mother and making dolmas and the journey she had to undertake with her uncle to escape. And she thinks of the brave warrior Zenobia.

Zenobia is a heartbreaking and all-too-real story of one child's experience of war. Told with great sensitivity in few words and almost exclusively with pictures, Zenobia is a story for everyone.

This is not a new one, just over a year old...but as I wasn't doing much in the way of Instagram or blogging back then, I thought I would say a few words about it now.

Zenobia is a perfect example of visual literacy, and the impact it can have on a reader. 

At first glance it would be easy to think that this is book for younger readers.  It's a larger format  (about A5 size) graphic novel, very little text...but it would have to be one of the most powerful refugee stories I have read.  

The colour changes in the illustrations show what part of the story is told in present day, and the parts that are memories of what has led the Amina to this point.  The present day illustrations are full colour, while the memories are depicted in a sepia like tone.  Like so many regugee stories, we see Amina living her life, happily in her village until the day her parents leave and don't come back.  Leaving her home, that is now nothing but rubble, with her uncle, who pays her way onto a boat, her only hope at survival...

I talk about this book a lot in schools, and I warn the students not to flick though this one and dismiss as a book for younger readers.  I tell them to be prepared to be prepared for confronting images and a a heart wrenching story.  It's the kind of book that you read, and when you get to the end you think...hang on did that just happen, and when you realise that it did, it will break your heart.

Excellent Teachers Notes available here.

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