Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Books about Somali Immigrants/Refugees

In an effort to help my chil­dren under­stand more about their own her­itage, I have searched far and wide for books by or about Soma­li immi­grants or refugees. Here are some of the best ones we have found. Though a num­ber of these titles have not been writ­ten by Soma­lis, they have at least been informed by input from mem­bers of this com­mu­ni­ty.

The Colour of Home  

The Colour of Home
Writ­ten by Mary Hoff­man
Illus­trat­ed by Karin Lit­tle­wood
Frances Lin­coln Pub­lish­ers Ltd., 2002

For ages 5 to 8, The Colour of Home shares the sto­ry of Has­san, a young Soma­li who had recent­ly arrived in a cold, gray, unfa­mil­iar coun­try. At school Has­san paint­ed a pic­ture of the home he missed, com­plete with a bright blue sky, all the mem­bers of his fam­i­ly, their sheep and goats, and this cat. His teacher com­pli­ment­ed his work, but then Has­san made the sky dark, and added a man with a gun and blotch­es of red on the walls of their home. He smudged out one of the fam­i­ly mem­bers. Hassan’s teacher arranged for a trans­la­tor to help him share more about his paint­ing with his teacher. With a hope­ful end­ing, the sto­ry offers a sen­si­tive treat­ment of a dif­fi­cult sub­ject and hints at the pow­er­ful role art can play in help­ing chil­dren heal from trau­ma. It per­son­al­izes the tragedy of fam­i­lies hav­ing to leave their homes in order to sur­vive, a nar­ra­tive too-often replayed in var­i­ous coun­tries around the world.

Come Sit Down  

Come Sit Down (Soo Fari­ista)
Writ­ten by Soma­li Youth in Muse­ums par­tic­i­pants
Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety, 2018

Nine high school stu­dents who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Soma­li Youth in Muse­ums pro­gram devel­oped this Soma­li Amer­i­can cook­book as “an invi­ta­tion to get to know us through our sto­ries about our lives, our fam­i­lies, and our kitchens.” Stu­dents inter­viewed fam­i­ly mem­bers and test­ed recipes as they set out to pre­serve their culi­nary lega­cy. The hap­py result is a book of sev­en­ty recipes, acces­si­ble to those in the mid­dle grades and above. The book opens with a brief intro­duc­tion to Soma­li cul­ture and his­to­ry as well as infor­ma­tion about the Soma­li dias­po­ra. Many of the recipes are quite authen­tic, though oth­ers have been adapt­ed based on “Amer­i­can real­i­ties.” Most of the recipes are easy to make, though a few of them lack the lev­el of speci­fici­ty need­ed to suc­cess­ful­ly com­plete the recipe, unless you have pri­or knowl­edge of the cui­sine. If you and your kids want to try one dish from this book, choose the aro­mat­ic rice (page 134). It’s the real deal — but you’ll prob­a­bly want to cut the recipe in half at least, unless you’re hav­ing a par­ty.

Dhegdeer  

Dhegdeer, a Scary Soma­li Folk­tale
Retold by Mar­i­an A. Has­san
Illus­trat­ed by Bet­sy Bowen
Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Com­mis­sion, 2007

The most well-known sto­ry from Soma­li folk­lore, the tale of Dhegdheer, has tra­di­tion­al­ly been used to scare chil­dren into good behav­ior. Dhegdheer is a can­ni­bal with a long pointy ear and excep­tion­al­ly good hear­ing. In fact, she can “hear even the gait of camels a half-day’s jour­ney away.” Hassan’s ver­sion of this sto­ry has been toned down some­what to make it a lit­tle less scary, but the illus­tra­tions may be a bit much for young chil­dren with strong imag­i­na­tions. Still, good wins over evil, and the book touch­es on the theme of uni­ver­sal jus­tice at work in the world. This is one of four bilin­gual books in the Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Commission’s Soma­li Bilin­gual Book Project, most suit­able for ages 5 to 8 years. A down­load­able PDF of the book is avail­able from The Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Cen­ter.

From Somalia, With Love

 

From Soma­lia, with Love
Writ­ten by Na’ima B. Robert
Frances Lin­coln Children’s Books, 2008

This young adult nov­el begins with 14-year-old Safia learn­ing that her father, from whom she had been sep­a­rat­ed for over a decade due to the Soma­li civ­il war, is com­ing to join his fam­i­ly in East Lon­don. Rather than feel­ing joy­ful, like her moth­er and old­est broth­er, Safia is anx­ious. How would things change when she’s reunit­ed with the father she doesn’t know? Many of the ques­tions and doubts that emerge in this fic­tion­al account will res­onate with near­ly any­one who has ever had con­cerns about fit­ting in among peers (most of us). Though clas­sic ele­ments of the immi­grant expe­ri­ence are con­tained in the nar­ra­tive, there are added lay­ers of chal­lenge because out­ward appear­ance pre­vents Safia from eas­i­ly blend­ing in with the host cul­ture.

The moth­er in the sto­ry astute­ly describes how many Soma­li immi­grants feel when she states, “Now, we live in Britain, Cana­da, Amer­i­ca, Hol­land, and we look at our chil­dren and we see strangers. We don’t under­stand the ways of these coun­tries; they are not our ways…”

Her daugh­ter sum­ma­rizes the feel­ing of the next gen­er­a­tion when she replies, “But we’re the ones who have to live here…We’re the ones who have to find who we are…and it’s hard to be dif­fer­ent all the time, it’s hard to feel like you don’t belong any­where.”

The Lion's Share  

The Lion’s Share
Retold by Said Salah Ahmed
Illus­trat­ed by Kel­ly Dupre
Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Com­mis­sion, 2007

In this fable about the mis­use of pow­er, the lion demands a share of food he didn’t even help cap­ture. The oth­er ani­mals learn that the lion is not one with whom they can argue, so they give in to his demands, all the while chant­i­ng, “The lion’s share is not fair.” This is one of four bilin­gual books in the Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Commission’s Soma­li Bilin­gual Book Project, most suit­able for ages 5 to 8 years. A down­load­able PDF of the book is avail­able.

The Ogress and the Snake  

The Ogress and the Snake
and oth­er sto­ries from Soma­lia
Retold by Eliz­a­beth Laird
Illus­trat­ed by Shel­ley Fowles
Frances Lin­coln Children’s Books, 2009

Author Eliz­a­beth Laird apt­ly calls the cre­ation of this book a “sto­ry-col­lect­ing project.” Accom­pa­nied by a trans­la­tor, Laird trav­elled to the Soma­li region of Ethiopia to hear the sto­ries first hand, in their orig­i­nal con­text, and then pro­duced this 97-page book. It is prob­a­bly one of the best col­lec­tion of Soma­li folk­tales in print. After read­ing the book togeth­er as a fam­i­ly, we have come to incor­po­rate ref­er­ences to sev­er­al of the char­ac­ters into our fam­i­ly dis­course, most notably Daya Ali, the tricky fox, and two under­hand­ed shop­keep­ers, Slip­pery Hir­si and Crooked Kabaalaf, who were both out­smart­ed as they attempt­ed to out­smart each oth­er. Any of the sto­ries in this mid­dle-grades col­lec­tion would be a fun read-aloud, reveal­ing aspects of Soma­li cul­ture and val­ues while enter­tain­ing lis­ten­ers.

Travels of Igal Shidad  

The Trav­els of Igal Shi­dad
Retold by Kel­ly Dupre; Soma­li trans­la­tion by Said Salah Ahmed
Illus­trat­ed by Amin Amir
Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Com­mis­sion, 2008

A nomadic herder, Igal Shi­dad roamed the land in order to find water and grass for his camels and sheep. Among the Soma­li peo­ple, Igal Shi­dad is known as a wise cow­ard. In this sto­ry, his fear turns out to be unfound­ed — he’s afraid of a lion that turns out to be only a tree stump. In the end, he’s able to shrug off his mis­take, thank­ful that his prayers had been answered. This is one of four bilin­gual books in the Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Commission’s Soma­li Bilin­gual Book Project, most suit­able for ages 5 to 8 years. A down­load­able PDF of the book is avail­able.

When I Get Older  

When I Get Old­er: the Sto­ry Behind “Wavin’ Flag”
Writ­ten by K’naan with Sol Guy
Illus­trat­ed by Rudy Gutier­rez
Tun­dra Books, 2012

Song­writer and hip-hop artist K’naan wrote an auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal sto­ry about hav­ing to leave Soma­lia at 13 years of age because civ­il war had bro­ken out. His grand­fa­ther, who stayed behind in their home coun­try, had giv­en the boy a poem of hope before they were sep­a­rat­ed: “When I get old­er, I will be stronger. They’ll call me free­dom, just like a wav­ing flag.” This is the poem the boy hung on to while he stayed with his uncle in Harlem and then when he and his fam­i­ly set­tled in Toron­to, Cana­da. K’naan described some of the dif­fi­cul­ties he encoun­tered liv­ing in a new land, but he also showed how his poem set to music helped bridge the dif­fer­ences between him and his class­mates. This song, “Wavin’ Flag,” was select­ed as the anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. (Con­sid­er lis­ten­ing to the song after read­ing this pic­ture book.)

Wiil Waal  

Wiil Waal: A Soma­li Folk­tale
Retold by Kath­leen Mori­ar­ty;
Soma­li trans­la­tion by Jamal Adam
Illus­trat­ed by Amin Amir
Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Com­mis­sion, 2007

Wiil Waal is a folk­tale tru­ly root­ed in nomadic Soma­li cul­ture. Some of the details, such as the sym­bol­ism of a sheep’s gul­let as some­thing that can divide or unite peo­ple, may be lost on the aver­age West­ern read­er. What is clear in the sto­ry, how­ev­er, is that the daugh­ter of a poor shep­herd advances to a lead­er­ship posi­tion because of her wis­dom and her father’s choice to trust in that wis­dom. This is one of four bilin­gual books in the Min­neso­ta Human­i­ties Commission’s Soma­li Bilin­gual Book Project, most suit­able for ages 5 to 8 years. A down­load­able PDF of the book is avail­able.

 

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