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Monday, February 24, 2014

Real life saga of a Bosnian child refugee

Mattingly, Christobel  (1993) No Gun for Asmir  New York:  Puffin

Mattingly, Christobel  (1995)  Asmir in Vienna  New York:  Puffin

      Neither of these is a perfect book.  Both books narrate the true story of Asmir, a seven year old kid living in Serajevo during the Bosnian war.  Because it is a true story, the plot doesn't always enfold the way it should, dramatic moments don't occur at the moment that would work best for the story.  Some of the characters are not as quirky or dynamic as you might hope. 
     At the same time, there is something gripping about dangerous border crossings when you know you are reading about real flesh and blood people.  When some of Asmir's family manages to get out of the war-torn country, you rejoice with them, but also feel their anxiety over their family members who did not get out -- and unlike a Newbery-winning novel, you cannot count on a happy ending necessarily.
     Mattingly is best known for Australian picture books, and the narrative here is sometimes a bit clumsy -- but the story is gripping and Asmir is a sympathetic figure as he tries to be a good students, a good brother, a good sun, and wait and waits and waits for the family to be united.  
     Both these books are good informational texts that are still engaging.  Especially for US students, it is good to see how children in different parts of the world have the same annoying little borders, the same worries about school the same dreams and nightmares that they do -- and at the same time, that their lives are very different from the lives of these students. 
     Strong fourth grade readers and up could handle the reading level, but both books would probably work as read-alouds for students as young as third grade. -- though fourth or fifth might be better.

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