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  • Writer's pictureShameer Bismilla

Yusra Swims


I am a fan of Julie Abery’s picture books. Her stories are always about strength and human spirit. She has somehow made such a powerful and complex story in as few words as possible. I was awed by this rhythmical book filled with so much emotion especially when it is complemented with Sally Deng's searing illustrations. This gorgeous picture book is a true story of a Syrian girl who went through great ordeal to escape from a war-torn country and eventually ended up in Berlin, fulfilling her dream to be an Olympic swimmer. It is heartwarming to see how Julie Abery has made Yusra’s incredible journey worth researching.


While reading this well-crafted quatrain, I could feel Yusra’s feeling of fear and strength as she sat in a crowded boat in the dark cold water. The verses not only described her anxiety but also her courage that illuminated on every page. This short compelling biography is a wonderful addition to any classroom library. It will certainly allow teachers of younger readers to assimilate the story in small bites and create meaningful opportunities for discussions.


I have read many refugee stories and can’t fathom the unimaginable accounts of fear and uncertainty the families had to go through when they were forced to leave their homeland. Children who have experienced such fear, went through trauma that’s real and very present and it’s so important to educate young children with such stories so that dialogue can be facilitated at home and classroom. This book will indeed pair nicely with my other favourite refugee stories such as ‘A Different Pond’ by Bao Phi, ‘Wishes’ by Muon Thi Van, ‘The Paper Boat’ by Thao Lam and many more. The list is endless.

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