“Anisa’s Alphabet” spells out the horrors of war

“For many refugees the alphabet represents the start of a new language and a new future, but Anisa’s alphabet is different”

MidnightSun Publishing

“A” is for Anisa Alidurahn, a young girl forced to flee her homeland along with her family to escape the death and destruction of war. We follow her perilous journey of fear, uncertainty and eventual hope through the letters of the alphabet as this harrowing story unfolds.

Sadly this is an all-too-familiar story. Earlier this year I added “Anisa’s Alphabet” to my selection of the ‘Best children’s books of 2021‘. Little did I know at the time that in less than a month Anisa’s experience would be relived again, this time by millions of the Ukrainian children fleeing from the horror of war.

The number of children displaced by violence and conflict, estimated at 30 million by UNICEF back in 2018, keeps growing. An estimated 1.8 million Ukrainian kids have been forced to flee their country, with an additional $2.3 million young ones experiencing displacement internally in Ukraine. 

And while the world’s spotlight is focused firmly on Ukraine at this moment, the ongoing plight of refugees from Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Syria should not be forgotten. 

It’s impossible for we who have not had to deal with displacement to comprehend its devastating impact, particularly on the young. This alphabet book, deceptively simple in its literary form and understated text, offers a disturbing and powerful insight into the suffering endured by these innocent victims of violence and conflict.

A is for Anisa Alidurah.
B is for bombs when the fighting began.
C is for carrying all that we can.
D is for danger from which we ran.
"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews
"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews

This book’s sombre graphic storytelling and short rhythmic lines of alphabet verse enwrap the reader into Anisa’s family experience. Illustrations alternate between comic strip type wordless sequences and immersive double-spread scenes that convey the spectre of hopelessness and despair.

They started their escape journey as a famaily of four, but only two of them – Anisa and her mum – have made it to a new land in the end. We agonise with Anisa’s mum as she lay with her daughter squashed amongst dozens of other people at the bottom of the boat. We fear the storm that might sink their boat. And we are sapped of will and purpose as Anisa’s family endures long hours of winding lines queuing for clearance along with hundreds of others to enter a foreign land with nothing but uncertainty ahead of them.

Q is for questions which won't go away.
Will I make it through the day?
R is for ragged refugee,
Something I never wanted to be.
"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews
"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews

“Anisa’s Alphabet” would have been unbearably sad if it didn’t, like all good children’s books, end on a note of hope.

Y is for young girl, who doesn't give in
and longs for a better life to being. 
Z is for zero hope it may seem,
but while I'm here..
I'll continue to dream.
"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews
"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews

My hope is that this book finds its way into the hands, hearts and minds of children everywhere. I hope that it stirs up emotions and speaks to the inherent goodness that dwells in the hearts and minds of all humans. I hope that it prompts questions and sparks conversations. I hope that it evokes empathy and compassion for those less fortunate. And above all, here’s hoping for a generation of future leaders who will prioritise peace over geopolitical and financial gains.

"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews

The author of “Anisa’s Alphabet” Mike Dumbleton is an award-winning Australian children’s books writer, teacher and literacy consultant. In 2016, Mike was granted the Federal Minister’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Improving Literacy. Mike’s grandfather, George Dumbleton, was a local poet in an Oxfordshire village in England, who regularly recited his poems to his family. This may have been one of the reasons for Mike’s interest in writing verse. Mike came to Australia in 1972 and has since worked at schools in South Australia and the Australian Department of Education. He has also worked in New York, supporting students and educators with literacy development.

Hannah Sommerville, who has illustrated this book is an Australian best-selling picture book illustrator who works in watercolour, gouache and digital illustrations mediums. Hannah began illustrating in 2010, drawing inspiration from her young children. She has illustrated almost a dozen books, many have been named as notables or been shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. “Anisa’s Alhpabet” has been recognised as a notable book by CBCA 2020 Book of the Year Awards. It has also been included in The White Ravens Catalogue 2021 selection by the International Youth Library (Internationale Jugendbibliothek), based in Munich, Germany. This 2021 catalogue included 200 notable children’s and young adult books from 54 countries published in 38 languages.

"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews
"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews
"Anisa's Alphabet" spells out the horrors of war Feelings and Emotions Kids Book Reviews

Check out more recently published books in my selection of the  ‘Best children’s books of 2021‘. For more ABC’s check out the “Alphabet” category and for more children’s books on challenging subjects and difficult feelings and emotions chech out “Feelings and Emotions” category in the Kids Book Review section of the blog.

Author: Mike Dumbleton
Illustrator: Hannah Sommerville
Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-925227-57-4
Year: 2020
Pages: 32
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