Zeina Abirached’s ‘Game for Swallows’ Makes USBBY’s List of Outstanding International Books for Children
All of the titles originated or were first published in a country other than the United States and were subsequently published or distributed in the U.S. These books not only represent the best in children’s literature from around the globe, but also introduce American readers to other perspectives. Their originality and appeal, and the quality of the presentations make them outstanding choices for most collections.
There are no books on the list that were published in an Arab country or translated from the Arabic (this is rare enough, although perhaps Fatima Sharafeddine’s Faten will make next year’s list). There are also too many books on the list from Canada and the UK for my taste. But Abirached’s A Game for Swallows (trans. Edward Gauvin) is one of three books on the list originally published in France.
The USBBY recommends the book for children in Grades 6-8 (12-14-year-olds), although it certainly has a much wider appeal: My 9-year-old and I were equally charmed by this short, richly illustrated narrative about the effects of war on children.
Although there are frightening moments, it is nonetheless a portrait of war that is mild enough for children (I wouldn’t let my 9-year-old read Yalo, for instance).
It doesn’t have the overt politics of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis — also told from the point of view of a child — nor the conflation of consumerism and war of Lamia Ziade’s Bye Bye Babylon (trans. Olivia Snaije), also narrated from a child’s perspective.
Abirached’s gentle narrative celebrates life, dance, possibility and excoriates the “war” itself rather than any particular party or group that might be responsible. It brings the reader intimately into one Lebanese household, and the illustrations are a joy for any age.
The full list: