A biography in rhyme relates the story of Olympic swimmer and Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini.
A talented swimmer with Olympic dreams, Yusra Mardini trains daily, despite unrest in her native Syria. When the conflict intensifies, her father arranges for her to evacuate to Europe. She flees by bus, and then by sea, where her swimming skills are put to good use towing a sinking rowboat to shore. When she finally arrives in Berlin, she begins training again and eventually participates in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Abery's spare, rhyming text recounts Mardini's real-life story, touching on the traumas ("Treading water, / Gripping rope. / Yusra swims, / Keeping hope.") and triumphs ("Refugee / Olympic team. / Yusra swims. / Achieves her dream.") of her young life. Deng's digitally enhanced acrylic and colored-pencil illustrations favor blues, greens, and browns and depict both the serenity of the pool and the severe realities of civil war and refugee life. An excellent addition to the growing number of picture books about refugees, this is appended with a note about Mardini, who currently serves as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.
National Women’s Month is here, and I love reading inspirational stories about strong women with my students. Julie Abery wrote a fantastic nonfiction biography about the courage and determination of Yusra Mardini. The story follows Yusra as she trains to be a strong swimmer with the dream of one day going to the Olympics. When her country becomes dangerous, Yusra escapes Syria with her sister. The journey was dangerous, and Yusra and her sister had to fight to stay alive. They entered Europe as refugees and became strangers in a strange land. Although Yusra faced adversity, she never gave up and went on to become a famous Olympic swimmer. The text is sparse but powerful. The rhyming scheme allows readers to easily follow along with the story. The illustrations by Sally Deng are done in almost a dreamlike way and capture the trials and hopes of refugees. The back of the book shares more about the incredible life of Yusra. This is a truly powerful picture book that shows readers of all ages that with enough hard work, dreams can be accomplished.
–Picture Books 4 Learning Blog, 03/02/2020
Abery spotlights the life of Syrian swimmer and refugee Yusra Mardini in this understated picture book biography. Trained as a competitive swimmer, 15-year-old Mardini grew up in a suburb of Damascus, Syria. She represented her country in the 2012 FINA World Swimming Championship competition. By the summer of 2015, civil unrest was growing, and Mardini and her sister decided to leave the country. They traveled by plane and bus, and eventually boarded a dinghy bound for the Greek island of Lesbos. The boat’s engine failed, and the dinghy almost sank. Mardini, her sister, and two other passengers jumped in the water and guided the boat to safety. She later settled in Germany and went on to compete as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team during the 2016 Rio Olympics. The narrative is told in spare, rhyming verse. Each verse is accompanied by Deng’s evocative colored pencil illustrations, which provide more detail than the text about the athlete’s life. Running feet and broken glass can be seen in the background of Mardini’s swimming complex; a helicopter hovers in the sky over a leafy, seaside refugee camp. The lack of textural detail encourages the reader to look more closely at the illustrations and form an appreciation of the relationship between art and words in a picture book. Readers eager for additional facts about Mardini’s experience will find a more in-depth profile at the end of the text. A unique approach to biography, enriched by Deng’s contemplative and masterful illustrations. Recommended for purchase in most collections.
–Kristy Pasquariello, School Library Journal, 03/01/2020
Yusra, a young Syrian woman, travels at the age of 17 with her older sister to escape the war in her country. Having trained since childhood, Yusra dreams of swimming at the Olympics. The sisters, now refugees, pay smugglers and end up on a small inflatable loaded with people and headed to Greece. Shortly after the boat takes off from the Turkish shore, the engine fails. However, Yusra and her sister jump into the water and help guide it to safety despite the rough sea. They arrive on the shore tired and cold. Strangers stare at them with accusing looks, but there is also “sudden kindness” when a child gives Yusra shoes. They walk for miles on rough terrain, then take buses and trains until reaching safety in Germany. There, Yusra starts training to swim again, eventually achieving her dream. In clipped quatrains—no line exceeds four syllables—the story relates Yusra Mardini’s journey from Syria in 2015, culminating in her participation in the 2016 Olympics as part of a team of refugees. Abery’s choice of spare, rhythmic verse gives the narrative a gripping and dramatic feel, while Deng’s illustrations convey the struggles of war and displacement. Yusra is portrayed throughout as a strong and resilient young woman, determined and full of courage. A note from the author provides additional information about Yusra’s journey, including her becoming a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Refugee Agency. A true and inspiring story of a refugee hero.