Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ZIBA CAME ON A BOAT by Liz Lofthouse

Lofthouse, Liz. Ziba Came on a Boat. Illus. Robert Ingpen. La Jolla, Calif.: Kane/Miller Book Publishers, Inc., 2007. ISBN 978-1-933605-52-4. $15.95.

Ziba Came on a Boat is the story of Afghan refugees traveling by sea to an undisclosed host country. The crowded fishing boat surrounded by blue water is the initial and oft repeated full-page image—the constant return to the image throughout crafts the ebb-and-flow feel of the story. The narrative crosscuts from occurrences at sea—waves, calm, storm—that prompt young Ziba’s flashbacks to her mountainous village before and after Taliban rule. The connection between sensory experience and memory is sophisticated and fluid; the text is straightforward and resonant. The reader gets the feel of the monotony and solitude of this type of desperate boat escape—sitting cross-legged, exposed to the elements, surrounded only by family, having fled without belongings. All that remains are memories, good and bad, hope for the future, and dreams of “azadi”—freedom.

As difficult as the underlying subject matter is, this book is a gentle gem, accessible and re-readable. The undercurrent of hope and the security of already having escaped prevent readers from experiencing any anxiety. Ziba’s flashbacks focus on childhood scenes that are universal—reading schoolbooks and helping to set the dinner table—and more culturally-specific, like carrying water jugs back to her mud-brick home. Her snapshot memories translate easily for a young audience, while the background illustrations invite talking opportunities between child and adult readers. While the illustrations of faces tend to be a bit fuzzy (though ethnically specific), the depictions of mountainous Afghanistan are lovely and informative without romanticizing village life. The book is frank but inviting—perfect for readers interested in a multicultural world where children experience political strife.

Chandra Howard

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