My Beautiful Birds
By Suzanne Del Rizzo
Published by Pajama Press Inc.
Age Range: 6+

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“If you’ve been wondering how to present the refugee crisis to children without losing faith in humanity, take a look at this graceful, even uplifting book.”
—The New York Times Book Review

Behind Sami, the Syrian skyline is full of smoke. The boy follows his family and all his neighbors in a long line, as they trudge through the sands and hills to escape the bombs that have destroyed their homes. But all Sami can think of is his pet pigeons—will they escape too? When they reach a refugee camp and are safe at last, everyone settles into the tent city. But though the children start to play and go to school again, Sami can’t join in. When he is given paper and paint, all he can do is smear his painting with black. He can’t forget his birds and what his family has left behind.

One day a canary, a dove, and a rose finch fly into the camp. They flutter around Sami and settle on his outstretched arms. For Sami it is one step in a long healing process at last.

A gentle yet moving story of refugees of the Syrian civil war, My Beautiful Birds illuminates the ongoing crisis as it affects its children. It shows the reality of the refugee camps, where people attempt to pick up their lives and carry on. And it reveals the hope of generations of people as they struggle to redefine home.

Reviews & Accolades
If you’ve been wondering how to present the refugee crisis to children without losing faith in humanity, take a look at this graceful, even uplifting book. Del Rizzo’s stunning dimensional art, made mostly of clay, can’t help feeling playful, and the story brims with hope.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Del Rizzo’s exquisite polymer clay illustrations add depth and a life-like dimension to Sami’s story….I appreciated that the author focused on the refugee crisis that is affecting the most innocent and vulnerable, children. She doesn’t address political themes in the book, but focuses on the humanity of the situation for children displaced from their homes in Syria….My Beautiful Birds is an excellent addition to any school library. It is age-appropriate and an introductory story about children who are displaced because of war or natural disasters.”
Children’s Books Heal

“It’s unusual to find stories about the Syrian civil war geared to picture book readers; but young audiences with adult assistance will find this an excellent introduction of the experience of refugees through the eyes of a young boy who dreams for something better.”
Midwest Book Review

“Del Rizzo…wisely focuses on what Sami sees and feels without trying to explain too much of the context, relying instead on her visuals to provide this information….These skillful and imaginative illustrations – created with Plasticine, polymer clay, and other media – give a sense of dimension, which is enhanced by striking and unusual perspectives. My Beautiful Birds is a lovely, timely book.”
Quill & Quire (Starred Review)

“Suzanne Del Rizzo’s incredible attention to each detail in the story line, dialogue and exceptionally detailed polymer clay and acrylic art work of the landscape and living conditions, beautifully combines to allow the reader to absorb the profound emotional loss that Sami has experienced and continues daily….I appreciated that the book did not explain, blame or discuss any political themes, leaving these questions outside Sami’s innocent mind, allowing him to focus on reality, humanity and survival. I hope this book inspires others to realize the daily plight of refugees.”
Youth Services Book Review

“Sami is a young boy who escapes his war-torn home in Syria to live in a refugee camp with his parents and neighbors. The transition from home to refugee camp is made all the more difficult by the loss of his pet pigeons. Although Sami’s father reassures him that the pigeons escaped, nevertheless, they are not in the camp. Sami’s longing for his pets makes his experience at the camp more depressing: he does not want to play soccer, and he is unable to paint pictures of his beautiful birds. However, he seeks comfort in the sky and the clouds. One day, when a canary, a dove, a rose finch, and a pigeon, arrive, the birds bring happiness to Sami and the entire camp. This fictionalized account of a present-day reality will hopefully encourage compassion and reinforce the strength of having hope and expressing kindness. The Author’s Note at the end of the book gives a brief synopsis of the historical setting of the book, as well as a resource for those who want more information. The illustrations are comprised of clay and paint, giving a lovely sense of dimension, texture and movement. Additionally, the illustrations flesh out the text by providing a detailed look at the setting. The vivid colors offer a stark contrast to the terrible fallout from war, and hint at the hope and healing that is to come.”
Children’s Literature

“Sami is a Syrian boy whose family are forced to leave all they hold dear as they flee their home for the safety of a refugee camp. While “days blur together in a gritty haze” at the camp and uncertainty about their future looms, Sami worries about the fate of the pet pigeons he left behind. These concerns overshadow anything good to come from the camp, from the garden his father grows to the flat bread his mother cooks to the painting Sami makes at the new camp school. While walking one day, Sami realizes that the sky he sees from camp is the same sky as in Syria and that if his pigeons were strong enough to fly, they might be strong enough to survive. Will this insight allow Sami to open up and accept the new friends that might come his way? Or will the refugee camp be nothing more than a segue between two pieces of his life? Exquisite dimensional illustrations using Plasticine, polymer clay, and other media bring a unique, lifelike quality to the page, enriching Sami’s story to its fullest potential when paired with the often lyrical prose.  A stunning offering for libraries wishing to add to their collection of hopeful yet realistic refugee tales.”
School Library Journal

“Sami was feeding his pigeons when his home and his neighborhood were suddenly gone.Sami and his family, Muslims, escape, along with everyone he knows. He’s frightened by smoke and noise, and his father squeezes his hand and assures him his beautiful birds have escaped, too. Days of walking get them to a refugee camp and safety, but while the other kids play and adults try to create a sense of normalcy, Sami cannot join in. Days pass, then he sees four different birds, which land on his outstretched arms. He collects some seeds to feed them, along with paper and wool for their nests, and for the first time since leaving Syria, Sami finds some peace. He then has the strength to welcome a frightened little girl who arrives with a new group. Del Rizzo uses her considerable talent with paint, Plasticine, and polymer clay to create the colorful, highly textured illustrations for this book, which she conceived while searching for a way to explain the Syrian civil war to her young children. Based on a real refugee child who keeps birds, this story isn’t about war but its effect on those who experience it and survive. This story of one frightened little boy who finds strength in caring for animals and uses that strength to comfort other kids is an excellent means of explaining a difficult subject to young children.”
Kirkus Reviews

Groups Represented

Civil War
Refugee Life

Refugee Camp

Engagement Projects & Resources
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