A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Flying Over Water is packed with details that make current events deeply relatable and highly personal: 12-year-old boys in Syria are tortured and killed for writing anti-government slogans; a dad who owned a hotel in Aleppo is thrilled to get a job as a bellhop in Tampa. Food plays a large role (especially a potluck at the mosque, with foods from all over the world -- and readers may want to try making some of the dishes. Jordyn loves fish and Noura loves birds, and they share their enthusiasm and a bit of scientific info about their beloved creatures. Religious faith is important in the lives of many characters, and there's discussion of different beliefs and practices. A social studies teacher offers ideas to consider, insights into history, and an assignment about immigration results in a lot of information being shared about the process.
Strong messages of friendship, family, appreciating and respecting differences. Perseverance, hard work, and cutting each other slack. Also overcoming hardship and trauma to get on with your life and goals. Teamwork and working together in a way that everyone's talents and interests get to shine. Fred Roberts' lesson about finding the helpers in times of trouble is mentioned, and its spirit is strong in the story.
Positive Role Models
Both tween and adult characters here are dealing with a number of heavy issues, especially Noura, traumatized by the death of her best friend and the loss of the life she'd known, and Jordyn, whose family is crushed by grief in the wake of her mom's miscarriage. Both of them get a lot of support from their own inner resources, their religious beliefs, and supportive family, teachers, and friends. A couple of negative, hateful kids prove to have awful parents, one dad is always explosively angry and the other parents are so tied up in their work they have no time for their kid.
Violence & Scariness
The Alwan family fled Aleppo when their once-comfortable life was destroyed by bombs -- Noura's brother's face is scarred from a bombing that injured them both -- and spent two years in a refugee camp. Noura's best friend drowned when a smuggler's boat sank. In Florida, the family is on the receiving end of a lot of hate: protesters and talking TV heads shout hateful slogans about Muslims; an arsonist torches the local mosque; a mean kid destroys another kid's art project, while another makes a cartoon poking fun at Noura's hijab. Mentions of atrocities including mass murders of political prisoners by Bashar al-Assad.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A kid's mean cartoon about another's first bra is frequently mentioned but never described in detail.
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Occasional "kick butt." Noura's father reproves her brother for bad language when he calls Bashar al-Assad "that dog who killed his own people and destroyed Syria to keep power" because "Baba did not approve of bad language, even for an evil monster like the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad."
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Products & Purchases
Occasional scene-setting mentions of brands, including Publix market, Cheerios, Thomas the Tank Engine. English learners find Google Translate helpful, and Google Images is important in doing research.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Flying Over Water is an earnest, relatable, information-packed story of the friendship between two 12-year-old girls. One of them, narrated by N.H. Senzai (Escape From Aleppo), is Noura, a Syrian refugee whose family is granted asylum in Florida and arrives in early 2017 to protesters and a newly announced presidential travel ban on people from Muslim countries. The other, narrated by Shannon Hitchcock, is Jordyn, a competitive swimmer, whose church has taken on responsibility for helping Noura's family get settled in. Both families are dealing with tragedy and loss -- Noura's best friend in Syria drowned in an attempt to reach Europe, and Jordyn's mom has recently suffered a miscarriage. Along the way they encounter haters -- some of whom seem to be merely angry jerks, and others more complex, like Jordyn's friend whose brother was killed by a bomb in Afghanistan set by "those people." The local mosque is torched, and it seems unlikely the perpetrator will be brought to justice. But there are a lot of helpers, too. There's much historic detail about life in Syria and the conditions in various times and places that have caused people to flee their homes. Some descriptions of bombings, political murders, and massacres in Syria. Strong messages of religious tolerance, teamwork, and respecting one another's differences. An interfaith prayer/meditation space in a middle school is important to the story, and a potluck at the mosque finds Muslims from all over the world sharing fellowship and amazing food.
Is It Any Good?
N.H. Senzai and Shannon Hitchcock collaborate on an earnest, diversity-rich story of a Muslim family from Syria, the community that welcomes them to Florida in 2017, and others who definitely don't. Flying Over Water presents 12-year-old main characters Noura (narrated by Senzai) and Jordyn (narrated by Livingston) as complex, relatable characters dealing with terrors and tragedies of their own who gain strength and insight from their growing friendship. Food, and regional cuisines from around the world, are important in building connections and community in the story. Tolerance and respect for one another's different traditions and beliefs are a big message, in lively scenes from daily life -- for example, a great scene involving no drama whatever about Noura's burkini during a swim lesson. Along the way, especially in the wake of class projects on immigration by middle schoolers, there are comical breakthroughs in cultural understanding, as this, in the wake of a Cuban American girl telling how her grandmother's family had fled Cuba to escape Castro's ban on religion:
"Penny said, 'I didn't realize Castro had banned Christmas. I'm not religious. but we still have a tree and presents. Who wouldn't like a tree and presents?'
"'A Communist,' said Lea."
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