A lot or a little?
What 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.
What's the story?
It's early 2017, and the Alwan family is FLYING OVER WATER -- the Atlantic Ocean and Tampa Bay -- to their new home in Florida, where they've been granted asylum after two years in a refugee camp. Back in Aleppo, the family owned a luxury hotel, long destroyed in the bombing that took everything they had and left many scars. Now, they land in Tampa, to a welcoming party from a local church and a screeching crowd of protesters chanting anti-Muslim slogans in support of the presidential travel ban announced that very day. Twelve-year-old Noura, like the rest of her family, is overwhelmed, grieving, and traumatized, but determined to make the best of her new life. Her classmate Jordyn, a 6-foot-tall competitive swimmer whose family is dealing with grief of its own, signs on to help her get settled. As the girls navigate a turbulent, sometimes hate-filled world in their middle school and beyond, their growing friendship helps sustain them, as do a lot of thoughtful, helpful adults.
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."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the refugees in Flying Over Water. Why are there so many of them fleeing so much trouble around the world? Do you know anyone who's had to leave their home and go live in a new place because their old home wasn't safe? What was it like for them, and how did they get through it -- or are they still struggling?
Fred Rogers advised that when things are dark and trouble at its worst, you should "look for the helpers" -- people trying in their various ways to make things better. Who are the helpers in Flying Over Water, and how do they help?
Do you think it's easier today for people to learn a new language when they have tools like Google Translate?
- Authors: N.H. Senzai, Shannon Hitchcock
- Genre: Friendship
- Topics: Activism, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Middle School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic
- Publication date: October 20, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 272
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: November 22, 2020
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