A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Shows what it's like to try to fit into a school where no one speaks your native language and the classes, food, and school activities are different from anything you've ever known. When Jude makes the decision to wear a hijab, she writes that she's made the choice "not because I am ashamed/ forced/ or hiding./ But because I am/ proud/ and want to be seen/ as I am" and reminds readers that strong and respected young women like Malala Yousafzai also cover their heads. A Glossary of Arabic Words at the back of the book defines a number of words used in the text.
Be brave. Don't be afraid to take a chance and try new things. It's not fair to judge people by their looks, their religion, or the country they came from.
Positive Role Models
Before she left Syria, Jude's brother told her to "be brave" and she does just that. Jude has to learn on her own (with no help from her cousin Sarah) how to navigate a new school with a new language. When she finds that her English isn't as fluent as she once thought, she doesn't get upset about being in an ESL class but is grateful for all she can learn there. And when tryouts for the school musical are announced, she bravely steps up to audition.
Violence & Scariness
The few violent episodes are described, but in only a few words and never graphically. Jude's brother's apartment is raided by armed police. There's shouting and people are shoved against walls. Jude learns about a terrorist bomb that's gone off in a country outside of America and left blood in the streets. Pictures in newspaper show people bloody and cowering in a Syrian city. Jude writes about Allepo, Syria where her brother has gone to join anti-government forces and how families from across her country have been forced from their homes by the civil war. The word "Terrorists" is painted on the front of a restaurant owned by the family of Jude's friend Layla.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Jasmine Warga's Other Words for Home won a 2020 Newbery Honor. It's a novel in free verse written in the voice of Jude, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee who comes to live with her uncle's family in Ohio. Only one other student at her new school looks like her and and she's trying to understand why she's not seen as simply a girl, but instead now has a label: Middle Eastern Muslim. A handful of violent episodes (a bombing and a police raid) are described in only a few words and never graphically. There are a couple of brief mentions of two girls getting their first periods. The novel addresses serious and timely topics (the war in Syria, prejudice, what it means to be a refugee), that some parents may find too mature for younger readers. But any reader who's ever struggled to fit in after moving to a new town or felt alone on the first day at a new school will easily identify with Jude.
Is It Any Good?
The poignant, inspiring, and relatable story of a young Syrian refugee discovering who she is, where she belongs, and what it means to be brave. Although Other Words for Home is written for middle graders, the serious issues addressed in the novel (the war in Syria, the place of refugees in American society, prejudice against Muslims) make it an informative read for teens as well.
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