When Stars Are Scattered

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
When Stars Are Scattered Book Poster Image
Uplifting graphic novel refugee tale inspires compassion.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 6 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

What life is like in a refugee camp, especially when you're stuck in one for many years. How the United Nations helps refugees by providing food and basic medical care, and how the UN often fails to provide enough for everyone. The process for applying for resettlement in other countries. Somali cultural and religious practices like storytelling and how important holidays are celebrated. The Afterward and Author's Note give more facts about refugees as well as resources and suggestions for ways to help.

Positive Messages

"No one chooses to be a refugee, to leave their home, country, and family." Being loved is a precious gift that shouldn't be taken for granted. Never give up hope, work hard, persevere, and you can overcome any obstacle. Have faith that your community will help and support you; you don't have to go it alone. You never know what life has in store for you, but if you work hard and do your best you'll ready for anything. Try to stay positive and do the best you can in whatever circumstances you're in. Disabilities aren't who people are, but they're a part of who they are. People with disabilities shouldn't be treated cruelly and can do and be lots of surprising things. Education is important for everyone and should be equally accessible to everyone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Omar is a terrific model of perseverance, courage, gratitude, empathy, and humility. Once he's able to go to school he studies hard and wants to learn everything he can. He takes care of his younger brother Hassan, who can only say one word, is prone to seizures, and has a hard time sleeping. He notices unfair gender roles, and as an adult works hard to help young women and girls in refugee camps to pursue education. Fatuma, their foster mother, is kind, caring, sacrifices for the boys, and provides unfailing support. Their friends and neighbors in the refugee camp look out for one another, support each other, and share whatever they can.


Past wartime violence is remembered. There are men with guns, Omar is seen reacting to gunshots, apparently of his father getting shot, then running in fear to the sound of more gunshots and screaming. No direct violence is shown. A couple of illustrations show playground scuffling that implies some punching and wresting. A couple of bullies use verbal hostility and name calling.


Following cultural norms, a 15-year-old friend of Omar's enters an arranged marriage and has children. The afterward mentions that the lack of menstrual hygiene products and restrooms for girls prevents many from pursuing their studies.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Omar sees men in the marketplace who sit around all day and chew khat leaves, which can make people feel high, to help them "forget." Omar understands the temptation and isn't judgemental, but has an unpleasant encounter with a man chewing khat.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that When Stars Are Scattered is a graphic novel about a boy's experience growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya. Omar arrived at the refugee camp with his younger brother when Omar was 4, and lived there until after he graduated from high school. No graphic violence is shown, but wartime violence is implied in men with guns and sounds of gunshots and screaming. Parental loss is also a strong theme. But Omar is a great role model for perseverance, courage, gratitude, empathy, and humility. So are the family, friends, and community members who support and care for each other even in terrible circumstances. Readers will gain a lot of empathy and compassion for people like Omar, and his story is filled with positive messages about love, faith, community, hope, hard work, and doing the best you can. There's also a lot to learn about what life is like in a refugee camp, and how people become refugees in the first place. It may inspire readers to learn about Somalia and Kenya, and how they can help refugees in their own communities and around the world.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byKiraGould January 31, 2021

Compelling story of life in a refugee camp and working hard to make a new life beyond it.

We read this for a fifth grade book club. I think it touches on many interesting, positive themes (family, hard work, challenges in life and how to manage and g... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old August 12, 2020

Heartbreak, hope, and kindness all together!

This is a great book!
It’s about a boy named Omar who has spent most of his life in a refugee camp in Kenya called Dadaab with his younger brother.
Life in a re... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bysomebooks April 1, 2021

Such A good powerful story!

I love this graphic novel! The illustrations are amazing and the storyline empowering yet emotional. Some content that younger children won't understand (l... Continue reading

What's the story?

WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED is the story of Omar, a boy of about 11 who's been living in a refugee camp in Kenya since he was about 4. That was when soldiers came to the farm where he was born in Somalia. Omar's father was killed, and while running from the danger Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, were separated from their mother. He and his brother eventually make it to a refugee camp in Kenya where they're paired with a foster mother, Fatuma. Hassan has special needs, and Omar has promised to always take care of him. So when Omar gets a chance to go to school at long last, he's not sure if he should be away from Hassan for so many hours a day. But Hassan is capable of more than even Omar knows. Omar and Hassan spend the next 15 years growing up in the camp, always hoping to find their mother again, and endlessly waiting to be chosen for resettlement.

Is it any good?

This is an engaging, compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting graphic novel that will inspire and amaze readers of all ages. When Stars Are Scattered, based on co-author Omar Mohamed's memories of growing up in a refugee camp, puts a personal face on a crisis that affects millions around the world. He and co-author and illustrator Victoria Jamieson manage this moving story with simple, often elegant words and with lively pictures that use bright and beautiful colors. It's almost impossible not to admire Omar's spirit and appreciate the lessons he learns about family, faith, community, hope, and perseverance.

A flashback sequence when Omar tells how he and his brother lost their home and family, and about their long journey to the refugee camp, is scary and sad. Sadness from losing his parents is also mentioned a lot, so be prepared to help younger readers who connect to the story work through any fears that may come up. Everything has a safe resolution, and reading the Afterward and Author's Note will bring even more resolution to the story. The ending is poetic and bittersweet, so have a tissue handy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the positive messages in When Stars Are Scattered. What do you think Omar would like us to learn from his story?

  • What are Omar's character strengths? Does he have any weaknesses?

  • What did you learn about what it's like to be a refugee? What surprised you about it? What kinds of things can you do to help people who need it?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love refugee stories and graphic novels

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