Jamieson, Victoria and Omar Mahamed. When Stars are Scattered. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020.

Memoir might not technically be nonfiction, but this memoir is so good that we are extending the reach of the Nonfiction Book of the Month to “nearly” nonfiction this month.

When Stars are Scattered is the true story of Omar, the older brother who cares for Hassan, the younger brother, who is developmentally disabled and mostly nonverbal. The brothers flee Somalia as small children and grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya, without either parent. Their father was killed in Somalia, and they lost their mother in the chaos of running from the war. Along with their loving foster mother assigned to them when they arrive at the camp, Omar does his best to care for and protect Hassan as they search for their mother, and avoid the hazards of camp life. Omar is very smart and is accepted into the high school at the camp and, consequently better their chances for relocation.  While this is a wonderful development, Omar and Hassan must then also navigate the years-long refugee relocation process. All while hungry all the time.

Day-to-day life is sometimes like life in other places: walking to school with friends, dealing with rivals and bullies, and doing chores and homework. But some events reveal some real differences in customs like when a school friend’s family forces her to quit school and get married.

Jamieson’s artful storytelling and Mohamed’s compelling life make this book an accessible look into refugee life for students from 4th grade and up. The afterward tells us where Omar and Hassan are now, which elements of the story are fiction, and more about the refugee experience. While the circumstances of the story are bleak, Jamieson and Omar include moments of levity and humor to balance the heartbreak and hopelessness. Put this title on the top of your shopping list!

Dewey: 305.9                                                 Interest Level: Grades 4 and up

Awards and Reviews: Booklist starred; Horn Book Magazine starred; Kirkus Reviews starred; Publishers Weekly starred; Schneider Family Book Honor; School Library Connection starred; School Library Journal starred.

Older students might like: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown.
Younger students might like: Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.
Fiction pairing: Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
Learn about the refugee community in Idaho at the Idaho Office for Refugees, including the Refugees Speakers Bureau.