My Beautiful Birds Reviews

Quill & Quire **Starred Review**mybeautifulbirds_website

“With the arrival of Syrian refugee families in many Canadian communities, parents and children alike are charged with trying to understand the harsh experiences these new classmates and neighbours have undergone. The compassionate and beautiful new picture book from Oakville, Ontario, illustrator Suzanne Del Rizzo – the first for which she has created both pictures and text – imagines a Syrian child and his family driven by war into a refugee camp.

While the others settle into the new realities of life in the camp, sensitive Sami is unable to recover, expressing his trauma through grief for the pet pigeons he had to leave behind. He tries to paint a picture of his pigeons, but covers their coloured feathers with smears of black, then tears the painting to pieces. When four wild birds fly into the camp and respond to Sami’s attention, they break through the little boy’s isolation and misery. By the end of the book, Sami has reconnected with life, and is even able to reach out to help a new child arriving at the camp.

Del Rizzo bases her story on an account from the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan of a child finding solace in some wild birds there. She wisely focuses on what Sami sees and feels without trying to explain too much of the context, relying instead on her visuals to provide this information. The first images of the sky over his former home, glowing with flames and explosions, give way to the beauty of the desert skyscapes in which Sami sees the colourful plumage of his beloved birds. These skillful and imaginative illustrations – created with Plasticine, polymer clay, and other media – give a sense of dimension, which is enhanced by striking and unusual perspectives. My Beautiful Birds is a lovely, timely book.
Gwyneth Evans

Read the full review on page 43 of the January/February 2017 issue of Quill & Quire

The Horn Book Magazine

At the start of the emotional tale My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo, Sami and his family climb a hill while their Syrian village burns in the background below. They continue walking for a day and two nights until they reach a refugee camp: “Helpful hands welcome us in. We made it. We are safe.” But Sami is still scared, and he is heartbroken over the loss of his beloved pet pigeons, even though his father reassures him that “they escaped, too.” Healing finally comes after a quartet of birds arrive — not his birds, “but it doesn’t matter.” Del Rizzo uses polymer clay and acrylic paint to create vibrant pictures of Sami, his family, the refugee camp, and the swirling pink-and-purple sky. Most of all, she creates birds for which every feather and color looks real. Beauty and sorrow sit side by side in this compassionate and age-appropriate depiction of contemporary refugee life. (Pajama Press, 6–9 years)

Click here to view The Horn Book Magazine’s post on books about refugee children

School Library Journal

“Exquisite dimensional illustrations using Plasticine, polymer clay, and other media bring a unique, lifelike quality to the page, enriching Sami’s story to its fullest potential when paired with the often lyrical prose. VERDICT A stunning offering for libraries wishing to add to their collection of hopeful yet realistic refugee tales.”
—Brittany Drehobl, Eisenhower Public Library District, IL

Read the full review in the March 2017 issue of School Library Journal or click here to read it in the School Library Journal Spotlight “9 Refugee Stories for Kids and Teens”

School Library Journal “Reading Around The World | Picture Books”

“Suzanne Del Rizzo’s My Beautiful Birds articulately conveys the experiences of a child displaced by war in Syria….Intricately detailed and lifelike, the polymer clay and mixed-media illustrations combine with the understated first-person narrative to communicate Sami’s circumstances, heartbreak, and healing process. Through this emotionally accessible story…readers begin to understand Sami’s plight, and to gain awareness and insight into the lives of the many children facing calamity across the globe. An author’s note provides background and a link to resources about the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis.”
—Joy Fleishhacker

Click here to read the full review and the rest of the article

Kirkus Reviews

Sami was feeding his pigeons when his home and his neighborhood were suddenly gone. Sami and his family, Muslims, escape, along with everyone he knows. He’s frightened by smoke and noise, and his father squeezes his hand and assures him his beautiful birds have escaped, too. Days of walking get them to a refugee camp and safety, but while the other kids play and adults try to create a sense of normalcy, Sami cannot join in. Days pass, then he sees four different birds, which land on his outstretched arms. He collects some seeds to feed them, along with paper and wool for their nests, and for the first time since leaving Syria, Sami finds some peace. He then has the strength to welcome a frightened little girl who arrives with a new group. Del Rizzo uses her considerable talent with paint, Plasticine, and polymer clay to create the colorful, highly textured illustrations for this book, which she conceived while searching for a way to explain the Syrian civil war to her young children. Based on a real refugee child who keeps birds, this story isn’t about war but its effect on those who experience it and survive. This story of one frightened little boy who finds strength in caring for animals and uses that strength to comfort other kids is an excellent means of explaining a difficult subject to young children. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-10)

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Resource Links

“…With its elegant prose and beautiful clay illustrations, this book tells a timely story through the voice of a Syrian refugee. It is important to provide readers with perspectives different than their own, and this book may be particularly relevant for Canadian readers due to the influx of Syrian refugees into Canada.

My Beautiful Birds is a very well-executed book that provides a window into the life of a refugee while also being a pleasure to read.

Thematic Links: Syrian Refugees; Birds
—Alice Albarda

Read the full review on page 5 of the February 2017 issue of Resource Links

Canadian Children’s BookNews

“Every year, more and more families find themselves forced to flee their homes and relocate. Recently, this has become more relevant than ever with the war in Syria displacing hundreds of thousands of families to nearby countries and refugee camps. My Beautiful Birds tells the story of a family escaping Syria from the perspective of a little boy named Sami. Through his anxiety and confusion, Sami’s thoughts remain focused on the pet pigeons he left behind, and whether or not they were also able to escape. Slowly, he becomes familiar with his new home and routines, and learns to move on from the loss of his most cherished pets.

This is a wonderful story for all children, as learning about the growing-up experiences of others is always helpful. The book would be especially useful, however, for children who are going through major life changes themselves. It contains not only lessons on relocation and moving, but also on making new friends, acclimatizing to new environments, moving on from the past, and much more!

Suzanne Del Rizzo weaves the story together beautifully with the help of her own illustrations done in a variety of mediums, including clay, and Plasticine. The images are multi-dimensional and seem to almost jump off the page. They are extremely captivating and add even more depth to the already engaging story that accompanies them. In addition to all of its many amazing aspects, My Beautiful Birds is a stunning tool to teach children about what goes on in the world outside their own backyards.”

Read the full review on page 29 of the Spring 2017 issue of Canadian Children’s BookNews

Youth Services Book Review

What did you like about the book? Sami, a recent Syrian refugee, explores his very powerful, personal perspective of the pain, healing and hope of his resettlement ordeal. Suzanne Del Rizzo’s incredible attention to each detail in the story line, dialogue and exceptionally detailed polymer clay and acrylic art work of the landscape and living conditions, beautifully combines to allow the reader to absorb the profound emotional loss that Sami has experienced and continues daily. The hopeful symbolism of reconnecting with his beloved birds begins his self-healing process that takes flight in the community and spreads as he welcomes his newest refugee friend. I appreciated that the book did not explain, blame or discuss any political themes, leaving these questions outside Sami’s innocent mind, allowing him to focus on reality, humanity and survival. I hope this book inspires others to realize the daily plight of refugees. I appreciated the “Author’s Note” on the last page that simply outlined facts about the refugee crisis, sadly noting that half of those displaced are innocent children like Sami.

Anything you didn’t like about it? NO, it was well thought out and executed beautifully.

To whom would you recommend this book? Everyone that works in any small way for social justice and peace, parents that want to expose and inspire young children to social justice issues, ministers, religious education teachers., community organizers.”
Diane Neylon

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Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

“Coming to shelves in March is Suzanne Del Rizzo’s My Beautiful Birds (Pajama Press), a new book specifically about Syrian refugees. Rendered in bright and textured polymer clay and acrylic, it’s the story of a boy named Sami, leaving his Syrian home (with a sky full of smoke) to escape war….

Del Rizzo writes in an arresting first-person, present-tense voice, the story coming straight from the boy’s point of view and giving us a glimpse into his inner turmoil….In a closing author’s note, she summarizes the plight of Syrian refugees, singling out the work of the United Nations Refugee Agency. In her bio, she notes what prompted this story — reading about a boy who “took solace in a connection with wild birds at the Za’atari refugee camp” in Jordan and being struck by “the universality of a child’s relationship to animals.”

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Let’s Talk Picture Books

My Beautiful Birds, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo, sheds a light on the ongoing Syrian Refugee crisis and its effects on its children. The narrative follows a boy named Sami who is uprooted from home, leaving behind all of the birds he’d grown to love and care for. My Beautiful Birds shows the reality of refugee camps and ultimately provides hope for people in search of a new place in life….

As beautiful as the story is, the illustrations are even more so. Del Rizzo creates her illustrations from acrylic paint and polymer clay, so the texture is out of this world. With each page flip it feels like we can reach out and touch the illustrations. We can even see Del Rizzo’s fingerprints! But of course she doesn’t stop there: each illustration also features rich colors, thoughtful composition, and a keen sense of light. I would love to talk about each and every spread (and I would love to show you more of them!) but this is a book worth seeing for yourself.”

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Geo Librarian

“I think my favorite thing about this book…are the gorgeous illustrations. Using…polymer clay, and other mixed media Del Rizzo has created illustrations that really pop out at you. The story itself really touched my heart…here we have a young boy who has lost his home, his pets, pretty much his whole world, and he grieves the loss, but when new birds fly into his life, he finds a reason to rejoice despite his humble circumstances.”

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CanLit for LittleCanadians

“In My Beautiful Birds, author-illustrator Suzanne Del Rizzo offers a poignant story of a Syrian child refugee traumatized by leaving his cherished pigeons behind. It is a tale of sorrow and suffering and promise, and beautifully rendered in Suzanne Del Rizzo’s distinctive art….

The sadness and trauma in this little boy’s life is so palpable, from the family’s departure to their adjustment to the refugee camp and to the despondency that permeates Sami’s new life. Through use of colour and the texture of her art–here polymer clay with acrylics–Suzanne Del Rizzo balances the shadows of war and trauma with the bright colours of youthful exuberance and pastels of hope for a future. There’s the tumultuous skies and the ordinary days, and the anger of loss with the chirpiness of birds and children at play. I know the excellence of her art, complex in the depth of detail and its ability to evoke emotions. But Suzanne Del Rizzo has demonstrated a new depth to her writing. Perhaps it’s the tragic circumstances of the story but Suzanne Del Rizzo has put heart and hope into her words, giving breath to a staggering situation, suffusing it with some degree of optimism where there is so little. My Beautiful Birds provides a promise that all the darkness from that Syrian skyline of smoke is behind Sami and remains open to a bright sky of birds and lightness, the landscape of his future.”

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Pickle Me This

“In Suzanne Del Rizzo’s picture book, My Beautiful Birds, a young Syrian boy is forced to leave his wartorn home and make the long journey to the relative safety of a refugee camp. The story is enlivened by Del Rizzo’s plasticine illustrations with their rich purple and golden hues. Of all the things that Sami has left behind, it’s his pigeons he misses the most, the birds he fed and kept and as pets….Where he finds solace, though, is in the sky, one thing that is familiar to him, ‘wait[ing] like a loyal friend for me to remember.’ In the clouds, he sees the shapes of his birds: ‘Spiralling. Soaring. Sharing the sky.’”

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Sal’s Fiction Addiction

“…As books can do, this second release from Pajama Press today helps those who read it to see through a window into others’ experiences and to begin to understand and empathize with their journey to a new life.

Suzanne Del Rizzo imagines what it might have been like for Sami’s family. War sends them scrambling on a long trek to a refugee camp. The realities of life there are grim, especially for Sami who had to travel without his much loved pigeons….

A closing author’s note provides information for her readers concerning work being done to help refugees by the United Nations Refugee Agency. The original art was created with polymer clay and acrylic, and also includes children’s paintings on the endpapers. The inside images are colorful, textured and appealing. I found myself particularly attracted to the striking and unexpected variety in perspective. There are the dark shadows of war; there is also light-filled promise for a better future. Books like this are needed to help our students and children begin to understand the plight of refugees around the world. Heartfelt and timely, this book deserves to be shared.”

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All Booked Up Now

My Beautiful Birds written and illustrated by @suzannedelrizzo and published by @pajamapressbooks. This is a beautiful story about Sami and his family fleeing home and headed to a refugee camp….This is such a beautifully illustrated book with such a heartwarming story….Stories like these remind me how blessed I am that my children have food, clothing and shelter and don’t have to worry about adult responsibilities at such young ages. Suzanne was inspired to write this story after reading an article about a little boy who found peace with wild birds at a refugee camp in Syria….”

Read the full review on the @allbookedupnow Instagram account

Getting Kids Reading

My Beautiful Birds, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo, is a beautiful book that will help get your child reading….

This is a good book to read to your child as a bedtime story. The way language is used in the book is beautifully poetic, and even soothing….[The language use] will get your child hooked on reading, as they realize that a vivid image can be painted in their head from just a simple line or paragraph. The child won’t be able to wait until the next plot advancement or change in scenery.

…Also, this story tells a tale that could have taken hundreds of pages, and beautifully condenses it into 32 pages.

Which brings us to the stunning clay art pictures….The emotions conveyed in just the pictures alone will further strengthen the picture in your child’s mind that has been depicted by the strong descriptive vocabulary.”­
—Bennett Duncan

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