My Beautiful Birds cover

By Suzanne Del Rizzo

My Beautiful Birds

A New York Times Notable Children’s Books selection. The moving story of one boy’s refugee experience in the Syrian Civil War and the birds who help him on the road to emotional healing

Behind Sami, the Syrian skyline is full of smoke. The boy follows his family and all his neighbours in a long line, as they trudge through the sands and hills to escape the bombs that have destroyed their homes. But all Sami can think of is his pet pigeons—will they escape too? When they reach a refugee camp and are safe at last, everyone settles into the tent city. But though the children start to play and go to school again, Sami can’t join in. When he is given paper and paint, all he can do is smear his painting with black. He can’t forget his birds and what his family has left behind.

One day a canary, a dove, and a rose finch fly into the camp. They flutter around Sami and settle on his outstretched arms. For Sami it is one step in a long healing process at last.

A gentle yet moving story of refugees of the Syrian civil war, My Beautiful Birds illuminates the ongoing crisis as it affects its children. It shows the reality of the refugee camps, where people attempt to pick up their lives and carry on. And it reveals the hope of generations of people as they struggle to redefine home.

Available In


Ages 6-10
ISBN: 978-1-77278-010-9
List Price: $22.95 CAD / $18.95 USD
Hardback with picture book & reinforced binding & with printed dust jacket
Trim Size: 8.00 x 10.00 inches / 20.32 x 25.4cm
Pages: 32

Distributed in Canada by University of Toronto Press

Distributed in the U.S. by Ingram Publisher Services

Carton Quantity: 38

Paperback / softback

Ages 6-10
ISBN: 9781772781212
List Price: $16.95 CAD / $13.95 USD
Paperback / softback
Trim Size: 8.00 x 10.00 inches / 20.32 x 25.4cm
Pages: 32

Publication date: March 31, 2020

Distributed in Canada by University of Toronto Press

Distributed in the U.S. by Ingram Publisher Services

Carton Quantity: 80

About this book

Awards and Honours

  • 2017 New York Times Notable Children's Books selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2017 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children's Literature (Winner) (United States)
  • 2018 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award (Winner) (Canada)
  • 2017 One Book for Kids, One San Diego selection (Winner) (United States)
  • 2018 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award finalist (Short-listed) (Canada)
  • 2017 Foreword INDIES Award: Picture Books (Short-listed) (United States)
  • 2018 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award (Short-listed) (United States)
  • 2017 Middle East Book Award: Picture Books Honour Book (Runner-up) (United States)
  • 2017 Cybils Award: Fiction Picture Book (Long-listed) (United States)
  • 2017 Quill & Quire's "2017 Books of the Year" selection (Commended) (Canada)
  • 2017 New York Public Library's "The Best Picture Books for Kids of 2017" selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2018 Notable Books for a Global Society selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2017 UNICEF USAVoice "The Perfect Gifts for the Holidays: Books That Inspire" selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2018 Canadian School Libraries Journal "Resource Links Highlights: Refugees and Immigrants" selection (Commended) (Canada)
  • 2018 Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection (Commended) (Canada)
  • 2018 School Library Journal Blog The Classroom Bookshelf: "Global Literature to Teach Global Understanding" selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2017 Stacked Books "Monthly Giving: International Refugee Assistance Project" selection (Commended) (Canada)
  • 2017 School Library Journal blogger Betsy Bird's "2017 Picture Books" selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2017 School Library Journal blogger Betsy Bird's "2017 Books with a Message" selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2017 New England Children's Booksellers Advisory Council Windows & Mirrors Fall 2017 selection (Commended) (United States)
  • 2017 Junior Library Guild selection (Commended) (United States)


About My Beautiful Birds

2017 New York Times Notable Children’s Books selection

2017 Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children’s Literature Winner

2018 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Canada Winner

2017 One Book for Kids, One San Diego selection

2018 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award finalist

2018 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award shortlist

2018 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award nominee

2017 Middle East Book Award: Picture Books Honor Book

2017 Foreword INDIES: Picture Books finalist

2017 Cybils Award: Fiction Picture Book nominee

2017 New York Public Library’s Best Books for Kids & Teens selection

2017 Stacked Books “Monthly Giving: International Refugee Assistance Project” selection

2018 Notable Books for a Global Society selection

2018 Canadian School Libraries Journal: “Resource Links Highlights: Refugees and Immigrants” selection

2018 School Library Journal blog The Classroom Bookshelf: “Global Literature to Teacher Global Understanding” selection

2018 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection

2017 New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council Windows & Mirrors Fall selection

2017 UNICEF USAVoice “The Perfect Gift for the Holidays: Books That Inspire” selection

2017 School Library Journal blogger Betsy Bird’s “The Refugee Children’s Books of 2017 and an Ode to The Arrival” selection

2017 Quill & Quire “Books of the Year” selection

2017 Junior Library Guild selection

“If you’ve been wondering how to present the refugee crisis to children without losing faith in humanity, take a look at this graceful, even uplifting book.”—The New York Times

“[T]his story draws attention to an important world issue without subjecting young readers to its harshest realities.”—Booklist

“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.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“Exquisite dimensional illustrations…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.”—School Library Journal

“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.”—Kirkus Reviews

“STARRED REVIEW Del Rizzo…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….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.”—Quill & Quire Starred Review

“Illustrations in polymer clay and acrylic paint show Sami’s slow transition into in his new life. The author’s note provides context about the Syrian war and information about the refugee camps.”—ILA Literacy Daily, “Stories of Young Immigrants and Refugees”

“It’s unusual to find stories about the Syrian civil war geared to picture book readers; but young audiences with adult assistance will find this an excellent introduction of the experience of refugees through the eyes of a young boy who dreams for something better.”—Midwest Book Review

“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….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.”—Youth Services Book Review

“This is a gorgeous book that had me in tears…VERDICT: This is a must for all public and school libraries. The refugee situation will only get worse with time, and we need to educate ourselves and our kids about it.”—Oregon Coast Youth Book Preview Center

“While there is a contrast in the book’s beauty and the grim situation of these families, the story realistically portrays the boy’s struggle with his loss and offers many points of connection and discussion for young readers…Art is a key element in the telling of this story…This rich illustrative setting contextualizes the role of art in the story as a means of disclosing the inward struggles of the child…”—Worlds of Words

“The outstanding artwork, along with the multi-faceted themes, would give older elementary readers much to discuss and explore. Because of its timely content and poignant illustrations, My Beautiful Birds is a worthwhile purchase for home, school, and public libraries.”—CM Magazine

“With its elegant prose and beautiful clay illustrations, this book tells a timely story through the voice of a Syrian refugee….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.”—Resource Links Magazine

“Suzanne Del Rizzo weaves the story together beautifully with the help of her own illustrations…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.”—Canadian Children’s Book News

“My Beautiful Birds…sheds a light on the ongoing Syrian Refugee crisis and its effects on its children….[It] 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….I would love to talk about each and every spread but this is a book worth seeing for yourself.”—Let’s Talk Picture Books

“Rendered in bright and textured polymer clay and acrylic, [My Beautiful Birds] is 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.”—Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

“Beautifully written, and illustrated using polymer clay and acrylic, this picture book serves as a tribute to all those families who have had to venture out into the unknown when their homes have been taken from them.”—Through the Looking Glass

“Rich, textured illustrations fashioned from Plasticene, polymer clay, and other mixed media complement this moving story of one young refugee’s experience in the Syrian civil war.”—Omnilibros

“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….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.”—CanLit for LittleCanadians

“My Beautiful Birds is a beautiful book. Stunning artwork adds colour and depth to the story of a small boy in a refugee camp who sees kindness all around him and passes the kindness on. Children will take away from the story the joy that kindness brings to the giver and the receiver, and will want to pass it on to all creatures, great and small.”—Deborah Ellis, author of The Breadwinner

“A gentle yet moving story of refugees of the Syrian civil war, My Beautiful Birds illuminates the ongoing crisis as it affects its children.”—49th Shelf

“Suzanne Del Rizzo has created a gorgeously layered and textured vision of a refugee camp in Syria based on a true story….Politics and worldviews are conspicuously absent, as Del Rizzo’s incredibly detailed paint, Plasticine and polymer clay illustrations make Sami and the camp come to life….A must for every school library.”—ASLC Litpicks

“[My Beautiful Birds] 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.'”—Pickle Me This

“My son and I both loved this story and the dimensional illustrations that the author created through Plasticine, polymer clay and other mixed media….Every page was a delight to explore. Truly a work of art….Although this is a story about war, it is hopeful and uplifting. It helps young ones to understand what is happening in our world and how we all have the same needs.”—Laura Fabiani, Library of Clean Reads

“This talented Canadian author has produced a sensitive, moving account of what life is like in traumatic, emotionally-wrenching events experienced by so many people. I highly recommend My Beautiful Birds.”—Sandra Olshaski, Library of Clean Reads

“A personal story about a contemporary crisis that gives readers a child narrator they can relate to. The illustrations, created from polymer clay, are unique and eye-catching. This would make a great introduction to a discussion of Syria and refugees.”—A Kids Book a Day

“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.”—All Booked Up Now

“[A] beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated book…Del Rizzo’s illustrations are the perfect compliments to the story. While they are detailed enough to convey emotion well, because they appear as theatrical vignettes, they provide some distance for the reader from a story which tackles a difficult subject.”—Wander, Ponder, Write

“[A] great way to introduce or deepen an understanding of the refugee experience at the primary level. Some important aspects of this story for me were the strong sense of community through community members helping each other and the subtle hint of friendship…”—That’s Another Story

“I am fond of using a euphemism for ‘leaping off the page’ when it comes to talking about art in children’s books, but that is such pale terminology for what this book offers….Sammi’s fears and hopes have been rendered in infinite detail with this beautifully textured sculpted art….In addition to being a wonderful story, this book can also be a tool to explain to little ones about the war and the people it affects. It is told in a way that is completely accessible to kids and adults alike.”—I Read Kids’ Books Journal

“[M]y favorite thing about this book though 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…he finds a reason to rejoice despite his humble circumstances.”—Geo Librarian

“Del Rizzo’s exquisite polymer clay illustrations add depth and a life-like dimension to Sami’s story….I appreciated that the author focused on the refugee crisis that is affecting the most innocent and vulnerable, children. She doesn’t address political themes in the book, but focuses on the humanity of the situation for children displaced from their homes in Syria….[A]n excellent addition to any school library. It is age-appropriate and an introductory story about children who are displaced because of war or natural disasters.”—Children’s Books Heal

“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.”—Sal’s Fiction Addiction

“Based on the experiences of a young boy in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, this glimpse of the overarching as well as deeply personal, individual losses for refugee children is poignant but not too heavy. Colorful, clay-sculpted illustrations create friendly, engaging visuals as well.”—Orange Marmalade

“This refugee experience, written from the unique perspective of a small boy, is both fascinating and heart-breaking….This book is relevant and lovely, and is an excellent book to teach children about being a refugee.”—The Crimson Review of Children’s and YA Literature

“The way language is used in the book is beautifully poetic, and even soothing….[It] 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.”—Getting Kids Reading

“A moving story of Syrian refugees, the reality of refugee camps, and the hope of generations of people as they redefine home.”—Mai Story Book Library

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