Saving Stella: A Dog’s Dramatic Escape from War

Bloomsbury. Nov. 2020. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781547601332.
Gr 3-5–This picture book, centering on cellist Bassel and his dog Stella, depicts a harrowing journey disguised as a sweet animal survivor story. When war came to Bassel and Stella’s town of Damascus, Syria, Bassel made the difficult decision to leave. He couldn’t take Stella with him, so he decided to leave her behind. He crossed the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy with other refugees. Once he reached land, he was held in a refugee camp. Two months later, he left and found safety in Belgium. Bassel worked with friends to bring Stella to him. Stella’s journey was just as distressing as Bassel’s, but with the help of many generous people, she traveled to Belgium and was reunited with her owner. The picture book format makes the narrative accessible for younger readers, while the note from Bassel and background information about Syria enhance the knowledge of older readers. Kaadan’s soft illustrations do not shy away from the harsh reality of life in Syria or the pair’s journey. However, the illustrations are not graphic or violent; they are mostly childlike and bright. Kaadan, who was born in France, lived in Syria until she was 27. In an illustrator’s note, she shares how the destruction of Damascus led to the darker aspects of her art.
VERDICT A good introduction to weightier topics such as refugees or the Syrian civil war.

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