The Sunflowers Babushka Planted

Capstone. Jan. 2024. 32p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781684468768.
K-Gr 4–Tania loves being with her babushka, sharing stories and admiring the sunflowers blooming outside the window. A war comes to Ukraine when Tania is six years old, and she and her parents flee. They leave everything behind, including Babushka, who is too old to travel. After a long, uncertain time on the move, Tania and her family end up in a refugee settlement unable to return to Ukraine. The bare, gray room doesn’t feel like home to Tania, but her parents work to add homey touches to the space. When Tania’s mother paints sunflowers on the curtains that she makes out of old flour sacks, Tania finally feels a connection between her new home and the home she had with Babushka. Other than the opening words, “a long time ago,” there is nothing in the text specifying when these events occur. This is a powerful choice, allowing readers to see the chilling parallels between Ukrainian refugees, past and present. An author’s note at the end explains that Rendón was motivated to share her grandmother’s World War II refugee story after she saw media coverage of families fleeing the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The illustrations, rendered in gouache, watercolor, acrylics, and colored pencils, tether the text to its time period. Sunflowers are a symbol of hope and resilience, now and then, and an homage to Ukrainian culture and strength. The focus on Tania’s grief in losing her home and her grandmother provoke empathy, framing a compelling discussion about refugees and the immigrant experience. The ending provides hope and comfort in spite of loss.
VERDICT This timeless story of a child becoming a refugee is recommended for general purchase, particularly for libraries and schools serving growing populations of refugees and immigrants.

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