A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return

Overview

When Zeina was born, the civil war in Lebanon had been going on for six years, so it's just a normal part of life for her and her parents and little brother. The city of Beirut is cut in two, separated by bricks and sandbags and threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians, and West Beirut is for Muslims. When Zeina's parents don't return one afternoon from a visit to the other half of the city and the bombing grows ever closer, the neighbors in her apartment house create a world indoors for ...

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Overview

When Zeina was born, the civil war in Lebanon had been going on for six years, so it's just a normal part of life for her and her parents and little brother. The city of Beirut is cut in two, separated by bricks and sandbags and threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians, and West Beirut is for Muslims. When Zeina's parents don't return one afternoon from a visit to the other half of the city and the bombing grows ever closer, the neighbors in her apartment house create a world indoors for Zeina and her brother where it's comfy and safe, where they can share cooking lessons and games and gossip. Together they try to make it through a dramatic day in the one place they hoped they would always be safe—home.

A 2013 Batchelder Honor Book

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Raina Sedore
In war-torn Beirut, two children await the return of their parents, who left earlier in the day to visit the kids' grandmother in an adjacent neighborhood. Set in 1984 and based on the life story of the author, this story feels like a more concise relative of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. The tale takes place almost completely during one night. We learn about Lebanon and the conflict there through the stories of the children's neighbors, who gather in the family apartment as shells blast the streets outside. Physically, Abirached's illustrations look a lot like Satrapi's black and white blocky style. Abirached adds value by integrating several maps and the odd photograph which help provide context for the reader who might not be intimately familiar with this often overlooked country and its history. Giving the story the framework of this one night and the parade of neighbors works well as a way of getting to the meat of how it feels to live inside a conflict-ridden zone. A valuable selection for any library. Reviewer: Raina Sedore
VOYA - Pam Carlson
In the dangerous city of Beirut, Zeina and her little brother spend a tense evening waiting for their parents to return from their grandmother’s house. Neighbors gather to care for them. One prepares dinner while another entertains them with a reading from Cyrano de Bergerac. They have all become accustomed to the almost daily bombing. Zeina includes a map of the “safe” route they have developed to avoid snipers on the way to the store or to visit friends and relatives. As the hours pass, the adults try to carry on normal conversations--“Should I change my son’s name when we move to Canada?” “Here are my wedding pictures.” At last, the parents return, but the celebration is cut short by a bombing. Soon afterward, the close-knit community of neighbors is forced to abandon their building. Author/illustrator Abirached has created stylized black-and-white drawings to retell the emotional true story based on her own grandmother’s life in Lebanon. Teens may not be drawn to it, but teachers might find it useful in current event discussions. Ages 15 to 18.
Kirkus Reviews
A stark look at the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s, as seen through the eyes of a child anxiously awaiting her parents' arrival from her grandmother's house on the other side of the demarcation line. With shells and gunfire delivering staccato bursts of violence, young Zeina and her brother have been sequestered within the small foyer in their apartment. This tiny room offers the most protection from the constant artillery fire, and it becomes a place for neighbors in the building to congregate and seek asylum. Though war is raging and death always seems to loom near with shells falling and snipers possibly crouching behind every wall, Zeina and her neighbors try to live the best they can—making cakes, acting out scenes from Cyrano de Bergerac and drinking strong Turkish coffee. Through austere black-and-white illustrations (with a detectable influence from Persepolis' Marjane Satrapi), Abirached easily conveys the overarching sense of unease and how something as simple as a visit to grandma's can inspire fear. Abirached's readers will instantly empathize with those who do not readily have access to simple luxuries many take for granted—running water, electricity or the simple return of our loved ones from an outing—and this may perhaps spur them to re-examine what they may have otherwise overlooked. Quietly mesmerizing and thought-provoking. (Graphic memoir. 12 & up)
The New York Times - Pamela Paul
The book's strengths are myriad. Abirached is a lovely artist, and her characters' faces are remarkably expressive. There is much humor, a welcome relief from the chaos and heartache of the human stories within. For young readers, A Game for Swallows will come as a revelation…a story that will hit home even as it causes young, impressionable eyes to look at life abroad.
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up—Zeina and her younger brother are growing up in Beirut, where civil war is a part of daily life. To protect against strikes and sniper fire, the family's living space has been reduced to the relative security of their apartment foyer, where a rug hanging on the wall, depicting Moses and the Hebrews fleeing Egypt, figures predominantly as a story background. This account chronicles one day in their lives, as the siblings await their parents' return and neighbors come and spend time with them, building an island of sanctuary for the children during this time of uncertainty. Bold, graphic, black-and-white images are visually and emotionally striking. Excellent use of maps and diagrams provides reference points and enhances understanding of spatial relationships. Unique panel placement includes several sequences of horizontal strips, read as columns. Images portray elapsed time, such as repeated smoking and countdown panels, and control pacing while revealing mounting tension. Excruciating wait time is depicted with cumulative "tic" and "toc" filling successive panels. Circular images of an embracing family contrast with the stark linear images of a war-torn country. Warmth and humor of daily life is shown in baking and storytelling, and wedding-dress close-ups touchingly highlight a mother's worry over soiling the hem, masking her worry over sniper fire. This superb memoir is destined to become a classic.—Babara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761385684
  • Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/1/2012
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 188
  • Sales rank: 1,017,682
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: GN680L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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