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No Ballet Shoes in Syria

No Ballet Shoes in Syria

Catherine Bruton
Nosy Crow Ltd
ISBN: 9781788004503

In a community centre in a run down area of Manchester where 'Manchester welcomes refugees', 11-year-old Aya sits day after day, hour after hour, to see the case worker who can hopefully help them to claim asylum. Her mother speaks little English and is withdrawn and poorly. Around her is a hotchpotch of similar stories, families split, lives lost, broken English, all desperately wanting to feel safe and have somewhere to call home. Her life in Syria, Aleppo all but a distant memory, at times a recurring nightmare.

On hearing the familiar bars of ballet music playing, Aya's memories are stirred to her dancing classes back home - before. That moment of observing Aya 'losing herself' in the music sparks memories for ballet mistress, Miss Helena, too. Can this budding ballerina find her place or will 'paper work' and ignorance prevent her from staying?

This is a beautiful story of hope, belief and community spirit against the obstacles of ignorance, prejudice and a minefield of rules and regulations. Catherine Bruton creates a wonderful mix of emotions through Aya; her hopes, her frustrations, her sadness, her fears. By carefully unravelling the plight of one family of refugees, we see the reasons for leaving, the dangerous journey, the loss, the difficulties faced (en route and in situ); interleaved with the hopes and wishes of a young girl, the need to belong, the desires to be accepted, the injustice faced. This story takes the reader on an emotional journey. The pureness of Aya's voice is heart-wrenchingly honest and so utterly captivating.

In the classroom I would use it to help children learn about refugees and asylum seekers in present day situations but also throughout history. It is a masterclass in the dynamics of communities: friendship and trust verses ignorance, mistrust and persecution. In English it provides a fine example of emotive writing and use of flashbacks.

272 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Donna Burket, school librarian


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