This post is also available in: العربية

There is strong international interest in the life story of Omar Mohamed, a Somalian refugee who spent 15 years at Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and describes his experiences in a graphic novel recently published by Penguin Young Readers US.

When Stars are Scattered is co-written by Mohamed and the award-winning children’s illustrator Victoria Jamieson who has also illustrated the new book.  It has already sold to the UK (Faber), Japan (Godo Shuppan) and Spain (Ediciones Maeva).  At the time of writing Arabic rights are still available.

The book tells the story of Mohamed’s own life.  ‘Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya,’ Penguin says.  ‘Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, his only remaining family member, every day….Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humour exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting….It’s an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee

Although the book does not shy away from the grim realities of life in a refugee camp – the hunger, the endless waiting, the grief of children, who, like Mohamed, lost their mothers in their escape from war – Mohamed also points to the new ‘family’ they are given: the UN social workers who care about them, the foster mother who looks after his brother when Mohamed goes to school.  Mohamed told the New York Times: . “In a refugee camp, you are always reminded of the things you have lost.  It is a valiant and agonizing struggle to focus not on what you have lost… but on what you have been given.”

Faber editorial director Alice Swan secured UK and Commonwealth rights from Kim Ryan at Penguin Young Readers US.  Swan said: “The reader response to this has been extraordinary. The recipient of numerous starred reviews in the US, this incredible true story of two boys and their time in a Kenyan refugee camp will engage young readers with its everyday stories of friendship, school, football games and meal times, whilst encouraging them to imagine these things in the extreme camp setting. A beautiful, deeply moving and personal graphic novel that will inspire empathy and compassion. Unmissable.

Mohamed is now a US citizen and runs Refugee Strong, a non-profit organization based in Philadelphia and committed to ‘empowering refugee communities by providing support and hope through education’.  He says:  “Through reading my story, I hope readers gain an understanding of why no one would ever want to leave their country unless circumstances forced them to leave. I also hope When Stars Are Scattered shows how one kind action can have such a huge influence in another’s life.”