As far as I know, this book hasn’t been banned. Rather the opposite, so far: it was nominated for a National Book Award, and has won some other, more specific awards. But the week I read it acclaimed graphic-novelist-for-kids Jerry Craft was banned from a Dallas-area school for “critical race theory” , so I’m calling it now: the Usual Suspects will be protesting this book, too, since it makes their little Kaydens and Buddies either “get lib’rul ideas” or whine that their teachers are being mean to them, depending on how stupid and/or indoctrinated any individual Kayden or Buddy is.
That may seem to have nothing to do with the book, but it’s not. Culture wars have no boundaries: they range through all of culture. Culture is what we live in. And the white supremacists are waging a very clear cultural war, with loud “will not replace us” messaging on national TV, aimed at people exactly like the co-author of this book.
When Stars Are Scattered is a book every Kayden and Buddy should read. As young as possible: maybe when they’re about seven, like Omar is at the beginning of this book. They should think about how they would live if they were refugees in a foreign country, with one parent dead and the other possibly lost forever. They should think about other kids: in their classes, in other parts of America, around the world. They should wonder what those kids are going through.
(To quote a song I’ve been listening to a lot lately, “if you think you’re at your limit, just remember what some folks survive .”)
This is a true story, more or less. From the afterwords by Omar Mohamed (who lived it, and shaped it into a story) and Victoria Jamieson (who turned the story into a script and the script into drawn pages), I think some characters are composites or somewhat fictional. But Omar is real. His brother Hassan, who can only say the word “Hooyo,” is real. The refugee camp Dadaab in Kenya, where hundreds of thousands have lived for up to three decades now, is real. And the civil war in Somalia, which is still going on, is real.
Omar was about four and his brother just a baby when they left Somalia. What happened that day isn’t revealed until late in this graphic novel, but I will tell you it opens three years later, with the two boys taking every chance they can get to look at new arrivals, hoping they will see their mother.
Scattered is mostly about life in the camp, and how Omar grows up there. It’s a grinding life: not enough food, very little to do, no clear possible escape. The dream of every refugee is to get out – some, like Omar, dream of going back to their lives before the war, but we get the sense that’s mostly children. Adults know that can never happen. The other dream is to get out: to be allowed to settle in some faraway country, Canada or America or somewhere in Europe. Only a few can get one of those slots: it’s a long process, full of paperwork and interviews, and there’s an element of competition to it.
And is your family situation worse than the others around you? Have you suffered more than them? Are you more worthy of being resettled somewhere overseas because of what you’ve been through?
And what does it do to a person and a society to have to think like that, to tell your story through that lens to UN interviewers?
Omar makes it through that world. This is a book for children; it has a happy ending. Omar is telling us this story, because he did make it out to America, and made the life he wanted. More than that, his adult life is devoted to helping other refugees, both the ones who made it to America and the ones back in Dadaab. It’s a good life, a life worth celebrating and spotlighting. I’m glad he and Jamieson were able to tell his story so cleanly and clearly, to an audience that needs to hear it.
And so, again, I want to see When Stars Are Scattered in every elementary school across the country. Especially the ones without people named “Omar,” or people who look like Omar Mohamed. That’s the way compassion and honesty wins the cultural wars: through true stories of different people, presented to an audience young enough to learn lessons of compassion and honesty.
 In case you don’t know, actual CRT is a graduate-level discipline, originated in law schools and also taught at the graduate level, to graduate students, in graduate schools of other kinds. It aims to untangle racial biases in things like historical criminal sentences.
It is in no way identical to “teaching white kids that kids of other races are also real people who you need to respect.” The latter should be base-level standard, but it’s what “conservative” parents are actually protesting, as seen in a telling quote from Connecticut, also this week: “helping kids of color to feel they belong has a negative effect on white, Christian, or conservative kids .”