cover image Sea Prayer

Sea Prayer

Khaled Hosseini, illus. by Dan Williams. Riverhead, $15 (48p) ISBN 978-0-525-53909-4

Hosseini (The Kite Runner) says he was compelled to write about the refugee crisis after seeing the photograph of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian who drowned off the coast of Turkey in 2015. Yet Hosseini’s story, aimed at readers of all ages, does not dwell on nightmarish fates; instead, its emotional power flows from the love of a father for his son. Written as a letter, the father begins slowly, recalling for his son, Marwan, the beauty of the Syrian town of Homs as it once was (“We woke in the mornings/ to the stirring of olive trees in the breeze”), then describing the war that destroyed it (“First came the protests./ Then the siege”). Now Marwan and his family sit on a beach, waiting for a boat. The father reassures Marwan: “Hold my hand./ Nothing bad will happen.” Inside, though, he is in turmoil: “These are only words... all I can think tonight is/ how deep the sea,/ and how vast, how indifferent.” In Williams’s loosely stroked ink-and-wash spreads, the corals and greens of the Syrian countryside give way to war’s gray shadows and the sea’s blue hues. Expansive views of sky and water both temper the text’s emotional build and render the figures in them small and fragile. Together, the evocative illustrations and graceful, compelling prose make it clear that Marwan and his parents have no choice but to trust the sea. Ages 7–up. (Sept.)