Flying Over Water

flying over water

N.H. Senzai and Shannon Hitchcock expertly craft the intersection of the lives of two girls-one, a Muslim fleeing civil war, the other, an American from the South-as they are forced to examine their beliefs and the true meaning of friendship in the midst of the president's 2017 Muslim ban.

Twelve-year-old Noura Alwan's family is granted asylum in the United States, after spending two years in a Turkish refugee camp, having fled war-torn Aleppo. They land in Tampa, Florida, on January 30, 2017, just days after the president restricted entry into the US from nations with a Muslim majority population.

Twelve-year-old Jordyn Johnson is a record-breaking swimmer, but hasn't swum well since her mom had a miscarriage during one of her meets. Her family has volunteered to help the Alwan family through their church. She knows very few people of Arab descent or who practice Islam.

The girls' lives intersect at Bayshore Middle School where Jordyn serves as the Alwan children's school ambassador. Noura knows that her family is safe from the civil unrest in her home country, but is not prepared for the adversity she now faces on American soil. Jordyn is sympathetic to Noura's situation, but there are other members of their Florida community who see the refugees' presence to be a threat to their way of life.While the president's Muslim ban tests the resolve and faith of many, it is friendship that stands strong against fear and hatred.

Award winners N.H. Senzai and Shannon Hitchcock have combined their talents to craft a heartrending Own Voices story told in dual perspectives.

272 pages 978-1-338-61766-5 Ages 8-12

Keywords: diversity, diverse books, Muslim, faith, friends, friendship, fear, refugees, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, acceptance, accepting others, multicultural, prejudice, stereotypes, Islamophobia, discrimination


“Life can be bright in America

If you can fight in America

Life is all right in America

If you’re all-white in America”

-- from West Side Story (1961)

“Friday, January 27, 2017: President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that banned foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the country for 90 days, suspended entry to the country of all Syrian refugees indefinitely, and prohibited any other refugees from coming into the country for 120 days…

Sunday, January 29, 2017: A federal judge in New York granted the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for a nationwide temporary injunction blocking the deportation of all people stranded in U.S. airports under President Trump’s new Muslim ban…

Thursday, February 9, 2017: Appeals Court refused to reinstate Trump’s Muslim ban…

Monday, March 6, 2017: Trump signs new Executive Order…

Sunday, September 24, 2017: President Trump signed the third version of his Muslim ban…

Thursday, June 26, 2018: In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration’s third Muslim ban...”

-- from ACLU Washington, “Timeline of the Muslim Ban”

NOURA January 30, 2017

“As we reached the doors, the rumble of engines increased. But it wasn’t the cars I saw, but a crowd of people standing outside. The noise was coming from them...shouting, yelling, and chanting.

What’s going on? I thought, inching closer to Ammar as we slipped through the doors. Dozens of people congregated outside, chanting and carrying signs I couldn’t understand. One read, KEEP YOUR ORANGE HANDS OFF OUR CONSTITUTION! and another, NO BAN, NO WALL.

‘Baba, what is happening?’ I asked.

Before he could answer me, a harried young man in a dark suit pressed his business card into Amani’s hand ‘I’m a lawyer. Did they have trouble getting through immigration?’

‘No.’ She shook her head. They were lucky.’

‘Call us if there are any problems.’ he said. ‘Lots of refugees are stranded in airports all across the country.

‘Why would we have problems?’ I asked Ammar, feeling my stomach churn.

‘They don’t want us here,’ he growled.

Don’t want us here? But we’d traveled thousands of miles to be here. If they didn’t want us, where would we go? Back home? Memories clashed in my mind...of buildings reduced to rubble, the boom of explosions, wailing sirens, children crying. We can’t go back there! A sharp pain snapped me back from the past as I pinched the soft skin near my wrist.”

JORDYN January 30, 2017

“The pain in Mom’s eyes had caused a flood of horrible memories about the best/worst day of my life. I had been chasing my dream to set a new state record for eleven-/twelve-year-olds in the 100 fly.

Once I dove into the pool, I was aware of only one thing--being first to the wall. My body moved in a wavelike motion--I was Ariel without the tail. I attacked the water with my arms, while my kicks propelled me faster than ever before. I felt invincible that day.

When I came up for air, Coach B was jumping around like Tigger--her short, spiked hair stood on end. Nobody had to tell me I’d set a new state record. I could feel it. My eyes scanned the bleachers for my parents. I knew they would be as excited as I was, but I didn’t see them. I searched the bleachers a second time. And a third. My parents would never leave such an important meet without telling me. Never. There had to be an emergency. I was shaking even before my friend Lea’s dad explained something terrible had happened. Something that was even more life-changing than my name on the scoreboard: JORDYN JOHNSON 56.49.

While I was breaking a state record, Mom had a miscarriage. I haven’t swum well since, and I don’t know how to fix my swimming--or my mom.”

This pair of troubled tween girls, raised on opposite ends of the planet, will come to know and support one another through their respective struggles. They meet when Jordyn Johnson is assigned to be Noura’s seventh-grade student ambassador at Tampa’s Bayshore Middle School.

Noura Alwan, her twin brother Ammar, and their parents are among the last to gain entry as the initial Muslim ban, issued by newly-inagurated President Trump, goes into effect. But they will suffer the hostility stirred up by his verbal attacks and executive orders targeting any and all of the Muslim faith.

Noura’s father had managed an award-winning hotel in Aleppo before the city was destroyed in the Syrian civil war. Since the destruction of the hotel, the Alwan family has spent years in a jam-packed Turkish refugee camp before finally gaining permission to immigrate to the United States. Now her father is going to be a busboy in an American hotel.

Bullying in middle school is bad enough for an ordinary kid. But adding a hijab and the prejudice driven by the foul-mouthed President makes Noura a visible target.

Meanwhile, Jordyn has started having panic attacks.

Noura and Ammar initially struggle to find a safe place at school to pray during lunch break. Thankfully, the school principal is a good guy who locates an unused equipment room they can use, as long as it is equally available to all students who want to use it.

This equipment room becomes central to the story. Transformation of the room by young adherents of various beliefs, as well as students just seeking a sanctuary, makes for community building and friendships. When the room is desecrated by anonymous vandals, it leads to positive student activism.

Narrated in alternating chapters by the two seventh grade girls, FLYING OVER WATER is a powerful, uplifting, and eye-opening tale. In addition to Trump, a number of other real people and events from the Spring of 2017 are part of the story. I highly recommend it for 9-14 year olds.

I hope that this dark chapter in American history is drawing to a close...

Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA

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