October 04, 2016

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey

by Margriet Ruurs
Artwork by Nizar Ali Badr
Orca Book Publishers
28 pp.
All ages
October 2016

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey is a very important book on so many fronts.  At face value, it recounts in memorable artwork and text the plight of refugees from Syria, Nizar Ali Badr’s home, or elsewhere, now and forever.  But beyond bringing understanding to the refugee crisis, Stepping Stones is a book of encouragement to those arriving in Canada –the book is a dual-language edition in both English and Arabic–and to those who can contribute to the cause.

This is the story told from the perspective of a young girl, Rama, who recounts life in Syria, from the rooster crowing her family (Mama, Papa, grandfather Jedo and brother Sami) awake, and a breakfast of bread, yogurt and tomatoes, and memories of play and work, school and freedom.
But that was then.And this is now. (pg. 10)
From Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey 
by Margriet Ruurs, art by Nizar Ali Badr
But their freedom is an illusion, and after war comes, there is insufficient food and the bombings, and people begin to leave.
People began to leave our village.
First a trickle, then a stream,
across dusty fields under a burning sun,
a stream driven by hope.
(pg. 14)
So too begins Rama’s family exodus, walking until reaching the sea, whereupon they “set sail on the waves of hope and prayer” (pg. 20), arriving on land where the gruelling trek begins again, until they arrive at their future, welcomed by neighbours who communicate with smiles and the sharing of clothes and food and more.
The lucky ones, they call us.
New memories, new hopes,
     new dreams.
Not of war,
but of peace.
(pg. 25)
All told in the artistry of Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning arrangements of oddly-shaped and widely-coloured stones, Stepping Stones could be the story of any refugee family: a good life bombarded by war, a demanding and emotional flight from danger, and the arrival to a new life.  Though for each family the path is a unique arrangement of steps, its bearing is always the same: safety and opportunity.  Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey reveals this route with empathy and assurance.

Margriet Ruurs provides an extensive foreward that explains the background of Stepping Stones coming to publication.  She accounts her herculean efforts to contact artist Nizar Ali Badr after viewing his wondrous artwork of stones, about convincing him and Orca Book Publishers to take on the project, and arranging for a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the books to be donated to resettlement agencies.  The task may have been as arduous as that of Sisyphus but the ultimate story of Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, both within and externally, culminates with promise and purpose, the hallmarks of a good life.
From Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey 
by Margriet Ruurs, art by Nizar Ali Badr


  1. Thank you for sharing my new book. So glad you like it. I fell in love with Nizar's art. The events from Syria could happen anywhere, anytime... I tried to make my story timeless but also full of hope. Refugee causes will benefit from the sale of each book.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Margriet. I hope everyone realizes that purchasing a copy of "Stepping Stones" helps to teach as well as support. Congratulations on the publication of this very special book.

  2. One of the best books to come out this year! There can not be praise enough. Thanks for reviewing it, Helen.

    1. I have to agree with you, Darlene. Plus, it's so unique in its artwork and dual-language (English-Arabic) presentation for Canada. A milestone book for us, I think.

  3. I will be purchasing my copy of Margriet's book, at the Vancouver Writers' Festival, since we are presenting together onstage on October 18. -- Monica K.

    1. Lucky you, Monica. You'll be able to get it signed. Enjoy the Writers' Festival!