November 17, 2023

If You See a Bluebird

Written by Bahram Rahman
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
October 2023
When families are displaced, whether from war, natural disasters, persecution, or something else, making a new home is not always easy, especially for children. And the good memories of that original home may make one long for what once was. But home is not just a place. It is the family too, as an Afghan boy learns from his grandmother and a visiting bluebird.
From If You See a Bluebird, written by Bahram Rahman, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Ali and his parents and Nana had to flee Kabul, Afghanistan after war broke out. They travelled by foot, bus, and eventually escaped via plane, taking very little from their home. Now, in Canada, they live near an ocean, and Ali and Nana ride bikes to collect blackberries. But Ali misses Kabul, noting that the blackberries are not as deliciously sweet as the mulberries back home. Nana points out to him that though they are different they are not bad.
From If You See a Bluebird, written by Bahram Rahman, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
When they take a break from their berry-picking, they see a bluebird, and Nana reminds him that if you see a bluebird and make a wish before it flies away, your wish will come true. Her wish, for their family to be together and safe, had already come true. But his wish is for the fighting to stop in Kabul so that they might return home. It is then that Nana reminds him that home "is the love we have for each other."
It would be tough for a child to give up the familiar and the sweetness of his life in Kabul, with his mother playing her ghichak, his toys on a swing, gathering mulberries, and sitting on the tree's branch to look out over his neighbourhood. But,when he is reminded by his Nana of what home really is, he sees his new situation in a different light. There are now blackberries, his mother has a new instrument, spruce trees line the driveway, and they are safe. He finally appreciates this, shouting out to his parents when they arrive back that, "I am home!"

Bahram Rahman, himself a refugee from Afghanistan, gives us a different perspective of war and escape from war and adjustment to a new living situation in If You See a Bluebird. He has already shared stories in The Library Bus (2020) and A Sky-Blue Bench (2021) but in his latest picture book story, Bahram Rahman demonstrates that escape from a dangerous conflict does not always translate into a rejection of that insecurity. Because there has been loss, of place, people, objects and connection, the substitution of a new home in safety is not necessarily embraced immediately or wholeheartedly. So, Bahram Rahman shows us that a little boy can miss the wonderful things he remembers of his Afghan home but learn to lean towards something different and new that is nonetheless home.
From If You See a Bluebird, written by Bahram Rahman, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Gabrielle Grimard, who also illustrated The Library Bus, has such a sensitive touch for making us feel Ali's hesitation at embracing the new place as home, holding such strong positive memories of Kabul. She gives us the bleakness of the danger when the soldiers come and the family flees but Gabrielle Grimard brings in the birghtness and colour when Ali and his family are safe and happy, whether in a Kabul without war or in Canada.

If You See a Bluebird offers the hope one needs when going through change and especially when challenged with hardships. It's a reminder that with love and family, all can be endured. And making a wish when a bluebird lingers might just help as well.

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