Hamzat’s Journey: A Refugee Diary
written by Anthony Robinson, illustrated by June Allan
(Frances Lincoln, 2009)
Hamzat’s Journey is the third book in Frances Lincoln’s Refugee Diary series of true stories about refugee children who have escaped war and its consequences in their own country and made the difficult journey to the UK. The first in the series,Gervelie’s Journey, was included on USBBY’s Outstanding International Books List for 2009.
Hamzat was born in Chechnya in 1993, a time of conflict between Chechens and Russians. He remembers being afraid and hungry a lot of the time. Then, in April 2001, Hamzat stepped on a landmine. He lost a foot and had to have his leg amputated below the knee. A few months after being allowed home, Hamzat had an artificial leg fitted but it wasn’t very comfortable so he was delighted when the opportunity came up to travel to England for a “new, better” leg – thanks to a non-profit called Ccharm (Children of Chechnya Action Relief Mission).
After six months of treatment (there’s a great photo of Hamzat with his new leg), to Hamzat’s surprise his father applied for asylum for them both, which they were granted in 2005. In the UK, Hamzat learned English, started at a new school, and made friends; and, eventually, the rest of his family joined him and his father. Hamzat ends his story looking into the future, wondering where his home will be now that the situation in his home country is stable again. His positive, upbeat attitude emerges very clearly in the narrative, and it is uplifting to find out that he now particularly enjoys playing basketball.
Hamzat’s Journey may well provide the first encounter of young readers (not to mention adults) with a child’s personal account of the consequences of a landmine explosion. This gives an added dimension to this particular Refugee Diary – especially when we find out that Hamzat’s friends were both killed that day, and we also read about another boy, Islam, whom Hamzat meets through Ccharm.
The combination of photographs and June Allan’s fine illustrations conveys the emotions of the story well and provides plenty of visual background detail. Hamzat’s story is further contextualised by the inclusion of maps at the beginning of the book and the factual information that appears at the end. Hamzat’s Journey is a welcome addition to the Refugee Diary series, which, as a whole, is an excellent way for young people to find out what it means to be a refugee.
Read my Q&A with illlustrator June Allan and view a Gallery of her work here, from the PaperTigers.org’s archive.
Read a review of two more books in the series, Mohammed’s Journey and Gervalie’s Journey.