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A Search for Identity and Home in Boy, Everywhere

Boy, Everywhere

Written by A. M. Dassu

Published by Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2021

ISBN # 978-1-64379-196-8

Grades 3 and up

Book Review

Despite a civil war raging across Syria, 13-year old Sami has always believed that his home city of Damascus is safe.  Like many tweens around the world, Sami’s days are filled with video games, sports tryouts, and friends. All of that changes when news of a bombing at a local shopping mall brings the war into Sami’s home and upends Sami’s life overnight. To escape the dangers and help his younger sister Sara heal from the trauma of the bombing, Sami’s family must leave everyone and everything they know and flee to England. Once they arrive, they are separated from one another and forced into refugee detention camps that are not nearly the haven at the end of a perilous journey that they expected. Even after their release, they must navigate a new land and culture in which even fellow Syrians shun them because of their refugee status, highlighting the differences in perceptions about immigrants and refugees. Author A. M. Dassu provides a heart rending and riveting portrayal of a young refugee’s attempts to survive in all ways possible and to hold on to any sense of identity he can. An author’s note details Dassu’s meticulous research and her own emotional journey in penning this novel. A remarkable middle grade novel that chronicles the refugee experience beyond the physical journey itself, Boy, Everywhere is not just a valuable addition to social studies and ELA units, but a gripping text for independent, small group, and whole class reading as well.

Author A. M. Dassu reads aloud from Boy, Everywhere:


Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!

Grades 3 and up

Reading about Refugee Experiences. Seek the help of your school or local librarian to construct a text set that spotlights the experiences of various refugees. Share these books with students to compare and contrast the characters and the crises that precipitate their flight from home. In what ways are the protagonists similar or different from each other? What about the crises that made them leave home? What about their experiences during their migration and in a new land? Some novels you might include are Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga; The Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani; Refugee, by Alan Gratz; Without Refuge, by Jane Mitchell; The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney; and Escape from Aleppo, by N. H. Senzai, and A Land of Permanent Goodbyes, by Atia Abawi, both of which also focus on the Syrian refugee crisis. Picturebooks that also deal sensitively with refugee experiences are listed below in Further Explorations, and you can also visit our Classroom Bookshelf entry on “Love in Action: Children’s Literature to Promote Hope and Counter Fear.”

Digging Deeper into the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Although the Syrian crisis has been going on for over a decade and we have written several blog entries about it over the years, your students may be young enough to be learning about it for the first time. Revisit our Classroom Bookshelf entry on “Children as Refugees: The Syrian Crisis” from 2015 to learn of more resources and activities to engage your students in this topic. You might also want to visit the Classroom Bookshelf blog entry on Escape from Aleppo, by N. H. Senzai. Invite students to conduct their own research into the Syrian Civil War and the forcible displacement of millions of people. Encourage them to also research opportunities to take action and support refugees around the world, such as raising funds, donating goods, writing letters to government officials, and volunteering at refugee centers in their communities. For example, A. M. Dassu contributed all of her publication advances to support Syrian refugees around the world and set up a grant to support an unpublished refugee/recently immigrated writer. How could your students help?

Refugee Crises Today and Across the World. Although the forcible displacement of millions of Syrian people remains the world’s largest refugee crisis, recent events in Afghanistan and Haiti have shone a new spotlight onto the experiences of refugees across the world. Adapt some of the teaching ideas explained throughout this blog entry to address the Afghan and Haitian refugee crises, connecting these explorations to today’s headlines. Some books you might want to share with students include Calling the Water Drum, by LaTisha Redding; Ali’s Story: A Journey from Afghanistan, by Andy Glynne; The Library Bus, by Bahram Rahman; Razia’s Ray of Hope, by Elizabeth Sunebty; and Nasreen’s Secret School, by Jeanette Winter. Kid-friendly news articles on recent refugee experiences can also be found on Newsela and Scholastic’s website.

Envisioning the Topographical Journey. The front matter of Boy, Everywhere includes a map of the journey that Sami and his family take from Syria to the U.K. What may not be clear from this representation of that journey are the topographical challenges of that voyage. What does it actually mean to cross the various bodies of water along the way? If Sami’s family wasn’t able to fly for part of the journey, what natural landscape must they navigate? What clothing and supplies would be necessary? Use Google Earth and other digital resources to help students learn of the topography involved and plan what they would need to do to successfully traverse those terrains. Students could use modeling clay and other artistic media to recreate the topography into a 3D model to study the ways that the land and water make the journey particularly challenging. Again, you could adapt this teaching invitation to explore the terrain that Haitian and Central American refugees must traverse to reach safety.

Research for Realistic Fiction Writing. In her Author’s Note, A. M. Dassu explained her research process for learning more about the Syrian crisis. As a British-born author of Iraqi, Indian, Burmese, and Pakistani descent, with her father born in Tanzania, that process involved a multi-layered approach. Dassu listened to what Syrians wanted to say, including Syrian refugees she had been supporting, as well as Syrian friends in the UK and in Damascus who answered endless questions and read the book. Have students read the Author’s Note and then engage in a discussion of the kinds of research that lends credibility to realistic fiction. What kinds of primary and secondary sources would be valid for a particular topic? How might one investigate whether a source is reputable for the information needed? Explore the author’s note in other realistic fiction novels to compare and contrast the various ways an author can go about conducting research for writing in this genre.  

Translanguaging Glossaries and Translation Tools. Translanguaging is the skill of using different languages flexibly and skillfully when communicating a thought. Sami and his family shift between English and Arabic, often within the same sentence, to communicate, showing their dexterity with multiple languages. Have students identify the examples of translanguaging within the text and determine why they are included. What does the use of translanguaging, rather than sticking solely to English, add to or emphasize in the story? Enlist the help of your school or local librarian, as well as students’ families and communities, to find other middle grade novels that use translanguaging. Some examples include Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly, and Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga. Many of these novels include a glossary in the back matter, as does Boy, Everywhere. Have students create bookmarks, charts, and webpage glossaries and  translation tools, complete with illustrations and spellings in the different languages to support students’ multimodal learning.

Critical Literacy

Representations of Refugees. Because of the dire situation that forced them to flee their homes, the portrayal of refugees can be laden with assumptions. Boy, Everywhere challenges some of those assumptions, including the belief that refugees are always from poverty-stricken areas or that they don’t know how to speak English. Ask students to brainstorm their current assumptions about refugees, along with questions about refugee experiences that they may have. Please note that as educators, we need to be mindful of any students in our classrooms or school communities that identify as refugees or have relatives who are refugees, so the sharing of assumptions doesn’t do more harm than good. If you do have such students in your classroom or school community, invite them to share their experiences if they feel comfortable doing so and invite members of your school support team (e.g., school counselor, social worker, etc.) as resources for the discussion. Using the online and book resources listed below in Further Explorations, gather a multimodal set of texts that explore the refugee experience of today. Which assumptions are confirmed and which are challenged? What surprises them? What makes them want to learn more about refugees? If possible, contact a local refugee center that may be able to connect your class with refugees who want to describe their experiences and engage in meaningful discussion with your students. You can also visit our Classroom Bookshelf entry on “Love in Action: Children’s Literature to Promote Hope and Counter Fear.”

Further Explorations

Online Resources

A.M. Dassu’s website


Lee & Low interview with A.M. Dassu

Podcast interview with A.M. Dassu about Boy, Everywhere

Websites and Media Coverage about the Syria crisis:

Al Jazeera

BBC News

Council on Foreign Relations

Human Rights First:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies


Save the Children



Websites about Refugee Support:

International Rescue Committee

New York Times Topic: Refugees and Displaced Persons

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)


Abawi, A. (2019). A land of permanent goodbyes. Penguin.

Arias, P. (2018). Marwan’s journey. Illus. L. Boras. Minedition.

Davies, N. (2018). The day war came. Ill. by R. Cobb. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 

Davis Pinkney, A. (2014). The red pencil. Ill. by S. Evans. Little, Brown.

Del Rizzo, S. (2017). My beautiful birds. Pajama Press.

Glynne, A. (2015). Ali’s story: A journey from Afghanistan. Wayland Publishers. 

Gratz, A. (2017). Refugee. Scholastic.

Hiranandani, V. (2018). The night diary. Dial Books for Young Readers.

Kullab, S. (2017). Escape from Syria. Illus. By J. Roche. Firefly Books.

Leatherdale, M. B. (2017). Stormy seas: Stories of young boat refugees. Illus. by E. Shakespeare. Toronto, Canada: Annick Press.

Mills, D., & Alva, A. (2018). La frontera: El viaje con Papá/My journey with Papa. Ill. by C. Navarro Barefoot Books.

Mitchell, J. (2018). Without refuge. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda.

Morales, Y. (2018). Dreamers. Neal Porter Books.

O’Brien, A.S. (2015). I’m new here. Charlesbridge Publishing.

Rahman, B. (2020). The library bus. Ill. by G. Grimard. Pajama Press.

Redding, L. (2016). Calling the water drum. Ill. by A. Boyd. Lee & Low.

Senzai, N.H. (2018) Escape from Aleppo. Paula Wiseman Books.

Temple, K., & Temple, J. (2019). Room on our rock. Ill. by T. R. Baynton. Kane Miller.

Warga, J. (2019). Other words for home. Balzer & Bray.

Williams, K. L. (2009). My name is Sangoel. Ill. by C. Stock. Eerdsmans Books for Young Readers. 

Winter, J. (2009). Nasreen’s secret school. Beech Lane Books.

Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.