We are back with another book review, this time of Tammy Wilson’s Through My Eyes. Along with being a first time author, Tammy Wilson is a school principal at Discovery Elementary school in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The inspiration for writing the book arose following Tammy’s realization that there were no books in her school library which featured Somali characters. In trying to understand the Somali culture and community better, Tammy consulted regularly with Somali staff members of her school, as well as members of the St. Cloud Somali community. Tammy’s book is a welcome contribution to the small but growing field of children’s books featuring Somali characters. The book features a number of themes that will resonate with young Somali children (particularly newcomer children), including migrating to the United States, the process of integration, and staying connected with family members left back home.
Through My Eyes follows the journey of the book’s central character, Zamzam, as she journeys from Somalia to the United States. This early chapter book covers some themes common to children’s books including friendships, family and school, while tackling heavier subjects including bullying, racism, and tensions between American born Somali children, and Somali refugee and immigrant children. Each chapter includes a journal entry from Zamzam, written in the form of letter to her childhood friend Sumaya. In these letters, Zamzam discusses her experiences encountered in her new life. The book concludes with Zamzam reflecting on her first year of school in the US, and her desire to become someone who contributes to the greater good in society. Also included in the book is an introduction which provides the reader with a brief background on Somalia and Islam, a glossary and discussion questions for educators.
One of the greatest strengths of this book is in the author’s ability to tell a Somali-American story without forwarding deficit perspectives of Somalia, Somalis, and Islam. In children’s literature and beyond, Somalia is portrayed singularly as a war torn country. Tammy introduces Somalia as a country with a rich past, which was quite refreshing. Tammy also incorporates Islam quite well into Zamzam’s story; for example, the character of Zamzam is very proud of her hijab (headscarf). Zamzam is presented as a child who is fascinated by her new country and her new peers, but at the same time is proud of her Islamic and Somali heritage. This sends a powerful message to young Somali Americans, who at times struggle to reconcile the various aspects of their identity.
This book will appeal to a number of audiences. First, this would be a great book to use in lessons about refugees, immigrants, Somalis, and/or Islam. Secondly, this book would strongly resonate with elementary and middle school aged Somali children. Aside from the power of seeing themselves reflected in a story, the themes highlighted in the book are themes that many students would be able to relate to. Thirdly, this book can assist students in learning more about Somali culture and Islam, and building bridges of understanding.
Through My Eyes was a captivating,and engaging book which we would strongly recommend.
*Many thanks to Tammy Wilson, who graciously provided a copy of Through my Eyes for this review.