Stormy Seas: Sto­ries of Young Boat Refugees

Mary Beth Leatherdale; Eleanor Shake­speare, illus.
  • Review
By – November 27, 2017

Stormy Seas: Sto­ries of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale; Eleanor Shake­speare, illus. | Jew­ish Book Coun­cil

From the safe­ty of one’s home, it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the per­se­cu­tion faced by peo­ple who flee their coun­tries of ori­gin in order to sur­vive. In this book, young boat refugees from var­i­ous coun­tries do just that.

The open­ing chap­ter details the poignant sto­ry of Ruth who, with her fam­i­ly, boards the St. Louis in 1939 to escape Hitler’s Ger­many for a new life in Cuba. How­ev­er, as the boat tries to dock in Cuba, they find they are not allowed to come on shore. Hop­ing that the Unit­ed States will allow them entrance, the boat attempts to dock in Mia­mi, where they are met by the guns of the U.S. Coast Guard and sent back to Europe. Of the 937 pas­sen­gers on the St. Louis, 254 were killed by the Hitler regime after return­ing to Europe. Ruth was one of the lucky ones. She and her fam­i­ly found asy­lum in Great Britain and were lat­er able to immi­grate to the Unit­ed States.

The fol­low­ing chap­ters intro­duce read­ers to Phu, who flees from Viet­nam to avoid his fate as a being a sol­dier and dying in bat­tle; Jose, who leaves Cuba with his fam­i­ly on an over­crowd­ed, leak­ing boat to escape the oppres­sion of Cas­tro; Najee­ba and her fam­i­ly, who flee the Tal­iban in Afghanistan and try to make it to Aus­tralia; and Mohammed, who escapes the Ivory Coast after his par­ents are killed by a bomb in the midst of a civ­il war.

The fact that each of these young peo­ple sur­vived is a trib­ute to their courage, resilience and luck. Sad­ly, as the book illus­trates, these des­per­ate and dan­ger­ous escapes are not rel­e­gat­ed to the past.

The book includes a time­line, side­bars, and sug­ges­tions for addi­tion­al read­ing. Due to its frank dis­cus­sion of war and death and descrip­tions of fright­en­ing sit­u­a­tions, this book is rec­om­mend­ed for ages 12 and up.

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions