Stepping Stones: A Transnational Literary Journey
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey, by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr, is one of the most remarkable picture books you will ever encounter, not just in the goodness of the book itself, but in the incredible transnational story of its creation. To make the story even more amazing, the author and publisher are donating a portion of the book's revenue to organizations supporting refugee-based causes, which is part of the reason that I went out and ordered three more copies of Stepping Stones as soon as I read it.
It's nice to be reminded that books can change the world.
In this post, Margriet Ruurs tells the story of how Stepping Stones came to be.
As a children’s book writer I am always on the look-out for unusual, attractive art—even though authors usually have nothing to do with the illustrations of their books. But when I spotted an amazing picture on Facebook by an artist from Syria, I knew that I really wanted this art in a book of mine.
The picture I’d spotted showed a mother tenderly holding her baby. Behind her, a father struggles under a load of possessions. This one picture told me volumes. It was the story of war, the story of people fleeing, the story of refugees, but also the story of hope. I was intrigued because the entire picture was made of rocks. Not painted, not carved, but just rocks arranged to make this beautiful image.
I found the artist’s name, Nizar Ali Badr. Then tried to find more information about him. Nothing.
There was just his Facebook page.
To complicate matters further, his page had reached a maximum number of followers and wouldn’t allow me to contact him through a message. There was no other contact information on the entire world wide web. All I knew was that he was a gifted artist, and that he lived in Syria.
I kept trying to send messages to Nizar, but to no avail.
I asked friends to translate my request into Arabic. But my messages did not reach him.
After three months of trying, a dear friend in Pakistan managed to contact him in Arabic. He gave her the name and email address of his friend who speaks English.
Now I was able to reach him! I was so glad I did not give up.
Now that I could communicate with Nizar, we visited via Facebook messages, often “sharing” a cup of tea late at night when our time zones seemed to touch in cyberspace. I learned more about him, his family, where he lives, etc. Nizar told me he was happy to find out that a Canadian author liked his work. And he was excited about the idea that his art could be used to illustrate a children’s book.
Then I realized I better find a publisher who agreed that Nizar’s work should illustrate a picture book. I phoned Bob Tyrrell of Orca Books Publishers in Victoria, BC. I had met him during an IBBY World Congress and knew that he was interested in the global-support aspect of publishing.
Bob agreed to not only publish the book but also to donate a portion of the revenue to a refugee-based cause. Similarly, most of my royalties are also directly benefitting refugees: my first advance is going to an education savings account for a family from Aleppo who recently arrived on Salt Spring Island, where I live. And of course Nizar now receives regular royalties for his art.
Perhaps most importantly, the story told in Stepping Stones is the all-too-familiar story of people having to flee their homeland to find safety and build a new future in a new land. Today it is Syria, a long time ago it was World War II in Holland, where I grew up.
In an effort to make the book more accessible, Orca published Stepping Stones in both English and Arabic. I hope that this book helps to bring awareness, understanding, tolerance, and hope.
And the rock art may just inspire many children to be creative, and to look at unusual resources to become artists in their own right.
Orca Book Publishers offers a substantial discount to any school wanting to sell this book as a fundraiser to help support refugees.
More details can be found at: www.steppingstonesthebook.com
About Margriet Ruurs:
Margriet Ruurs is the author of many award-winning books for children. She enjoys speaking about reading and writing to students at schools around the world. Her adventures have taken her to such countries as Myanmar, Pakistan, Laos, Tanzania and many others. Margriet was born in The Netherlands but has been a Canadian for most of her life. She lives with her family on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.
About Nizar Ali Badr:
Nizar Ali Badr has always been inspired to paint, sculpt and draw. In his walks along the seashore near the ancient port city of Ugarit, Syria, he always admired the stones on the beach and in the clear blue water. Now he gathers these stones and brings them home to his rooftop studio, where they become the medium for his art. Nizar has never left his hometown of Latakia, though in his heart he accompanies the many Syrians who have been forced to flee their homeland because of ongoing violence.