Book Review: No Ballet Shoes in Syria

Book Review: No Ballet Shoes in Syria


No Ballet Shoes in Syria

Written by Catherine Bruton

272 pages

Published by Nosy Crow

Publication date: 2nd May 2019

Summary (from Goodreads):

Aya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria.

When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship.

But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves, and to find Aya’s father – separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria.

With beautiful, captivating writing, wonderfully authentic ballet detail, and an important message championing the rights of refugees, this is classic storytelling – filled with warmth, hope and humanity.

“A perfect balance of tragedy and triumph” – Natasha Farrant, author of The Children of Castle Rock

“So you learned to dance where you came from?”

Aya looked up to see Ciara was watching her intently from the other side of the lobby.

“She’s come from Syria, not from Mars!” said Dotty.

“I thought thy had a war in Syria,” said Ciara.

The girls were all looking at her curiously now and Aya wanted to explain that her life had been like theirs once. That she hadn’t been born a refugee. That she wasn’t so different from them. Or she hadn’t been. Once upon a time. But all she managed to say was, “It was not always that way.”

She thought of her old classmates – scattered, lost, gone – while these girls danced on, knowing nothing about the war happening in a country far away, and staring at her curiously, seeing her as different.

First impressions: I saw this popping up all over Twitter as lots of my book blogging buddies received proof copies in the post. Everything about this sounded like I would love it -the ballet, Aya’s experience as a refugee, the inspiration from When Hitler Stole pink Rabbit…so I just knew that I had to read this! I am happy to say that my predictions were correct and this has become a firm favourite for me and a book that I will be recommending widely, both to my pupils, but also to friends and family.

I feel privileged to have read this beautiful book – one that is destined to become a classic, like the books that inspired it, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and the Sadler’s Wells series.

The story follows Aya as she attempts to help her mother and younger brother negotiate the vagaries and difficulties of life as an asylum seeker. They have had a long, hard journey from their home in Syria in order to reach the safety of England, but it is dtill unsure if they will be able to stay or not.

This book gripped me from the first page, with each and every character brought to life in just a few words. From the people she meets in the community centre, to those along the way on their journey, the kindness Aya and her family are met with is awe-inspiring. Yet, it is equally upsetting how much cruelty and ignorance they must overcome too.
This book is both an ode to the power of dance to express emotions and change lives and an eye-opening look at the dangers causing many families to flee their homes.

I read this with both a full heart at the resilience of the human spirit and tears trickling down my cheeks at the challenges Aya and her family face.

An important and inspiring story and one that every school should have in their library.

Dad put his arm around her then. “Habibti,” he said, “Even when you could not go to class because of your leg, even when you were laid up in bed, you were still dancing. I could see it. If you weren’t up on your feet, you were dancing in your head, making up stories with your fingers and toes. Sometimes I swear I could see your arms going through repetitions in your sleep. That is what it means to be a dancer. The barre, the studio – they are just accessories.”

Aya tried to smile but she still felt anxious as Dad pulled her tight.

“It is no longer safe to stay here. We need to get out while we still can, ” he said. “But wherever we go to, wherever we end up, you will always dance, habibti. Because dancing is in your heart, so you carry it with you everywhere.”

What I liked: Everything! Aya’s story is told with sensitivity and empathy, allowing readers to really feel how she must during her experiences. I loved how dancing was used as Aya’s escape and how the message of the book is looking at the similarities between Aya and those i her class,rather than seeing her as ‘different’ just because she is from another country and is seeking asylum. We need books like these to help readers imagine other experiences of the world and to challenge the negative stereotypes that it can be so easy to believe in. – always remember that we are talking about individuals and not some amorphous ‘other’.

Even better if: While this books feels complete in itself, I would love to have a continuation where we see Aya and her family as they grow up and settle into their new lives.

How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a fantastic and essential addition to any school or classroom library, particularly when aiming to encourage empathy and taking a walk in someone else’s shoes before judging. It can be difficult to have a nuanced discussion when the media can polarise issues so books like this , Illegal, The Boy At The Back of the Class and The Closest Thing to Flying are an important way to educate and start discussions in a nonthreatening and empathetic way. I will be adding several copies to our school library and recommending this widely!

(Thank you to Nosy Crow for my advance review copy!)


What did other bloggers think?

Ella @ Folded Pages said:

“Whilst this a poignant and emotive story it is also uplifting – it celebrates the kindness of strangers and Dotty’s complete acceptance of Aya and fiercely loyal friendship is truly inspiring.”

Anne @ A Library Lady said:

“It is a celebration of how much the kindness of others can achieve in the darkest of times for those in need. A valuable lesson for today’s young readers.”

Jo @LibraryGirlandBookBoy said:

“A sensitively crafted, thought-provoking and uplifting story which I don’t mind telling you had me in tears at various points.”

“Wise and kind and unputdownable.”

– Hilary McKay, Costa Book Prize-winning author of The Skylarks’ War

“A moving story about one of the big issues of our time, told with wonderful clarity, and incredibly touching.”

– Axel Scheffler, illustrator of The Gruffalo

“It’s both heartbreaking and heart-mending, with such sweet characters.”

– Carlie Sorosiak, author of I, Cosmo

“Heart warming excellence…  it is important to have these issues highlighted to children in a sensitive manner, this book does exactly that.”

Independent Book Reviews (blog)

“An emotional, beautifully written tale.”

 Sue and Pakka (blog)

“It made me cry, and it made me smile, and it feels like one of those quietly classic stories that British children’s literature does so utterly well … It’s honest, kind, heartbreaking and really rather utterly lovely.”

Did You Ever Stop To Think (blog)

Watch the author talk about the inspiration behind this book:

Read or listen to the first few chapters on the publisher’s website by clicking here.

While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of The Company of Eight, Flower Moon, Shadow Weaver, Ban This Book, Witch for a Week, The Storm Keeper’s Island, How to Catch a Witch, Welcome to Our World or My First Book of Gymnastics?

Find me on Twitter , Goodreads or Instagram

Thanks for reading!


14 Comments Add yours

  1. Do you know of any Syrian reviewers that have posted about this book yet? I’m desperate to read it 😍


    1. That’s a really good question – I always try to find #ownvoices reviews where possible (e.g. I did this with Ayesha at Last as I’m not Muslim) I haven’t come across any yet, but I will look out for them and add them to the ‘other bloggers’ spotlight section if and when I do. I think the themes of the book are also quite universal as there are, unfortunately, so many people across the world who have been displaced from their homes by conflict. Hope you enjoy it when you read it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m trying to keep an eye for some as I have the book on preorder & will want to promote some #ownvoices reviews when I put mine up! Loved your review tho, & I know I’m going to love it too.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Let me know if you find any, as I would love to feature them too! Looking forward to hearing what you think!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. setinthepast says:

    Just read this – Amazon originally said it’d be out this week, but it arrived on my Kindle a week early. I’ve reviewed it and have read several other reviews, but I haven’t seen any by people who are actually asylum seekers or refugees themselves – I’d be very interested to know how the book’s been received by people who have first-hand experience of Aya’s situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would be too! I know that the author did lots of research and talked to a lot of people who had been through similar experiences, in order to write the book. Many authors also have sensitivity readers who make sure that cultures, beliefs etc are presented accurately and respectfully.


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