How did you discover Nizar Ali Badr’s artwork?
I happened to see one of his images on his Facebook page. I loved the image and then realized it was made from rocks. I immediately thought “I have never seen rocks used as art medium in a children’s book.” And because rocks are so universal I thought kids would love to see his art.
What about his artwork moved you to write this book?
The images he made from rocks told me a story without words. I went to his photo album and saw many different images. I realized that I could select several, put them in a certain order and write the story they told. Of course Nizar’s art wasn’t used as illustration at that point. Each image stood on its own. But I felt that it could be used in a sequence to show the story of refugees.
Why did you feel you needed to write this book?
I had just read a memoir of someone who immigrated from The Netherlands to Canada, as I did. He was older than I am and recalled the second World War. I grew up with stories of how my dad had to live in hiding and how hard life was–no food, no clothes, soldiers everywhere. This book described images of bombs falling and people fleeing. It sounded exactly like the current stories in the news about Syria. This made me realize that war is, unfortunately, universal. Anyone, anywhere can be faced with threats, with hunger, with losing their home and having to flee to safety and freedom. With my 6-year-old grandson in mind, I wanted to explain this to young children. I did not want it to sound too scary or threatening but I do think it is important that they to know that these terrible things happen in the world.
Why do you think this is an important book for people to read?
I hope that this story touches the heartstrings of many. I hope to show readers that anyone, of any race or religion, may have to find a safe heaven. In 1945 it was the Americans and Canadians who came to liberate Europe. Now it is elsewhere. But we all need to help anyone who had to flee their home and find a place to live. I hope this will be a book for all ages, a coffee table art book, a starting point for discussions on how we can help others.
What do you hope comes out of this book?
Besides understanding, I hope it will bring tolerance for people of different faiths and colors. We are all humans, all equal. I hope that my words and Nizar’s images will show that war, violence, is never the answer but that people can help and support those in need. The book will also help financially because I will be redirecting my royalties to refugee organizations. Orca Book Publishers will make donations for each book sold and schools can use the sales of this book as a fundraiser. I hope it encourages schools to use this book as a fundraiser for a refugee cause of their choice.
You were born in the Netherlands and told stories of World War II as a child. How did these aspects of your life influence the writing of Stepping Stones?
My mother sometimes told me little snippets of hardships. As a child I did not really understand these. But they did leave images in my mind: of baby clothes hidden under the rugs in case soldiers barged in to look for things they could use. Of people chopping up chairs and cutting trees in the streets so that they had fuel to stay warm. Of cooking tulip bulbs to make soup because there was no other food. When will we ever learn?
How have your travels, to countries such as Australia, Belgium, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Turkey and Zambia, influenced both your desire to write and the actual writing of Stepping Stones?
I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to meet people of all ages around the world, by speaking in international schools. I have a series of ‘Around The World’ books (Kids Can Press) for which I interview real kids in many of these countries. Learning of their hopes and dreams, I realize that we all want the same things, regardless of where you live, what you look like and what you believe. All parents want their children to be safe, to have food and shelter and to get an education. All children want to have friends and grow up healthy and in freedom. Kids in Kenya proudly showed me their garden where they grow food. They love to blow bubbles and draw pictures. Kids in Pakistan love reading books and to play soccer. Just like kids everywhere. I feel privileged, as a writer, to help them share their stories. I am so lucky that I was able to help bring books to children in Mongolia and Mexico, in Zambia and Myanmar.
Books are only cardboard and paper. But when people read a book that changes them then books have the power to bring about change. Real, positive change for global acceptance and understanding. Maybe this book can contribute to bring about more awareness, more acceptance, and who knows – world peace.
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. For more information, visit www.margrietruurs.com.
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.