A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached

swallowsA Game for Swallows is a non-fiction graphic novel that depicts the Civil War in Beirut, Lebanon in the 1980’s. The graphic novel centers on one memorable day during the war when Zeina’s parents are stuck at a relative’s house. Beirut is divided into East and West with Christians living on the West and Muslims living on the East of the demarcation line.

The graphic novel is told in stark black and white. Zeina is a young child, eight or so, and the conflict is told through her eyes. The story is certainly about war, but it is more about the relationships with the people in her building. While her parents are away, all the people in the building gather in their foyer, not only to stay with children, but because it is the safest location. Their conversations and actions prove this is a weekly, if not daily, tradition. Zeina tells the story of all the people—how the war affected them, who plans to leave, who plans to stay, who has died, and who will die.

All except for two pages are drawings. (The book does not exactly what media the novel is done in). There are two pages near the end that are pictures from the war the word that are graffitied on a wall. “To die, to leave, to return. It’s a game for swallows”—Florian. The war in the novel was already very real, but the pictures help drive the point home. This is a true story. This is what happened to these people in this war.

This graphic novel sheds light on a war that many American readers probably know little to nothing about. The book can be used in a variety of wars. Not only can it be used as an introduction to the Lebanese civil war, but it can also be used as a discussion point for any war. The book is not about military strategies, defeats, and victories. It is about the regular, every day people who are stuck in the middle of a war, the people who are often forgotten by history books. This concept can be applied to any war to get children, and adults, questioning what went on behind the walls of the buildings. How does life change when a war is fought in your country? For an American audience this is an intriguing questions as it has been centuries since a war has been fought on American soil.

The novel does provide both an introduction and an author’s note at the end about why she decided to write and illustrate the book and a little bit of background about Beirut, the war, and the after effects.

The book will have great appeal as more and more children are gravitating toward graphic novels and more non-fiction graphic novels are being published. Non-fiction graphic novels are an innovative way to entice reluctant readers, or even avid readers who don’t like non-fiction, to try something new.

School Library Journal recommends the book for grades 5-8.

Bibliographic Information:

Abirached, Zeina. A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return. New York: Graphic Universe, 2012. Print.

A Bag of Marbles: The Graphic Novel by Joseph Joffo (WWII; grades 6-9)
The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown (1930’s Dust Bowl; grades 5+)
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donnor Dinner Party (1840’s America, survival tale; grades 3-6) Also, this is a series of non-fiction graphic novels that cover different historical events.


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