Cover image for Zenobia
Personal Author:
First English-language edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Seven Stories Press, 2018.
Physical Description:
93 pages : color illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Chiefly illustrations.
When the Syrian war reaches Amina's village she is forced to escape, and during her perilous journey she thinks of the brave warrior Zenobia to remind her to stay strong.
Added Author:


Material Type
Call Number
Teen Fiction Durr
Teen Fiction Durr
Teen Fiction Durr

On Order



Zenobia was once a great warrior queen of Syria whose reign reached from Egypt to Turkey. When things feel overwhelming for Amina, her mother reminds her to think of Zenobia and be strong. Amina is a Syrian girl caught up in a war that reaches her village. To escape the war she boards a small boat crammed with other refugees. The boat is rickety and the turbulent seas send Amina overboard. In the dark water Amina remembers playing hide and seek with her mother and the journey she had to undertake with her uncle to escape. And she thinks of the brave warrior Zenobia.

Author Notes

MORTEN DÜRR is the award winning author of 54 books in Danish, which have been translated into nine languages. He lives in Copenhagen with his two daughters. This is his first book to be published in English.

LARS HORNEMAN is a award-winning illustrator who has illustrated over 100 books--for both children and for the educational market. He lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-8-As Amina, a young Syrian refugee journeying by sea, is thrown off a boat by a huge wave and sinks into the deep water, she reflects on what brought her here. She remembers playing hide-and-seek and making dolmas with her mother. Her parents left, saying they would be home soon, and her mother reminded her to be strong like Zenobia, the queen of Syria in the old days. When her parents didn't return, her uncle took her away. Scenes of Amina in the water are illustrated in full color, while her memories are depicted in sepia tones, and striking hues of peach and indigo are used for the story of Zenobia. The comic alternates between large panels and full-page illustrations and is paired with spare text, making it a quick read. Owing to the difference in lengths between the Danish and English translations, some text boxes contain extra white space. Readers may not feel that invested in this moving but slight narrative. There's little context about the war in Syria, but educators might want to use the book as a jumping-off point for a more detailed discussion. The tale ends on a hopeless note that may be upsetting to sensitive readers. VERDICT Pair with Eoin Colfer's Illegal to start a dialogue on refugees and immigration.-Jenna Friebel, Oak Park Public Library, IL © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Global news stories have brought urgent attention to the Syrian children who have drowned as they fled their war-ravaged country; this bleak, skillfully crafted graphic novel, translated from the Danish, personalizes the headlines by imagining one child's experience. In an opening scene, a boat perilously overfilled with refugees floats on a calm sea. Then a storm arrives, the waves surge, and a girl is flung into open water. As she begins to descend, she revisits scenes from her desperate journey: sparse wartime meals, her parents' disappearance, and her terrifying, multi-day walk to the sea, where her uncle places her on board the dangerously packed vessel. Along the way, she finds courage and comfort by considering her mother's stories of Zenobia, an ancient Syrian queen. Dürr uses few words, allowing Horneman's uncluttered panels to tell most of the heartrending story. Indicating past and present, land and sea with skillful palette shifts, Horneman provides just enough detail to evoke the grim contexts while keeping readers focused on the child. The combined restraint of both the pictures and words powerfully amplifies the astonishing tragedy of the girl's fate, creating an unforgettable story that will stay with teens and adults alike. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Intense, heartbreaking, and haunting, this graphic novel opens with a boat capsizing and a child (a Syrian girl named Amina, we later learn) being thrown into the sea. The text, translated from Danish, is spare, calm, and emotiveIt is big and empty here. No one can find me hereas the girl sinks down. The color palette then shifts from bright colors to subdued dull oranges as the text shifts to the past to reveal one of Aminas memories: playing hide-and-seek with her loving mother. For the rest of the book, the narrative alternates between past and present. In one flashback, Amina is encouraged to Remember Zenobia!the strong, courageous Syrian queen whose empire once reached from Egypt to Turkey. After war strikes Aminas village and her parents disappear, she travels with her uncle through destruction, hardship, and danger, and to the boat of refugees Amina boards alone (they could afford only one ticket). Aminas memories merge with the present as her boat hits the hurtling waves and Amina is thrown overboard and, at books end, drowns. Hornemans line work is clear, bold, and steady, and the use of silhouettes and shadows adds texture and tone. Large panels and cinematic angles function to speed up and/or slow down reading pace, to intertwine text and image, and to connect the storys beginning and end. The final text reads, in an echo of the beginning, It is big and empty here. I whisper: Find me! But I only whisper it inside myself. A difficult, raw, and unforgettable story. elisa gall (c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Vast open water. An overcrowded boat. A horrific storm. A girl plunges backwards into the violent waves. Wishing, dreaming of rescue, Amina conjures happier moments playing hide-and-seek. "I am right here, Mama," she thinks. She remembers making dolmas, salty like seawater and tears. She recalls the inspiring adventures of Syrian warrior queen Zenobia. She relives the dangerous journey with her uncle to the sea, while Zenobia's invincible spirit buoys her. Dürr, an award-winning Danish writer of more than 50 titles, makes his North American debut here, and his sparse, sharp text is wondrously visualized by prodigious compatriot Horneman. Horneman's palettes are especially effective, with blue and blue-greens bookending Amina's watery fall and browns and black to capture an already quickly fading past. Only Zenobia's panels glow in a saturated salmon, as if trying to keep hope alive. Wrenchingly compelling is Horneman's use of separated panels: for example, Amina in her mother's arms is sliced into three boxes. Inevitably, tragedy looms. An award-winner in Denmark, its creators' homeland, Zenobia will undoubtedly find empathetic stateside audiences.--Terry Hong Copyright 2019 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

LAST YEAR, during a visit to a school in Birmingham, England, I met a seventh grader who told me he had traveled there from Syria as a refugee. I wasn't equal to imagining what that journey was like. Yet here was this rosycheeked boy in a British school uniform, clearly a survivor, sitting in on my author event along with 150 other interested students. I tried to respond. "You must be... " Brave? Resourceful? Determined? I struggled for an appropriate word. The boy filled in the gap himself. "Unstoppable!" he pronounced triumphantly. And "unstoppable" is the word that best fits the fictional children in three timely, poignant and sometimes tragic new novels describing the current global refugee crisis. Two address the plight of Syrian refugees; one takes a more general look at the common suffering of those who choose, or who are forced, to leave a turbulent homeland. All three revolve around a pivotal and devastating shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea, which must be crossed before a better life can be found on European soil. It feels inevitably, exhaustingly appropriate that Europe should be the focal point for the worst humanitarian displacement crisis our interconnected global community has experienced since World War II. THAT WAR IS VERY MUCH remembered in NOWHERE BOY (Roaring Brook, 368 pp., $16.99; ages io to 14), by Katherine Marsh, a resistance novel for our time, and the parallels between the two crises are both natural and sobering. "Nowhere Boy" tells the story of Ahmed Nasser, a Syrian teenager who flees his home to escape the civil war that killed his sisters, mother and grandfather. After losing his father during the sea crossing, Ahmed makes it as far as Brussels, where he becomes friends with Max Howard, an American expat his own age. Together, the boys find a way to hide and support Ahmed for nine whole months. Marsh sets her tale against the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks of 2015-16 and the ensuing anti-Muslim backlash in Belgium, and she does a superb job of making her story parallel the stifling atmosphere of Nazi occupation. Max takes his inspiration from local wartime resistance heroes, but in Brussels he's almost as much of an immigrant as Ahmed, a foreigner who struggles with a new school and an unfamiliar language. Ahmed remains in control of his own destiny throughout, and Max's well-intentioned schemes don't always work. But both boys are determined to survive and to do "the decent thing." Marsh makes her European setting and viewpoint easily relatable for young American readers, and in addition to a vivid supporting cast of policemen, teachers, family, friends and enemies-turned-friends, there's a nail-biting race across Europe and an uplifting ending. "Nowhere Boy" is elegantly structured, plausible in its improbable plot and studded with moments of rapturous prose. The book ends on a single word that sums up its entire message: "Hope." THE GRAPHIC NOVEL ILLEGAL (Sourcebooks, 144 pp., $14.99; ages 10 and up), Written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, offers a similar message. Ebo, the story's young hero, is from sub-Saharan Africa. We see through his eyes as he journeys across the desert with his brother Kwame, and then across the Mediterranean, on a quest to find their vanished elder sister, Sisi. The sea journey ends in disaster as Kwame is drowned, along with most of the other desperate passengers on their overcrowded ship; Ebo is picked up by a rescue helicopter and ends up in a refugee center in Italy. There is an unlikely but heartwarming reunion at story's end, promising Ebo a brighter future. Ebo's story is told in flashbacks, beginning with his later journey across the Mediterranean and then alternating with his earlier trek across Africa. Structural flashbacks like these are often used as a shortcut to plunge the reader into narrative action, and apart from that, there's no obvious reason "Illegal" couldn't be told in chronological order. But the contrast between the warm golds and browns of Africa make a stunning visual pattern as they alternate with the blues, greens, grays and purples of the sea voyage, and it works. The visual aspect of "Illegal" is both manageable and richly complex; there is a gorgeous and glorious level of detail and attention to hue in Rigano's illustrations, which lift a relatively straightforward story to a higher plane. The graphic novel format, and Rigano's inspired illustrations, drive and enhance Colfer and Donkin's written dialogue. The complete package is a highly accessible introduction to the plight of all refugees. The surprising reunions at the end of "Nowhere Boy" and "Illegal" give us the taste of hope. But hope is relative. Like Holocaust victims, our main characters lose entire families during their journeys: a situation so desperately grim, and so unthinkable, that one single other survivor constitutes a happy miracle. When a story doesn't end in the worst-case scenario, the death of the main character, it fools us into thinking that losing your home and most of your family can have a happy ending. THERE IS NO SUCH MIRACLE in the graphic novel ZENOBIA (Seven Stories, 94 pp., $19.95; ages ii and up), written by Morten Dürr and illustrated by Lars Horneman. "Zenobia" is not so much a novel as a fable, a vignette in a lost life. The title character, Zenobia, is a Syrian child whose parents vanish (presumably killed in the war that we see shattering her city) and who attempts to leave her devastated and war-torn home with her uncle. The fragile ship Zenobia boards for the Mediterranean crossing to Europe, like that of Ahmed and Ebo, is lost at sea. Zenobia's namesake is a warrior queen who united Syria and conquered surrounding civilizations in ancient times. Our young Zenobia uses her national hero's name as an inspiration for strength and courage, even in the moment of her death. The legacy of her name is Zenobia's only comfort on her pointless journey; but is it pointless if we learn from it? "Zenobia" highlights, with simple clarity, Syria's noble historical legacy as well as the plight of its modern people. Zenobia's short and tragic story, inspired no doubt by 2015's searing media image of the drowned Syrian child Alan Kurdi, is harrowing and instructive. If there is a single moment from these books that will prove impossible to forget, it is the full-page spread in "Illegal" in which Ebo's drowned brother drifts lifeless beneath the sea, surrounded by the other lifeless bodies of friends and strangers, fish nibbling at their exposed skin. This image, shocking and moving, represents the theme of wasted life that runs through all three books - a memorial to the dead and, to the unstoppable living, a call to action. ELIZABETH WEIN'S first nonfiction book, "A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II," will be published in January.