Mary Wagley Copp’s debut book, Wherever I Go, is “A hopeful and timely picture book about a spirited little girl living in a refugee camp.” Little Abia has lived in the refugee camp in Northern Ethiopia far longer than any of her friends – 7 years! – and that makes her the queen. A queen wears a crown as she plays with her friends, helps carry water for her Mama, crushes cassava root, and cuddles her cousin. Her Mama retells the story about how they fled their home when she was just a baby. “Gunfire crackled all night, but [Abia] just cooed at the moon.” What’s more scary for this brave little girl is the thought of making a new home somewhere else… “a forever home,” her Papa says. But she reminds herself that wherever she goes, she’ll still be the same person with the same strengths. She’ll still be a queen.
What I loved most about this book is that Abia is a normal relatable child living a normal relatable life in extraordinary circumstances. I think many times people in the U.S. see pictures of refugees and feel a sense of separation from them. Their experiences are foreign to us. But any child in any part of the world will relate to Abia’s feelings, her imagination, her playfulness, and her desires. Who doesn’t want to be a queen, after all? In the process of getting to know and like Abia, they will learn a little about what life is like in a refugee camp, and what it’s like to pick up and start over when it’s time to resettle in a new home.
The illustrations by debut illustrator, Munir D. Mohammed, are also stunning, immersive, and relatable. They give us a lovely and intimate glimpse into the lives of Ethiopian refugees. Munir is a muralist and fine artist, and that background shows in his rich, colorful, and life-like illustration style.