WRITING Finding home


As a kindergarten teacher, Maryam Hassan became aware of the struggles faced by young refugees and immigrants, including the need to adapt to a different climate. In the absence of any books on the subject, she wrote her own, which ultimately became 'a story about discovering home wherever you go'.

There is an element in Montessori education where children are taught they are global citizens. This was one of the reasons I wanted to learn more about Montessori and what led me to become a a Montessori teacher. I’ve always strongly believed that we need to understand that we’re more than just members of our own community, town, city, or even country. For the world to work harmoniously we need to work together with everyone. This starts in my classroom where we celebrate all the cultures my students are from, and welcome children who move from another country whether they are immigrating or moving as a refugee.


That’s what led me to write Until You Find the Sun, a story of finding home in a strange new place. I’ve had many students come to my classroom from all over the world, but the small friend who inspired my picture book came from a country that was hot pretty much all the time. While there could be a rainy season, the weather never really got cold at all. This student ended up entering my classroom in the middle of a polar vortex winter in Chicago. If you’ve never experienced the joys of a polar vortex it’s essentially when arctic weather conditions move further south, and it happens in Chicago quite often.


Spread from Until You'd Find the Sun by Maryam Hassan, illustrated by Anna Wilson

As an adult, going outside during a polar vortex is difficult: the temperature is between -30 and -40 degrees celsius and the winds are strong and bitterly cold. There’s not necessarily snow, it’s just very oppressive, chilly weather. My student was three years old, had been uprooted from their home and was now in this grey, frozen, concrete landscape.


Young children feel things deeply, and experience many things that we don’t even think about as adults. This student entered my classroom all smiles and enthusiasm. They didn’t speak any English but we got by with lots of gestures and demonstrating things to them. Transitions were hard for them and they would have complete breakdowns when it came to going outside and leaving the safety of the classroom space. At first, we couldn’t place why they were reacting this way, the administration of the school felt it should talk to the parents about having their child seen by a behavioural specialist.


Part of my Montessori training is about observation. Observation is key in our classroom spaces and we are constantly watching and taking notes. A good morning work cycle in a Montessori class is when the teacher can just sit and observe the children absorbed in their work and the class is calm. I noticed when the breakdowns were happening with this student and started to think perhaps this transition had something to do with the weather. 

My student was three years old, had been uprooted from their home and was now in this grey, frozen, concrete landscape

There’s always trauma when you are taken away from a place that’s been your home for so long. This student was not only displaced but also in this completely alien landscape facing weather conditions they didn’t understand. Putting on all the clothing layers they needed to brave the Chicago winter was overwhelming. But also, the classroom was their safe space and leaving, even for 30-45 minutes, was traumatic.


Although I didn’t usually go outside during the morning break time, I asked to walk the younger students outside so the new student could see I was still there for them even during this transition. During circle time, we talked a lot about the clothes we need to wear in winter and what kind of weather we would experience. When the student had breakdowns I would find a quiet area in our classroom, usually the book area with soft rugs and cushions, and sit with them until they were calm. The student needed time to process this new environment and after a few months, the breakdowns stopped entirely. They were happy and engaged all the time and ended up loving playing outside, especially once they got new boots and a new hat that they liked! This new place that was scary at first became a new home for them and they found joy all around them, especially when snow arrived.

Front cover of Maryam Hassan's debut picture book, published by Hachette 

During this time I wanted to find a book to help with these sorts of transitions but I couldn’t find one about weather. This inspired me to write my own picture book in my parked car one day after school. From the notes app on my phone the story evolved and became my debut picture book. My aim was to write a story that gave children hope that they’d create a feeling of being home again in any new country they arrived in. I wrote a story that could offer comfort as they worked through these difficult transitions but that could also make the adults in their lives think more about how hard it is for a small child to be displaced to a new country. Small things we take for granted are big adjustments for young children. Sometimes we need to think outside our own boxes to find ways to help them find security.

*Header: Part of cover from Until You Find the Sun by Maryam Hassan, illustrated by Anna Wilson, 

published by Hachette. All images courtesy of Maryam Hassan.


Maryam Hassan is a photographer, painter, teacher and debut author from London. A first-generation child of Pakistani immigrants, Maryam grew up with a culture clash. She never felt Pakistani or English and had to find the balance of being both these things and something entirely new all at once. Watching immigrant children come into her classes, she realised they too had stories and experiences that hadn't been told. Maryam decided she wanted to write stories for them. She is a strong believer in the idea of a global citizen — we are all connected in this world and we should learn about everyone around us.
Maryam currently lives in Tokyo.


Francoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org

1 comment:

  1. Nissa Van Riper21 June 2024 at 10:53

    What a beautiful, compassionate back story. My child has been moved around a lot and it is so disorienting. This book was needed in the world! <3 PS Brilliant title.


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