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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Tegen Beese:

WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED, written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson, is the story that was told to her by Omar Mohamed. This heartbreaking graphic novel chronicles his life living in a refugee camp as a young child.

At the start of the graphic novel Omar is and his younger brother, Hassan, have lived in their refugee camp for seven years, after the death of their father and the disappearance of their mother. Omar feels compelled to take care of his brother, as he is developmentally disabled. When he is encouraged to go to school, he must choose between what he thinks is the right way to take care of his brother: does he stay home and watch him, or does he go to school to help them achieve a better life in the future?

This novel addresses such important topics as the life of refugees, as well as the role that women play in society. Omar’s friend is to be married instead of going to school and achieving her dream of getting a scholarship to a school in Canada. Omar realizes the unfairness of the lives of those around him and decides that he wants to help make a difference.

The writing is intriguing and easy to understand. The graphics are beautiful and really bring the characters to the page. Omar’s story is important, relevant, and relatable. 

Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at


  1. Meredith Burton says:

    I was thoroughly mesmerized by this true account of a young man’s life in a refugee camp. The most vivid character to me was Hassine, (please bear with me on spelling as I could only obtain this book through audio format). His love for Omar and Fortuma is so strong, even though he never speaks. I also love how the secondary characters are so vivid, particularly Jerry, Miriam.

    The slow reaveal of what happened to Omar and Hassine’s mother and father is hard-hitting and vivid. This is an inspiring book with a vivid setting and engaging characters, made all the more engaging because the story is true. I loved Fortuma, too.

  2. Carrie Bruner says:

    I was stunned by the beauty in this book- both in the story itself and and Jamieson’s artwork. She does an excellent job conveying emotion through her drawings. and I could not put this down as I was reading it. I’m so glad Omar Mohamed chose to let Jamieson tell his story in graphic novel form, as opposed to the adult audience he initially intended it for, because this is a story that our young people should be aware of. I think it’s an excellent tool to help the reader see how vital education can be, and how depending on your gender, those opportunities may not always be so accessible. And although the author’s note at the end indicated that Miriam was an amalgamation of several young women that Omar knew in the refugee camp, my heart was broken for her as her dreams of educational opportunities in Canada disappeared. This book, poignant and humorous at times, is a must-read and shows the triumph of the human spirit.

  3. Amanda Bishop says:

    I love that this book is presented as a graphic memoir. I have so many students who would be reluctant to read about a subject like this, but when it’s presented in this way it becomes so much more accessible to them.

  4. Emily Mroczek says:

    As stated above the character development of main and secondary characters was very strong in this book. I also really appreciated the sense of setting, how vividly the picture of the refugee camp and its conditions were painted and how that setting contributed to character development– the characters wanted a better life but still loved the community they created at the refugee camp.

  5. I second what everyone has already said, particularly Amanda Bishop about the chosen format. I think this book is amazingly accessible in its presentation. And the art is stunning.

    The characterizations are great, but there is one thing I would have liked to see, though I’m hesitant about bringing it up. I don’t even know if the comment is relevant, because it’s not about the actual book, it’s about the author’s note, so I would truly appreciate some feedback on that. The two main girl characters, Maryam and Nimo, are both composites of girls and women that Omar met in the camps and later with his work through non-profits (and if I’m getting these names wrong, please forgive me, I don’t have immediate access to the book). Since those girls are so important to the plot – kicking Omar in the rear to continue his education, helping take care of Hassan, etc. – I would have liked a longer explanation of how those composites were created in the author’s note. I feel as though there’s only a sentence or two about it, and I would have appreciated something a bit more in-depth. The characters in the book were so fleshed-out and felt so real, it was a surprise for me to find out they weren’t individuals (even though I know memoirs use composites all the time). I’m not criticizing that they are composites, just saying that I would have liked to know more about that part of the creative process that went into making them, and maybe something general about the community members on whom those composites were based. In Cece Bell’s EL DEAFO, she included some information about how she made her composites in her author’s note, so I know there’s precedent.

    If this isn’t a fair comment to make, or is totally off-point for this forum, please feel free to tell me. This is an amazing book, and definitely distinguished. If it walks away with awards on Jan 25, I’ll be very pleased.

    • So I think the question Aud is asking is something like: Is this book less effective because there’s a lack of information about how Jamieson and Mohamed created composite characters?

      I think this is a relevant question for non-fiction when we’re evaluating the accuracy of information. Memoirs are based on the subject’s memory and don’t necessarily need outside sources. So does the lack of explanation make you question the accuracy of the depiction?

      For me, I’m satisfied that this book works as a believable, accurate memoir. I don’t think more explanation was necessary (though as a curious person, I generally appreciate more information).

      • Aud Hogan says:

        Thank you, Destinee. I was having trouble trying to articulate what I was thinking, and you summed it up wonderfully. I also appreciate your answer, and find it very satisfying.

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