The Colour of Home by British author Mary Hoffman

The colour of homeI cried the first time I read The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman a couple of years ago. And I cried again when I decided to have another look at it last week. It’s a heart wrenching story but it ends with a positive message.

The Colour of Home is about Hassan, a young immigrant boy from Somalia, who has just started school in Britain. It’s a total culture shock for him. He doesn’t speak English, he’s not used to the damp cold weather or having classes indoors, he can’t eat lunch as he doesn’t recognize the food, and the country and their new home “seemed all cold and grey.” When the teacher asks him to paint a picture he chooses bright warm colors to depict a scene from his former home in Somalia. Then he paints over it with violent dark splashes and images including a stick figure with a gun and bullets.

The next day a Somali translator and a teacher sit down with Hassan at school and ask him to explain his picture. The story of his life then enfolds. We learn that his family had to flee when soldiers came to his house, killing his uncle. For a long time they lived in a camp in Mombasa. But then The Colour of Home shows you Hassan adapting to his new environment with the help of his school. He also starts smiling again in the book’s pictures as the story develops when he notices there are bright colors and hope in his new home.

I originally bought this book as it was on the recommended reading list at my children’s school in London. As my kids – twins – were only 4 years old they didn’t really understand the story line and were frightened by the “bad people” who made Hassan hide under his bed in his former Somali home. I put the book away to reread to them when they were much older. I still feel they’re too young – six next month – but I’d like to read it to them some day in the future as I think it has a powerful message.

I thought about this book after the horrific and tragic events in the recent Kenyan mall massacre by the Somali extremist terror group Al-Shabaab. As a young journalist with NBC News I covered the US military led “Operation Restore Hope” in Mogadishu. Its aim was to create a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia. I discovered a destroyed city divided by warlords. I had to use hired gunmen to transport me whenever I visited NGOs or the US military or even a warlord himself.

Militias and extremist groups continue to destroy this African country and its children. According to a May 2013 UN report about 133,000 children under five died in the latest famine in Somalia between October 2010 and April 2012. Another May 2013 UN report by the Secretary General documents thousands of violations against, killings and maiming of children in 2012, pointing at Al-Shabaab as “the main perpetrator.” An Amnesty 2011 investigation also highlights the horrors that befall Somalia’s children.

The Colour of Home would be an excellent book in the classroom to help children understand not only children from different cultural backgrounds but especially why some of them had to flee their former homes.

The Colour of Home was written by British bestselling author Mary Hoffman, who has written a hundred books so far but is especially known for her Grace series. It was originally published in Britain in 2001. It’s illustrated by Karin Littlewood.

Interestingly enough many former reviews assume Hassan is an immigrant in the USA.  Within the book it mentions that his mother’s jewelry was sold for “tickets to England” and he plays “football” – not soccer – with a new friend at the school. But it doesn’t matter as the story in The Colour of Home is just as strong whether it’s based in the USA or UK or elsewhere.

amazon colour of home  Available on USA Amazon.

Available on UK Amazon.

22 thoughts on “The Colour of Home by British author Mary Hoffman”

  1. Mary Ellen Ryall

    I was happy to promote Multicultural Children’s Book Celebration Day that Kristi Bernard featured. Article was publishing in Washburn County Register, Shell Lake, WI, last week.

    Want our library in Fitchburg, MA and my online store to feature immigrant books, including The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman. Fitchburg’s population is 48 percent Latino. Immigration stories are often stories of survival. Thank you Kriss for writing a review of a children’s book set in Somalia.

  2. This looks like such a powerful book- I am always looking for different perspectives on immigrants’ experiences for my ESL classes, and this would be perfect. Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Thanks so much for introducing me to this book. It looks heartbreaking but wonderful. This story of adversity reminded me of Nasreen’s Secret School. It is a true story about girls in Afghanistan who are going to school in secret during the Taliban time. Worth a read if you don’t already know it!

  4. This kind of story would make me cry too but I agree with you that it’s such an important story to learn about! Thanks so much for linking up to Multicultural Children’s Book Day. (I am reading YA graphic novel War Brothers which is about the child soldiers who are kidnapped in Africa … a follow on to your book and also very sad).

    1. Thank you for your comments – I must find out too about War Brothers. The Multicultural Children’s Book Day event you’ve organised is brilliant.

  5. Your whole post gave me the chills. It is absolutely horrific what is happening in Somalia (as well as many other African nations). I think this is an important book for children in Western societies to read because it helps understand some of the underlying fears and anxieties refugees experience when they move to a new home. You can’t erase the memories of the horrors they have experienced. It would help children developo compassion and empathy. Thank you for sharing your wonderful post in the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

  6. It sounds like a very important book to read. It is such an important subject, and such an important message. I think if we all knew a little bit more about the different places and culture our neighbours come from the world will be a little bit more friendly and open.
    Will look for it for sure for my eldest.

    1. Thank you for much for sharing your views. I agree with you that it’s very important for us to be open to others that might seem ‘different’ from us whether from another culture, country or religion – and teach our children the same message.

  7. This sounds like a lovely little book to read to kids to help them understand about those that are less fortunate than us. I came over here from Kenya at the age of 10 leaving behind my parents as there was an attempted coup to overthrow the president at the time. I can relate and sympathise with the main character…

  8. I am definitely going to find this book and read it to Grace. She is such a good hearted person and I have no doubt she will understand it. I think it is such an important message and will help her understand how lucky she is. Also, I know a couple of other bloggers who have linked this week who would be interested. Thank you so much for linking to PoCoLo xx

    1. I’m really glad you think Grace will be interested in the book. I feel it’s important too for children to understand why many seek Britain or USA as a haven.

  9. This sounds like a really good but difficult book. We just read A child’s Garden by Michael Foreman. It was very moving also, a bit gentler sounding, I read it with my five year old son.

  10. I have never read this book but I am going to go check it out. It sounds like a beautiful story with a powerful message. I could never imagine having to go through anything like that and I am guessing neither could my children but it would be a great book to start a discussion with my oldest about what’s going on outside her world. Thanks for writing this! ( Stopping by from Post,Comment Love Link up Party)

  11. This book truly is of the world in which so many children live these days. You have first-hand experience as well. As a retired elementary teacher and children’s librarian, I would agree with you that this book needs to be read and talked about with your children. I also agree that give them a couple, three more years and the lessons learned may be well worth your wait. Thanks for the recommendation as it sounds very powerful. I wish the world were not the way it is and especially for our children. I am sad for their sakes.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    1. The book is truly moving. Thank you for your advice as I’d like to read it to my children but want to wait until they can properly comprehend it.

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