No Ballet Shoes in Syria

No Ballet Shoes in Syria

By Author / Illustrator

Catherine Bruton


Representation & Inclusion

Age range(s)



Nosy Crow Ltd




Paperback / softback




Winner of the Books Are My Bag Readers AwardAya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria.When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship.But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves and to find Aya's father - separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria.With beautiful, captivating writing, wonderfully authentic ballet detail, and an important message championing the rights of refugees, this is classic storytelling - filled with warmth, hope and humanity.\"Wise and kind and unputdownable.\" - Hilary McKay, Costa Book Prize-winning author of The Skylarks' War\"A perfect balance of tragedy and triumph.\" - Natasha Farrant, author of The Children of Castle Rock\"A moving story about one of the big issues of our time, told with wonderful clarity, and incredibly touching.\" - Axel Scheffler, illustrator of The Gruffalo\"A moving, textured story ... Ballet Shoes for the 21st century\" - The Times



In a community centre in a run down area of Manchester where 'Manchester welcomes refugees', 11-year-old Aya sits day after day, hour after hour, to see the case worker who can hopefully help them to claim asylum. Her mother speaks little English and is withdrawn and poorly. Around her is a hotchpotch of similar stories, families split, lives lost, broken English, all desperately wanting to feel safe and have somewhere to call home. Her life in Syria, Aleppo all but a distant memory, at times a recurring nightmare.

On hearing the familiar bars of ballet music playing, Aya's memories are stirred to her dancing classes back home - before. That moment of observing Aya 'losing herself' in the music sparks memories for ballet mistress, Miss Helena, too. Can this budding ballerina find her place or will 'paper work' and ignorance prevent her from staying?

No Ballet Shoes in Syria is a beautiful story of hope, belief and community spirit against the obstacles of ignorance, prejudice and a minefield of rules and regulations. Catherine Bruton creates a wonderful mix of emotions through Aya; her hopes, her frustrations, her sadness, her fears. By carefully unravelling the plight of one family of refugees, we see the reasons for leaving, the dangerous journey, the loss, the difficulties faced (en route and in situ); interleaved with the hopes and wishes of a young girl, the need to belong, the desires to be accepted, the injustice faced. This story takes the reader on an emotional journey. The pureness of Aya's voice is heart-wrenchingly honest and so utterly captivating.

In the classroom I would use it to help children learn about refugees and asylum seekers in present day situations but also throughout history. It is a masterclass in the dynamics of communities: friendship and trust verses ignorance, mistrust and persecution. In English it provides a fine example of emotive writing and use of flashbacks.

272 pages / Reviewed by Donna Burket, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 9+


In No Ballet Shoes in Syria, eleven-year-old Aya is a dancer. Her head full of dreams of ballet, music and her wonderful teacher, Madame Belova. She is also an asylum seeker. Recently arrived in Britain from Syria, she and her mother and baby brother find themselves entangled in the complex asylum process - passed from pillar to post, without anywhere to really call home. Her mother is depressed and young Aya feels responsible for looking after her family - a promise she made to her beloved Dad when they were separated on the journey to Britain.

One day, whilst waiting in the interminable queue in the community centre to fill in endless forms she doesn't really understand, Aya hears music and is drawn to the ballet class taking place in another room. When Aya is asked to join the class and audition for ballet school, she begins to believe that a better, more hopeful life might be possible.

I really enjoyed this well-balanced and inspiring story. Aya is a spirited and determined character, often torn between her own ambitions and caring for her family. She makes friends but also experiences jealousy and prejudice and it is not until her full story is revealed towards the end of the book that many of the other characters truly understand the devastation and horror she has overcome.

I liked the fact that the asylum system and her individual case was so clearly explained but also the fact that despite their different experiences, she and the other girls found common ground and understanding.

The story of Aya's life in Aleppo is told in poignant flashbacks and the reader can begin to see the enormity of leaving everything you love behind whilst trying to forge a new life in an alien country. This is a thoughtful, heart-warming book that will be loved by young ballet dancers and many more besides.

259 pages / Reviewed by Clare Wilkins, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 9+


Eleven-year-old Aya has arrived in Britain from Syria. She has left her homeland behind, lost her father and is holding the rest of the fragile family together, responsible beyond her years. When she glimpses the dancers in the community centre's ballet class, she longs to dance again - ballet was one of the things she left behind.

As Aya finds herself drawn into a new community and slowly begins to find her feet, her difficult journey is told through a series of flashbacks. As the reader follows her preparation for an audition, new friendships blossom but the tension faced by Aya and her family as they wait anxiously to find out whether they can stay or face deportation is tangible.

Bruton states she wants her readers to see beyond the label of 'refugee' and 'asylum seeker' and in No Ballet Shoes in Syria, she has succeeded in generating compassion, empathy and understanding. Aya's hopes, dreams and fears are the same as her peers, yet she carries another layer of sadness and trauma as she seeks to make sense of her past. Bruton skilfully draws us into Aya's life; past, present and future but without being 'preachy'; Aya is a girl, just like you or me.

With tears running down my face, I held my breath as the story approached a deeply satisfying conclusion. Not all wrongs can be righted, but there is always hope, and above all this story is a hopeful one.

Highly recommended for mature readers of 9+, this story contains emotive descriptions of the refugee journey, familiar to most adults but alien to most youngsters, and tragic events occur.

272 pages / Reviewed by Lucy Russell, teacher

Suggested Reading Age 9+


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