The Center for Literacy Education at the University of Notre Dame has presented its inaugural Alexandria Award to “When Stars are Scattered,” a graphic novel by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed.
The Alexandria Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult book that advances Gospel values through the positive actions and portrayals of tenacious adolescents. It is named for St. Catherine of Alexandria, an adolescent Christian of the fourth century who was an eager student and a famed orator.
“When Stars are Scattered,” written and illustrated by Jamieson, tells the story of Omar Mohamed and his younger brother, Hassan, as they grow up as Somali refugees in a camp in Kenya.
“There is so much about this book that makes it the obvious choice as the inaugural recipient of the Alexandria Award,” said Michael Macaluso, the founder of the award and an assistant teaching professor in the Center for Literacy Education and the Alliance for Catholic Education’s Teaching Fellows program. “From the potential to have classroom conversations about immigration and the dignity of all people — especially refugees — to the layers of faith, hope and love that drive the plot, ‘When Stars Are Scattered’ speaks to everyone. It compels readers to feel, act, love, give thanks and trust in God, and the graphic nature of the book offers a more intimate window into the life and experiences of someone who could be our neighbor.”
The Center for Literacy Education, which is housed in Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives, created the award to respond to the need for high-quality, highly engaging contemporary books in the classroom and the desire of Catholic school teachers to teach classroom books — classic or contemporary — through a lens of faith and Catholic social teaching.
“We are honored that ‘When Stars Are Scattered’ has been chosen as the inaugural winner of the Alexandria Award through the University of Notre Dame. Omar’s story is one of perseverance and hope, and we are thrilled that more young people will become acquainted with his story by means of this award,” Jamieson and Mohamed wrote. “‘When Stars Are Scattered’ places special significance on the importance of education, and we are honored to be recognized by educators and librarians in this way.”
More than 500 copies of the book will be given to schools across the country, including local schools in South Bend, Indiana, and will be accompanied by a curriculum insert featuring suggested classroom learning goals, activities and discussion guides for thinking about the book through a lens of faith and Catholic social teaching.
Getting awarded books into classrooms and, most importantly, into the hands of students removes a barrier of inequity that some schools, educators and even parents may face in supporting children’s faith formation and literacy development, Macaluso said.
St. Catherine is the patron of students, librarians and educators, and the award commemorates her youth, bravery, tenacity, enthusiasm for education and her home in Alexandria — the famed location of the Great Library. St. Catherine boldly defended the faith and protested injustices of her time, including the persecution of Christians. Her efforts led to the conversion of hundreds of people before she was martyred at 18.
For more information about the Alexandria Award, visit iei.nd.edu/alexandria.