The Story of Hurry is in many ways fantastical: Emma Williams’ words tell the story of a donkey disguised as a zebra, while Ibrahim Quraishi’s mixed-media illustrations throw together plastic models, marker, and often effect-drenched photographs. Yet this children’s book is also based on a true story, and is especially relevant in light of the recent swell of violence between Israel and Gaza.
The book, set in Gaza, opens by introducing us to Hurry the donkey. He’s too young to be used as a beast of burden, so he spends his days trying to make the children happy. After a zoo is crippled by Operation Cast Lead, the zookeeper decides to paint Hurry as a zebra as a treat for the children. Hurry goes along enthusiastically, doing his best to be a good zebra.
With so much pro-Palestinian rhetoric devolving into anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe, parents may be wary of this book. But The Story of Hurry is not a work of propaganda. It’s as apolitical as a book set in Gaza can be (the words “Israel” or “Palestine” are never mentioned in the story).
When IDF soldiers make an appearance, they’re portrayed as distant silhouettes, neither vilified nor humanized: Hurry and the children “would wander to the sandy beach, but they were chased out of the sea by angry men.” The border wall is mentioned casually, as a landmark, as children in less troubled regions might mention a corner store or bus stop. (The book contains a brief historical note—for grown-ups, according to the back cover—touching on the blockade of Gaza and the resulting humanitarian crises.)
I read this book with Analise, the five-year-old daughter of a family friend. She learned some new vocabulary (“lolloping”), and liked how Hurry felt sad when the children were sad and happy when the children were happy, “almost like they’re the same person.” Her final verdict: “It’s a great book.”
It would be a shame if parents avoided The Story of Hurry because of its setting. Readers of all ages could benefit from this story of resilience and joy against the backdrop of seemingly interminable conflict.
–Available September 9th from Triangle Square, a division of Seven Stories Press.