The Big Read: No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton

Home learning focus

Using the novel No Ballet Shoes In Syria you will learn how to summarise the main points from an extract and to write creatively.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos of TV and radio presenter Laura Whitmore reading extracts from the book

  • three activities

Learn

No Ballet Shoes In Syria

Aya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria. Whilst waiting to see a case worker, Aya hears music and discovers a ballet class near her home. This is the story of a family's fight to make a home for themselves, Aya's struggle to be reunited with her father, and her love for ballet.

Watch TV and radio presenter Laura Whitmore read an extract an extract from No Ballet Shoes In Syria.

Think about the following:

  • What does this extract tell us about Aya?

  • Why do you think the writer includes a flashback to Aleppo, Syria?

Laura Whitmore reads an extract from 'No Ballet Shoes In Syria' by Catherine Bruton.

Now watch Laura read another extract from No Ballet Shoes In Syria and think about the following:

  • How is Aya feeling in this extract?

  • At the end of the extract, Madam Sylvie asks the class: ‘don’t you have homes to go to?' Is this a simple question?

Laura Whitmore reads a further extract from 'No Ballet Shoes In Syria'.

Practise

You may need paper and a pen or pencil for some of these activities.

Extract 1

It was a relief to be out of there. Away from the smell of old clothes, boiled vegetables, and that other smell, which Aya had decided was sadness. Once upon a time she’d have said that sadness didn’t have a smell. Now it was more familiar than the fast-fading scents of home. Worse than the smell of Moosa’s stinky nappies, worse than Dad’s smelly socks, worse than the boys’ changing room at school – though she wouldn’t have thought that was possible a year ago!

Aya stretched her arms high above her head and looked around the lobby. Manchester Welcomes Refugees was housed in a community centre in a run-down area of the city, where crumbling red-brick terraces crouched in the shadows of dying and derelict tower blocks. So different from the tree-lined streets and sunlit avenues of Aleppo – before the war, that is.

Aya remembered sitting at the kitchen table with Dad teaching her English, laughing at the strange-sounding syllables. She could still see Dad’s smiling face – the dark almond eyes, the hint of grey in the stubble on his chin, the small scar on his cheek from when he’d had chicken pox as a child. She pushed the thought away quickly. She couldn’t think about Dad. Not if she was going to keep it together.

Aya is a Syrian asylum seeker, looking after her mother and baby brother in Manchester, and she is a talented ballet dancer. A part of her life that seemed lost forever when she fled her home comes back to her when she encounters a ballet class led by the elegant Miss Helena. As the book unfolds, she finds new friends and learns to depend on the kindness of strangers. Published by Nosy Crow.

Activity 1

  1. Read the first extract again and think about the events that unfold.

What are the top five events that happen in this extract? What struck a chord with you?

  1. Re-read the extract and write down five important events or revelations from the writer Catherine Bruton.

  2. Number these events or revelations from 1-5 in order of importance, with 5 being the most important.

Activity 2

  1. Read the first extract again and focus on this section:

It was a relief to be out of there. Away from the smell of old clothes, boiled vegetables, and that other smell, which Aya had decided was sadness. Once upon a time she’d have said that sadness didn’t have a smell. Now it was more familiar than the fast-fading scents of home. Worse than the smell of Moosa’s stinky nappies, worse than Dad’s smelly socks, worse than the boys’ changing room at school…

Have you ever associated smells with a feeling?

  1. Think about the feeling of happiness. What smells would you associate with happiness?

  2. Write a short paragraph like Catherine Bruton’s above where you explain smells that are associated with happiness.

Extract 2

'So you learned to dance where you came from?' Aya looked up to see Ciara was watching her intently from the other side of the lobby.

'She’s come from Syria, not from Mars!' said Dotty.

'I thought they had a war in Syria,' said Ciara. The girls were all looking at her curiously now and Aya wanted to explain that her life had been like theirs once. That she hadn’t been born a refugee. That she wasn’t so different from them. Or she hadn’t been. Once upon a time. But all she managed to say was, 'it was not always that way.'

She thought of her old classmates – scattered, lost, gone – while these girls danced on, knowing nothing of the war happening in a country far away, and staring at her curiously, seeing her as different.

'Shoo, shoo, shoo!' Madam Sylvie was at the door, waving the girls away. 'Don’t you have homes to go to?'

‘Oops! Gotta dash!' said Dotty, leaping to her feet and following them.

Aya wanted to beg her not to but the words did not come. And then they were gone – and she was alone again, standing in the lobby, the phrase 'Don’t you have homes to go to?' bouncing in her mind.

Such a simple question. But she didn’t have an answer.

Activity 3

  1. Read the second extract again.

Within this extract, we observe how other characters interact with Aya.

  1. Read the statements below and write down what the dialogue tells us about each character.
Example of dialogueWhat this tells us about the character
‘So, you learned to dance where you came from?’Ciara
'She’s come from Syria, not from Mars!'Dotty
'It was not always that way.'Aya
'Don’t you have homes to go to?'Madam Sylvie

There's more to learn

Bitesize Daily lessons
KS3 English
Catherine Bruton