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Paper Planes

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Niko and his family are trapped in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. The siege lasts for three years and Niko's family struggle to find enough food and avoid the snipers whose targets are civilians in the streets. Niko and his friend Nadim take refuge from the bombing in the stairwell of their apartment building and together they find hope in the midst of a war they did not start but must try to survive.

192 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2014

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About the author

Allayne L. Webster

10 books27 followers
Allayne is an author of Junior Fiction, Middle Grade and Young Adult literature. She’s the recipient of multiple arts grants, a Premier’s Reading Challenge Ambassador, and a former literary festival board member.
Paper Planes (Scholastic) was a 2016 Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Notable/shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. A Cardboard Palace (MidnightSun) was a 2018 CBCA Notable and published in Sweden. Our Little Secret (Scholastic) was listed for the Golden Inkys and has recently been republished by Ligature Press. The Centre of My Everything (PenguinRandomHouse) was listed in the 2019 Davitt Awards (crime) and shortlisted in the 2020 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. Sensitive (UQP) is published in Russia and was shortlisted in the 2020 Australian Speech Pathology Awards and is a 2023 IBBY Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities.
That Thing I Did (Wakefield Press), a YA comedy, was released in March 2022 to rave reviews, and Selfie (YA, Text Publishing) will be released 4th April 2023. When not writing, Allayne plays guitar and paints.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 34 reviews
Profile Image for Rebecca.
610 reviews501 followers
June 6, 2015
Umpires wear white uniforms and blow whistles to declare penalty shots. They also keep score. It's hard for them to stop the players from arguing. Everyone wants their side to win.

I'm not crying, you're crying.

Paper Planes tells the story of 12-year old Niko. He lives a normal life with his parents and two siblings in Bosnia, until he is awoken early one morning to a phonecall. His brother's friend is calling to warn them. The war is coming.

What follows is quite an educational middle grade novel on the Bosnian war and its effects on the Bosnian people. Reading it, I couldn't help but draw parallels to current events in the Middle East, for example in Syria and Palestine. War is destructive and 30 years later it is still wrecking havoc on humanity.

The writing was simplistic, as it tends to be in most middle grade novels, but I was engrossed from the very beginning. I admittedly don't know much about the Bosnian war and I don't tend to read much historical fiction but this book was super easy to read.

There was so much I sincerely enjoyed. The concept of family and familial love. Equality and difference. Not taking our commodities for granted. It was a bittersweet read, especially when you turn the last page to find a quick note from Jarko (Niko's older brother).
Profile Image for Rebecca jones.
40 reviews1 follower
June 24, 2017
I read this to my 12-year old son and we both absolutely loved it. A real eye-opener for kids on what families in war zones are going through, and because it is written from the perspective of a child it was very relatable. We were both so sad when we finished it as we wanted more! And a bit more closure would have been good too. Would love a sequel.
November 30, 2017
Niko and his brother and his sister escape into Australia, and their parents stay back in the war. Good Book I loved it!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nic Ayson.
202 reviews3 followers
April 28, 2016
A pre-teen read that is a story about a boy and his family during the Bosnian War. It was an easy read with good explanations of war terminology for young readers. My eleven year old really loved this. I found it to be quite simplistic with a very rushed ending.
Profile Image for Taylor Fletcher.
1 review1 follower
December 29, 2015
So so good! A bit confronting but I loved it
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
20 reviews1 follower
April 19, 2019
I did consider, when rating this book, that it was aimed for a much younger reader audience... around 10/11 age the same as the main character. This attributes to how simply it is written. However, other books aimed at children I still read and absolutely love, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman... Also I feel even an 11 year old may be more worldly wise and literate the this book portrays.

Despite this I generally like the story and think it’s a great insight of the Struggles on Bosnian. Reading it through the eyes of a child who doesn’t understand the serious implication of a war at first is a good introduction to a historic/political topic the reader may not be familiar. I am encouraged to find out more.
Profile Image for Jess.
112 reviews
June 21, 2018
This wasn't just historical fiction but a book based around one of the characters, and his memories from the Bosnian War. I found it very moving, and yes I did shed a few tears.
A tad slow to begin but in a way it adds to the change in situation that the characters faced.
I would love a follow up to know what happened to Niko's bestfriend Nedim.
158 reviews2 followers
April 2, 2020
An enlightening read, especially given the current circumstances with Covid-19. Although this novel is about the Bosnian war, which was far worse, students who have had no idea of these types of circumstances may find themselves a little more compassionate and understanding about how things can change so suddenly.
Profile Image for Jaq.
1,814 reviews2 followers
November 16, 2018
Solid exploration of life in a war torn Yugoslavia. What did break my heart was the line about Australia accepting refugees, and I reflect on the current state of play that has the main parties detaining refugee children for years. A good book to start a conversation that must happen.
Profile Image for Jess.
261 reviews8 followers
January 8, 2019
A way to tell a story and a part of history. Seeing it from a child's point of view of raw emotion, friendships, family and what it feels to be within inches of your life. This was a great story which led me through how it would feel to be in a country in war.
1 review
September 12, 2019
It was an emotional book about real life events that have occurred.
The worst part for me was when Jarko took Nikos dog to the war with him, it was pretty sad.
This book is about survival and war, it is based in Bosnia.
6 reviews
August 15, 2017
This book is so incredibly well written. The story grabs you from the beginning and doesn't let you go. Do yourself a favour and read this book!
Profile Image for Dark Matter.
360 reviews26 followers
January 17, 2015
This book was reviewed on Dark Matter Zine; for more reviews, interviews and articles, go to Dark Matter Zine. Alternatively, this link is just to Dark Matter Zine's reviews.

A review by Nalini Haynes

Trigger warnings: violence, attempted suicide, starvation, deaths

Niko lives in Sarajevo with his family when the former Yugoslavia is torn apart by civil war. Niko and his best friend Nedim are from different people groups and different religions and yet they remain friends throughout this terrible conflict intended to set them against one another. Sarajevo is bombed. Soldiers steal Niko's family's UN food rations. Dogs on the streets are dangerous and food. This story is based on real life.

Webster's voice is incredibly powerful as she tells this fictionalised account of real events in a childlike voice. Paper Planes is When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit for the generation that saw people jumping from the Twin Towers. This is both a blessing and a curse.

Paper Planes is brilliant and a must-read for adults . Although the protagonist is a child, like in Sonya Hartnett's Of a Boy, this is not a story for children. Not unless you've had to explain war and trauma to a child. If your child has experienced events like those in Paper Planes then this book is a must, to be read with close supervision and support. If your child has a close friend or family member who is suffering as a result of living through events like those in Paper Planes then this book should also be read with close supervision and support.

However, I'd take great care to tailor this book to the child and the child's maturity, not giving this to just any child aged 10 to 14.

A long time ago, I awoke to my son saying, 'Pokemon isn't on. Pokemon isn't on, Mum.'

I groaned, thinking You woke me up to tell me Pokemon isn't on? I can sleep in for a few minutes yet before I have to get you ready for school.

'Mum. Pokemon isn't on. You're going to want to see this. AMERICA IS AT WAR.'

Within seconds I was up, wearing my glasses and sitting on the couch in my pajamas watching TV. A skyscraper had a hole in its side. People were falling from skyscrapers WHEN A CHILDREN'S TV PROGRAM SHOULD HAVE BEEN SHOWING.

I didn't have a choice about whether or not to let my children see this awful event on television. That decision was made for me so my only choice was how to handle it. I figured it was better to let my children continue watching so they would know everything rather than worry about what they didn't know. When it came time for school, I let my two children decide whether to go to school that day or not.

Before he made up his mind, my son wanted to know how this war would affect us.

'I think we won't be directly affected. We don't know anyone who was killed. We don't know anyone who will be fighting. The most we'll be directly affected is that petrol prices will go up.' I was mostly right.

My eight-year-old son mulled this over and decided to go to school. His primary school was, quite literally, over the back fence. I told him he could come home if he wanted. He went to school. Play that day was subdued but safe.

My sixteen-year-old daughter decided to take the day off school to watch the news as it unfolded. It was mostly repeats of the same terrifying events until the second tower came down and the third plane. She pulled out some grey Mi Tente paper and pastels to draw some flowers that we'd been given: pink carnations with white edges. We watched the news together while she drew. We talked.

Paper Planes is 'only' a novel but it is just as real as the events of that fateful day. Adult caregivers should make a deliberate, conscious decision about when their child is old enough to read this novel. Don't let someone else make that decision for you.

Paper Planes is brilliant. The child's voice makes this story more powerful. I highly recommend this novel for an adult audience. I want to give it 6 stars out of 5 but that makes no sense.
Profile Image for Marianne Grasso.
13 reviews1 follower
August 22, 2016
I have never travelled to Sarajevo, Bosnia, but novelist Allayne L. Webster made me feel as though I was there in 1992, alongside Niko and his family, trying to survive the war that ravaged the country. The story outlines the hardships endured by the Dobesh family and their determination to survive.

The story begins with the family receiving a phone call warning them about the impending war. Niko rushes onto their apartment’s balcony and all is quiet…too quiet. The bustling city is deserted, with only a single paper plane floating in the wind. Within minutes the view changes as armoured trucks arrive, and soldiers assist the hundreds of people into the vehicles. The Dobesh family makes the decision to stay in their homeland and brace themselves for what is to come.

The reader experiences the story through the eyes of Niko, a frightened boy who allows the reader to see what he sees, and feel what he feels. He is only eleven when the first bomb hits and his innocence is highlighted when he asks his family whether they will wake up dead if they are bombed in their sleep.

Nedim lives on the third floor of the apartment block. He is Niko’s best friend and Niko is relieved when he learns that the Mujanovic family has also decided to stay behind in Bosnia. Niko and Nedim pass the time by reflecting on their old lives, but they both learn quite quickly that life in Sarajevo will never be the same again. The boys demonstrate the true meaning of friendship and they work together to overcome the many dangers they face.

A continuous theme throughout the story is strength and hope, and this is demonstrated by all characters, but especially by the Dobesh and Mujanovic families. These families also prove that differences in religious and cultural traditions should not dictate people’s relationships with one another, or determine who should live and who should die. Despite their differences, Niko and Nedim have an everlasting friendship, sealed by their secret handshake and code word. The note at the end of the story is very special and I thank Jarko (Niko’s older brother) for sharing his story.

Paper Planes is a wonderful text based on real events. It educates the reader on historical events and is a great book to introduce students to the topic of refugees. Scholastic provides teachers with comprehensive notes and activities.
Profile Image for TheCosyDragon.
938 reviews9 followers
February 2, 2015
This review has been crossposted from my blog at The Cosy Dragon . Please head there for more in-depth reviews by me, which appear on a timely schedule.

NIko is a normal young boy with a loving family and home. But suddenly, he finds himself in the middle of a war zone, and he must make his way through it to safety with or without his family.

I wasn’t expecting anything when I picked up ‘Paper Planes’. To my surprise, it was the narrative of a young boy, threatened by war in Bosnia. Again, I’m not good with history, but this the real thing. In the back of the novel, you will find a note from Jarko.

The reader feels just as lost, and alone as Niko does, as the world falls apart. From such a normal beginning, things deteriorate. Niko just wants to go to school, but instead he’s trapped inside, with his family – until his sister and brother are forced to serve.

This novel also points out, albeit subtly, that there are no differences between people of different religions. Niko prays, but is afraid his father will find out. And his best friend is Muslim. Niko doesn’t understand why religion should play a role in who die or lives. In fact, it seems like dull chance whether they will survive.

This novel brings a face to the refugees that come to Australia. They aren’t responsible for their situation (as Niko finds, as he fears he is), and they have so few options. It hurts me to see that the Red Cross and the UN can’t do more.

I think the blurb on the back ‘Can Niko find the courage to face his worst fear?’ isn’t very accurate. He’s not facing hi worst fear – it’s just that he finds himself where he can’t get away from any of the war. I also vaguely expected that this novel would be a dystopian, in line with the other novels Scholastic had sent me in the package – imagine my surprise!

This novel, in my opinion, should be nominated for late primary school / early secondary school reading. I think it would be difficult to get onto the curriculum, but at the same time, it would be so valuable as a resource. It’s more accessible than ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’.
Profile Image for Dimity Powell.
Author 30 books77 followers
May 5, 2015
This did not pull me as much as the title and cover promised it might however it is nonetheless a fascinating account of the conflict that divided a nation and its people for nearly half a decade. Ashamedly, I was aware of very little of the Civil War which savaged the former Yugoslavia in the early 90s in spite of the fact that I was living and working in Europe at the time. Paper Planes traces the plight of one family in Sarajevo through the eyes of the quite naive 12 year-old Niko and his eventual escape from the city under siege. Flecked with historic accuracies, this story does prick the emotions and beggars the belief as to how we humans are (still) able to fight our fellow man in such prehistoric ways for so little substantial reason. Recommended for historic awareness for mid grade readers.
910 reviews4 followers
August 20, 2016
True events from the Bosnian-Serbian war form the basis for this gentle novel. We see everything through the eyes of 11-year-old Niko, Domenik Dobesh. The normal town life that he and his parents and 2 older siblings (Jarko and Danijela) shared, is now obliterated by Serbian shelling into Sarajevo, resulting in the terrible siege of 1992-1996. Starvation, snipers, cannon, bombs, air attacks and murderers were all unleased onto unsuspecting families like Niko's - families who had lived in peace alongside each other for generations; many of whom were willing to still live in peace, never minding who was Muslim and who was Christian. But mania, politics and power wrested control from the ordinary people, and they found themselves in the grip of war. In the end, it is the goodness of ordinary people that helped some of them survive.
Profile Image for Rosanne Hawke.
Author 50 books87 followers
January 23, 2015
Another good book about children living in a war zone for Middle School. Webster is a very good writer and gives a human face to a war that I know little of. A map would have helped me understand, but the story showed what it would be like to live in a city under siege and I was inspired to find out more on the web. Faithfully based on a true story and could be read alongside the recent Through my Eyes series about children living in war zones.
Profile Image for Annie.
653 reviews17 followers
July 10, 2015
Probably one of the most depressing books I have read in a long time.. The world is seen in the eyes of an innocent 12 year old boy named Niko who is trapped in the Bosnian war with his family.. Niko is unable to comprehend the severity of the situation or how his life has been turned upside down because of this war.. I recommend this to younger readers who grew up in Australia - so they can understand how blessed we are to have grown up away from all of that..
349 reviews12 followers
October 26, 2015
Niko and his family live in Sarajevo and this book tells the terrible story of their life during the Bosnian War - the bombings, the snipers, the shortage of food etc. The book is very well written and while probably aimed at 10-13 year olds, it is a wonderful, quick adult read as well.
Profile Image for Steph Cuthbert.
Author 2 books21 followers
March 30, 2016
DNF. This has been on my shelf too long. It's not that it's bad- it's okay- it's just that there are so many more books on my TBR and this is lower MG war story which isn't my thing at all.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 34 reviews

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