Where do you go when your children ask tough questions about current events? How do you explain things in an age-appropriate manner, without adding fear? As usual, the children’s book world is there to help you out. Here is a list of books, from picture books through middle grade, that offer insight into the refugee experience.
The Journey, by Francesca Sanna
Through the use of limited text and stunning illustrations, The Journey is the story of a family plunged into war, forced to flee, and searching for hope in a new land. Told through the voice of a child, the book starts with a day at the beach. But soon darkness and shadows move in, bringing fear and destruction. The narrator’s father is claimed by war, the family forced to flee. What follows is a trip through unknown lands, a migration, like the birds that fly above them, to a place of safety, but far different from home. Ages 4-8.
The Treasure Box, by Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood
Peter and his father are forced to flee their war-torn home. Like many refugees, they leave almost everything behind, but Peter’s father insists on taking a treasure box. Inside the box, his father says, is something more precious than jewels. It is a book, the only book that survived the bombing of the library, a book that tells the story of their people. As the journey progresses, the box becomes too heavy to continue carrying, and Peter is forced to bury it until the day he can return to retrieve his treasure. Originally published in Australia, this book is currently available for preorder and will be released in April. Ages 4-8.
Teacup, by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley
A young boy is forced to leave his life behind, bringing with him a teacup of earth from his native home. The journey across the ocean mirrors the boy’s emotions—sometimes calm and hopeful, sometimes wild and tumultuous. Against all odds, he keeps the teacup safe, and as his journey brings him to land again, his hope, patience, and perseverance are rewarded. Ages 4-8
Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Williams, Khadra Mohammed, and Doug Chayka
Relief workers arrive at a refugee camp, bringing a box of used clothing. The families of the camp scramble, grabbing whatever they can, including ten-year-old Lina. Lina is thrilled to find a sandal that’s a perfect fit, until she discover another girl, Feroza, has the matching shoe. The two girls decide it is better to share the sandals than for each girl to only possess one, and a friendship grows. This story details the day-to-day life in a refugee camp, as well as the bonds formed between those with similar hopes and fears. Ages 4-8.
Ziba Came on a Boat, by Liz Lofthouse and Robert Ingpen
Ziba is trapped on an old, small, fishing boat, surrounded by others seeking the same freedom she and her mother hope to find. As the boat creaks its way across the ocean, Ziba distracts herself by drifting back to memories of happier times, taking the reader along with her. But it’s impossible to remember the happier times without remembering the dark times that followed; the times that resulted in her presence on the boat from which the story began. As the story comes full circle, Ziba, her mother, and the boat full of refugees find a new beginning in a new land. Ages 6-9.
The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Shane W. Evans
Told in verse, this is the story of Amira. Turning twelve marks a time of new beginnings. Old enough to wear a toob, the traditional garb of women in her Sudanese village. Old enough, perhaps, to convince her mother to allow her to leave home and go to the big city to attend school, Amira’s biggest dream. But any dreams of going to school are shattered when Janjaweed attackers descend upon Darfur, killing her father and forcing Amira to flee with her mother and sister. Suddenly, the only thing that matters is survival. Arriving in a relocation camp, Amira is traumatized, unable to find her voice, until the day an aid worker gives her a pad of paper and a red pencil. Ages 8-12.
Home of the Brave, by Katherine Applegate
Kek had a home and a life in Sudan, and a mother, a father, and a brother. But with his father and brother gone, and his mother missing, Kek finds himself relocated to America to live with his aunt and cousin. While waiting word of his mother’s fate, and hoping she’s found in a refugee camp, Kek struggles to sort out the strangeness of his new home. The Minnesota winter, the food, and the language are all swirls of new experiences and confusion, clearly represented in verse through the voice of Kek himself. Ages 8-12.
Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Saved A Town, by Warren St. John
Outcasts United is the younger reader’s version of the adult bestseller Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference. It’s the heartbreaking and heartwarming story of the Fugees, a soccer team made up of refugee youths from around the world. Clarkston, Georgia was a quiet town, until it became a resettlement center for refugees. Suddenly this small town finds itself with an influx of cultures from war zones around the world, all trying to find their footing, assimilate, and start over thousands of miles from home. It’s through the stern-but-loving dedication of coach Luma Mufleh, a native of Jordan herself, that both the team and the town come together to find a new normal. Ages 8-12.
What are your favorite refugee stories to share with young readers?