War, climate change, and other human and environmental factors continue to displace countless people across the world. As a result, headlines are brimming with stories about refugees fleeing their homes and homelands – leaving their entire lives behind.
Adults struggle to understand the aftermath and atrocities. Imagine being a child. They have so many questions; questions that deserve thoughtful, informed answers. Where do you begin? Try by opening the pages of a book. Books can convey the hardships and challenges refugees face as they escape war, persecution, and threats to their lives.
Here are ten books to help your child learn about the refugee experience and get the conversation started:
by Francesca Sanna
“The Journey” tells the story of an anonymous refugee boy as he flees his war-torn country for a new home. Although the war and setting are not identified, Sanna does a brilliant job capturing this universal struggle using powerful illustrations that capture the anxiety, fear, heartbreak, and hope in the life of a refugee. “Simple words. Profound meaning. Books and storytelling provide a measure of emotional stamina for the family throughout their journey, and final end pages offer a small sense of hope for this unfinished tale,” says “School Library Journal.”
“Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey”
by Margriet Ruurs
Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr’s stone art inspired Margriet Ruurs to create a one-of-a-kind picture book about a Syrian family forced to leave their country embroiled in civil war. With only the belongings on their backs, Rama and her family begin walking their way to freedom, each step taking them closer to Europe. “A book that should be read with every child in the world! An instant classic as solid as the stones on which it is based!” says award-winning author Eric Walters.
“Four Feet, Two Sandals”
by Karen Lynn Williams
It’s been two years since young Lina has worn shoes. When new clothes arrive at the refugee camp, she is excited to find a single yellow sandal. She wonders where the other one is, until she sees it on Feroza, another little girl. In a beautiful story about friendship and survival, the two girls soon realize that uniting and sharing the sandals is better than being alone and only wearing one.
“The Red Pencil”
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Amira Bright’s life in her Sudanese village in South Darfur is torn apart when the Janjaweed arrive. They attack the peaceful community, unleashing unspeakable horrors. After witnessing her father’s murder and seeing the village in ruins, Amira and the other survivors must band together and head to a refugee camp. Amira is so horrified, she’s unable to form a word – until an aid worker hands her a red pencil. A new world, and the education she has longed for, blooms amidst the chaos.
Author Doug Kuntz tells the true story of one cat’s incredible journey to be united with his war-torn Iraqi family. When the family escapes from Mosul, by car, foot, and boat, they lose their beloved pet, Kunkush, along the way. He somehow escapes his carrier and ends up with Amy, a refugee volunteer. Together, in Greece, they are determined to reunite the family, whiskers and all.
by Rebecca Young
Children of all ages will connect with this inspiring tale of a young boy forced to leave his home and find another. Alone, he departs in a rowboat with just a book, a blanket, and a teacup filled with earth from his home. Some days his journey is peaceful, filled with blue skies and sun. Others, he barely escapes the wrath of the storms. In the end, there’s hope and peace with the start of a new friendship.
“A Long Walk to Water”
by Linda Sue Park
“A Long Walk to Water” unfolds as two different stories, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan: Nya, a girl in 2008, and Salva, a boy in 1985. When Salva’s school is attacked, he must run and seek refuge in another country. His journey is grueling, but he finally makes it to Kenya, where a family from the United States adopts him. Many years later, Salva returns home to help his people, including a girl named Nya. Their stories beautifully intertwine in a moving and compelling way.
“Inside Out and Back Again”
by Thanhha Lai
Inspired by the author’s own experience as a refugee, “Inside Out and Back Again” tells the story of Hà, whose family flees Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon in 1975. They arrive in Alabama as refugees and struggle to adapt to their new life. “The elemental details of Hà’s struggle dramatize a foreigner’s experience of alienation. Even as she begins to shape a new life, there is no easy comfort: her father is still gone,” says “Booklist.”
“Salt to the Sea”
by Ruta Sepetys
A beautiful and painful book meant for teens and young adults, “Salt to the Sea” is based on the true events of World War II. Set in East Prussia during the winter of 1945, the book follows the plight of refugees as Germany tries to evacuate soldiers and civilians. The plot centers on four very different teens, each with a dark secret, as they connect and vie for passage on a ship for refugees. “Artfully told and sensitively crafted, Sepetys’s exploration of this little-known piece of history will leave readers weeping,” says “School Library Journal.”
“The Good Braider”
by Terry Farish
Selected as a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year and a Book of Outstanding Merit, this unique, free-verse novel will leave teens spellbound. The story follows Viola, a Sudanese refugee, and her journey from her home in war-ravaged Sudan to Cairo and finally to the Sudanese community in Maine. While trying to build her new life, she is forever haunted by memories of her past.
What books about the refugee experience would you add to this list? Share in the comments!