As a child, I knew that many of our neighbors had come to Canada as refugees; one family had been imprisoned in a Japanese camp during WW2; another had escaped Germany after witnessing events they never mentioned. I didn’t really understand what that meant, but I knew it was important and somehow accounted for certain unusual behaviors (one neighbor would only leave the house concealed in the back seat of the car). In trying to make sense of it, I sought books about World War 2 camps, but to say they were age-inappropriate is a massive understatement. In light of the media coverage of Syrian refugees and the arrival of families in Canada, I’ve started keeping a list of stellar picture books about refugee children to share with my family. Some will also go to a newly arrived family with young children.
The Little Refugee, Anh Do
The author’s memoir of his childhood escape from Vietnam by boat, and his adjustment to life in Australia. The book was nominated for a major literary prize in Australia. As with many children’s books, you can preview it on Youtube.
Azzi In Between, Sarah Garland
The Guardian writes: “[Garland’s] drawings of Azzi’s whitewashed home and its palm trees in a war-torn land and of the spartan English hostel in which her family fetches up are assured and well informed. We witness Azzi’s alienation at primary school. We feel for her demoralised father who is not allowed to work in this country. And we rejoice as family life improves. Moving, involving and without a whiff of condescension – a little masterpiece.” (Image below.)
Color of Home, Mary Hoffman
After fleeing civil war in Somalia, Hassan is homesick. Without English he is at a loss to communicate in his new school. But then his teacher brings out the art supplies, enabling Hassan to tell his story, both the good and bad.
My Two Blankets, Irena Kobald
Kirkus Reviews: “A girl her auntie used to call Cartwheel must flee from a land of war to a place where they can be safe. She finds life there hard and cold, so she takes refuge in a metaphorical blanket of words and memories from her former life. In the park one day, another little girl smiles at her, then brings her to the swings. More than that, she brings her words, and Cartwheel says them to herself, again and again. The text is exquisitely simple, and the watercolor-and-oil images complement, expand, and illuminate the words with magic and delight.” Again, see Youtube for a preview.
Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story, Ken Mochizuki
Based on a real-life episode: five-year-old Hiroki is the son of a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania. When Japan orders the diplomat not to assist Jews seeking to escape, Hiroki asks “If we don’t help them, won’t they die?” In the end, Hiroki’s question saved over six thousand Jewish lives. See Youtube for a preview.
The Silence Seeker, Ben Morley
We’ve had this one in our house forever, and it is the sweetest book: a young boy mishears the phrase “asylum seeker” as “silence seeker.” He tries to help his new older friend find silence, despite the fact they don’t share a language.
How I Learned Geography, Uri Shulevitz
Shulevitz describes his childhood flight from war and his family’s refugee experience. The central image is the enormous map his father brings home one day, instead of food. The map provides sustenance for the young boy’s imagination and inspires him to think beyond their present circumstances. I love Shulevitz’s work (Snow, One Monday) and this is no exception. See Youtube.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings, Richard and Tanya Simon
Oskar escapes Kristallnacht, arriving in New York on Christmas Eve—everything is foreign, he is hungry, and he must walk the 100 blocks to a stranger’s home, where they will celebrate Hanukah. Yet he encounters acts of kindness everywhere. The illustrations are beautiful.
Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home, Youme
From Publishers Weekly: “Sunny watercolors with patterned borders illuminate the simple joys of Mali’s early life, when the world was “full of wonderful things.” She climbs trees, helps prepare feasts, and participates in the tradition of tying strings around the wrists of family and friends, “a way of showing that their hearts would always be together.” The palette darkens as change–described only vaguely–comes to Laos…. Young readers may not understand why Mali’s family is arrested “for not having a home” and placed in a crowded jail with other refugees after they flee to a neighboring country (afterwords provide more context).”
Four Feet, Two Sandals, Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
Afghani refugees Lina and Feroza meet in a refugee camp, when they discover that each has one of a donated pair of shoes. The girls take turns wearing the shoes, becoming great friends in the process. This is part of a multi-book collaboration initiated by Mohammed, who works with refugee children and wanted to ensure their stories were represented. (It is also on Youtube.)
For more children’s book posts, see Fifty Children’s Picture Books with Interesting Heroines , Twenty Chapter Book Series with Interesting Heroines for Early Readers, 6-8, 25 Classic Book Series, Age 6-10, and Back to School with Chapter books featuring boys, 7-9. If you have a favorite book you wish to share, please use the comment section below.