Everyone’s talking about refugees these days. I’m not sure people are doing anything differently, but since it’s a part of the discussion, I wanted to share a short list of children’s novels about refugees that I have read and enjoyed. Most I have shared with my children, and they have been received well. Several of them won Newbery honor awards. Almost all are written by Newbery winning authors. They all have a positive world view, although none are religious.
Why teach through books? Reading novels with our children is a good starting point for understanding and empathy. Most of our children live safe and sheltered lives, and although we wouldn’t want it any other way, we still want to help them reach out to others in need. I want my children’s hearts to be full of compassion. I want them asking how they can meet the needs around them. For me, this goal is not dependent on what my government chooses to do about refugees. I can ALWAYS find someone to love!
Do you have any books that you would add?
The Road from Home: A True Story of Courage, Survival and Hope by David Kherdian. Real life story of the author’s mother who escaped the Armenian genocide in the 1910s. This is one that I would give to junior high or high school students. Many people don’t realize that Hitler watched the lack of global response to the Armenian genocide, and referenced it when justifying his own plans.
The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson. About an Albanian family living in Kosovo in the 1990s.
The Long Walk to Water by Linda Park is about a boy and a girl in Sudan. Park alternates between Nya in 2008, and Salva in 1985. This is a good one to read aloud, and it works well with a variety of ages.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Lai tells the story of a refugee from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. I really liked this one. It’s probably the best on my list at communicating the wide variety of emotions of a child in a new country.
Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic. This is an edited diary of 12 year old girl in Sarajevo during 1991-1993. It’s of interest because it is a first-person non-fictional story from a refugee child.
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle. This is a story in poems about refugees living in the jungle of Cuba, and well worth the time to read. It gave me a strong desire to learn more about the history of Cuba. The introduction states: “On October 10, 1868, a handful of Cuban plantation owners freed their slaves and declared independence from Spain. Throughout the next three decades of war, nurses hid in jungle caves, healing the wounded with medicines made from wild plants. On Februrary 16, 1896, Cuban peasants were ordered to leave their farms and villages. They were given eight days to reach “reconcentration camps” near fortified cities. Anyone found in the countryside after eight days would be killed. My great-grandparents were two of the refugees.”
The Moved Outers by Florence Crannell Means. This is about the Japanese internment during World War 2 in the States. It won a Newbery Honor award, and was published in 1945. It’s a good book, but thematically going to be received best by a teen audience. (There are several good picture books for children on this topic. This is one of the few novels.)
Finally, I have long admired The Arrival by Shawn Tan. It’s a book that tells the story in pictures better than he could have in words. If you have children or teens who are sensitive to pictures, or enjoy graphic novels, this one is excellent for discussion.