These picture books all feature refugees. They are organized by region of the world.
Lilah Tov Good Night by Ben Gundersheimer & Noar Lee Naggan – a young girl and her family flee their home at night, traveling through the forest on foot, and over water by boat, before finally reaching a new home. The girl says good night to each animal and landscape they see along the way. This is the most gentle book about the refugee experience I have come across. We love it as a peaceful bedtime story as well.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margariet Ruurs, Falah Raheem & Nazir Ali Badr – Before the story even begins, front matter explains how this stunning picture book came into being. The illustrations, all photographs of works of art, are painstakingly created by a Syrian artist. The author tells the story of a Syrian family leaving all they knew behind to find a safe place to call home. It is a story that brings hope.
Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour & Daniel Egneus – (Hints of Lubna being Syrian, but does not directly name a country) – Lubna’s best friend is a shiny, smooth pebble she found on a beach when she arrived there at night with her father. When Amir arrives cold and scared, at the refugee camp where she’s staying, Lubna befriends him. Finally the day comes when Lubna and her father leave the refugee camp. In an act of selflessness, Lubna decides to give Amir her special pebble so he has a friend. A perfect book for any age.
The Refuge by Sandra le Guen, Stephane Nicolet & Daniel Hahn – While bonding over a mutual interest in the sky, Jeannette learns the story of Illana’s escape to France from her war-torn country. The child-like illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to this gentle text about a refugee family finding a new home among friendly people. A beautiful, gentle story that can be shared with any age group as an introduction to the plight of refugees.
Yursa Swims by Julie Abery & Sally Deng – The true story, told in rhyme, of Yursa Mardini’s journey from Syria to Berlin, Germany. This is a visually stunning book and I love how the limited, yet carefully chosen words of the rhyming text, conveys so many thoughts and feelings. This is definitely a book that humanizes refugees.
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khandra Mohammed
My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo – After his town is bombed, a young boy and his family are forced to flee through the Syrian countryside. He continues to worry about his pet birds, even after he arrives at a refugee camp. A few wild birds begin to visit and he finally finds himself able to see the good around him again. These beautiful illustrations are made with polymer clay and acrylic paint.
Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz, Amy Shrodes, & Sue Cornelison – A refugee family makes the dangerous trip to Greece after deciding their native Syria is too dangerous; with them is their cat, Kunkush. After keeping him hidden for days, Kunkush, scared and wet, leaves his carrier and family. A successful world-wide effort is made to reunite the family with their beloved pet. We liked this one because it made the plight of the refugee family more personal and accessible to kids. This book could be used with kids of any age because there is little mention of the violence, just that their home became dangerous.
From Far Away by Robert Munsch, Saoussan Askar, & Rebecca Green – an #ownvoices story about a young girl who flees her home country due to war. The story focuses on her struggles, and finally successes in a new school in a new country. This book is particularly interesting because the main character of the story, along with a well known author, wrote the book together. It really humanizes the refugee experience.
The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam
A Different Pond by Bao Phi & Thi Bui – By an #ownvoices author, this book gently looks at one way a refugee family may struggle to survive in a new country. Within the context of an early morning fishing trip, a young boy learns about sacrifice, family, and his father’s life in the country where he was born.
Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme Landowne – The true story of a girl named Mali who, when she was young, had a carefree life in Laos. When war began closing in on them, Mali and her family fled to find a safer home. When they are arrested and put in jail, Mali tells those around her stories from her home, giving them hope for their journeys. This book is appropriate for even the youngest readers.
The Whispering Cloth by Pegi Deitz Shea, Anita Riggio, & You Yang – At the refugee camp, Mai spends her time watching and listening to the widows stitch story cloths.With her grandmother’s help Mai learns to stitch beautiful borders on the stories of the other women, until she is ready to tell her own story. This book does contain some written images that may be disturbing for younger children. I would keep this one for 8+. It would also be easy to read to younger ones by skipping 1 or two sentences.
Dia’s Story Cloth by Dia Cha, Chiie Thao Cha & Nhia Thao Cha – This narrative nonfiction text recounts the story of the Hmong people’s lives in Laos as Communist and Loyalist troops clashed and families fled. The illustrations are photographs of one family’s story cloth. Back matter shows more information about the Hmong people’s lives and culture. This book would be best for children 8+.
The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang & Khoa Le – Out October 6 in the US
Flight for Freedom by Kristen Fulton & Torben Kuhlmann
Hedy’s Journey: The True Story of a Hungarian Girl Fleeing the Holocaust by Michelle Bisson & El Primo Ramon – The story of a girl’s daring journey from Hungary to America during the Holocaust. This story would be an excellent way to gently introduce the Holocaust to children, and make it more personal. This is definitely a picture book meant for middle grades (4th and up), and not one I shared with my girls.
Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki, Dom Lee & Hiroski Sugihara – Told from the point of view of a young boy, this book tells the story of a group of Polish refugees who arrive at his home where his father is Japanese diplomat in Lithuania. They are asking for visas to travel through Europe into Asia. When the Japanese government refuses to issue all the visas they need, the boy’s father has a decision to make. The family decides to support him in writing as many visas as possible, helping him save thousands of lives. Suitable for all ages and could open up some great discussions for pre-school age+ children.
The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco
Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle & Rafael Lopez
A Journey Toward Hope by Victor Hinojosa, Coert Voorhees & Susan Guevara
The Long Road by Luis Garay – An #ownvoices story about a young boy and his mother forced to flee their native Nicaragua when civil war breaks out. It describes their journey, and what happened after their arrival in the United States. This book is more detailed than many on this list and can lead to some great conversations with older kids. The artwork beautifully compliments the text.
Wherever I Go by Mary Wagley Copp & Munir D. Mohammed – an outstanding introduction to life in a refugee camp told from the point of view of a girl who sees her situation as an opportunity to be happy. There is only mention of war and gunfire, making this an appropriate picture book for any age. The artwork is stunning and ads to the strong sense of place.
Idriss & His Marble by Rene Gouichoux & Zau – As a young boy plays with his prized marble, his life life takes an unexpected turn. He carries his lucky marble across land, and water, before settling in a new home, where he befriends another young boy who likes to play marbles as well. Although it is clear the boy and his mother are fleeing war, the descriptions are not graphic.
My Name is Sangoel by Karen Williams, Khadra Mohammed & Catherine Stock – This book opens as Sangoel is leaving a refugee camp for America. Once arriving, he and his family are met by a woman who teaches them the ways of their new home. However, Sangoel still does not feel like he belongs because no one can correctly pronounce his name. Eventually Sangoel has a brilliant idea to help those around him learn the name that belongs to him, and all his fathers before him.
When Stars are Scattered, by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed depicts the struggles and hopefulness of life in an African refugee camp using Omar’s own life story told in a graphic novel. The emotion and struggles that are expertly conveyed using kid-friendly language and bold, modern illustrations left me in awe. I was impressed how despite the hardships, disappointments, and struggles the characters faced, there was still such a strong sense of hope throughout the entire book. While reading this book I was forced to question my own beliefs about education, fate, power of self, taking responsibility, people with disabilities, health, family, community, and gender roles all while reading a book written for middle grade readers. Oh, and the story is engaging as well.
Refugees and Migrants by Ceri Roberts & Hanane Kai – A child friendly, non-fiction book about refugees and migrants which explains the difference between the two, why people may leave their homes, what life is like in refugee camps, as well as life in a new place. Non-fiction text features help readers find the information they need.
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
Story Boat by Kyo Maclear & Rashin Kheiriyeh – Where is here? That can change every day to a refugee family, but some things remain the same, and with a little imagination, the things that stay the same can become magical. This books is a very broad, gently way to introduce refugees to children.
Out by Angela May George & Owen Swan – A beautiful and simple story about a girl’s journey to a faraway place after running from violence in their homeland. This is a story of family bonds and hope. The muted tones used in the illustrations help make this a gentle and accessible book for all ages.
The Day War Came by Nicola Davies & Rebecca Cobb – Based on true events, this book poetically tells the story of a girl who loses everything to war, and how she takes back her soul after a simple act of kindness by a stranger. This book does deal with, and show some devastating loss, so is one I am waiting to share with my girls until they are in 4th or 5th grade.
The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood – After the library is bombed, Peter and his father must leave their home, but carry with them a treasure more precious than rubies or silver- a book about their people. During their journey, Peter’s father dies, and Peter must decide what he will continue to carry with him. When the box becomes too heavy, he buries it. Later, when he has grown, he returns to find the book and put it back where it belongs. The paper cut illustrations add even more dimension to this touching story of loss, and what is truly important.
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz – Based on his own childhood memories, #ownvoices author, Uri, tells the story of a young boy forced from his home to a place where he has no toys, no books, and little food. When his father brings home a map, at first he is furious, but then finds himself transported, if only in his imagination. His imagination takes him away from the hunger and misery. This book is appropriate for all ages.
Marwan’s Journey by Patricia De Arias & Laura Borras – A young boy’s difficult journey from his war-torn homeland is lyrically described alongside somewhat abstract illustrations. The story ends with a message of hope as the boy looks towards the future. Suitable for any age.
My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner
Migrants, by Issa Watanabe, wordlessly tells the story of a group of migrants fleeing from their homeland with few possessions, traveling through woods, camping at night, traveling by small boat over treacherous water, and finally arriving at a place they could settle down. All the while, death follows them in the form of a skeleton child wrapped in a bright floral blanket, taking members of the group.
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