Tag Archives: refugees

Books About refugees

BOOKS ABOUT REFUGEESThe recent article in TIE Blog by Matthew Piercy titled The Challenges and Promises of Migration about a virtual refugee experience for his students, inspired me to share these books about refugees with you.

Having written my own book about refugees, Stepping Stones, A Refugee Family’s Journey (Orca Books, ISBN 978-1-4598-1490-5) I am always interested in other stories on this topic. My book was illustrated in stones by an artist who still lives in Syria. The book has helped to raise awareness but also funding for refugees in North America. Recently, the Pope selected is a the text for Italy’s World Refugee Day. Here is a medley of books for all ages:

The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman is a picture book, a gently told story of Pari and her mother who operates a library bus in Afghanistan. Together they visit villages where girls cannot attend school. They eagerly await the library bus that brings them books to read. They also visit the refugee camp where books and educational supplies are treasured by the children. In the process, Pari even learns to read English letters, like UNHCR – on the United Nations’ tents in the camp. A great read to discuss the plight of refugees with young children.

Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-77278-101-4

One of the most lovable, in-depth stories I have ever read about refugees and life in a camp is When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson. This book is done as a graphic novel, a vehicle that uses art and text to take us straight into the life of Omar who cares for his younger, speech challenged brother Hassan. The boys have lost their parents in Somalia and live for many years in a refugee camp in Kenya. The art and text are absolutely perfect and include the ‘true’ story of the boys in the back. No wonder this was a recent National Book Award finalist. 

Dial Books, ISBN: 978-0525553908

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is the beautifully told story of Há who, together with her siblings and mother, flees Vietnam in the last weeks of the war. Hers is a universal story of hiding, fleeing and fear. But I particularly loved reading this book because of Há’s voice. She is a funny, strong girl with her own opinions on life, her brothers and the world around her. Especially when the family settles in the American south and faces discrimination it is lovely to read how she deals with this very real issue. The story is not quite an autobiography but very much based on the author’s own experiences. The entire book is in free verse, it is a Newbery honor book as well as a National Book Award winner.

Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-196279-0

Also told in gorgeous free verse is Home of The Brave by Katherine Applegate, the author of The One and Only Ivan.

Kek came from Africa with his mother and has to learn a whole new way of life in Minnesota. He makes friends with the owner of a cow, one animal of which Kek has much knowledge. He is also lucky that Hannah, a girl from a foster home, takes him under her wings and teaches him all about traveling on a city bus and going to a mall. Skillfully told through the eyes of a young African boy, this book can be an eye opener to life on a different continent as well as to what it is that refugees must face.

A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Square Fish (Macmillan), ISBN 978-0-312-53563-6

The Stray and the Strangers by Steven Heighton is a brand new release. The author helped in a refugee camp on a Greek Island and met Kanella, the dog whose story is told in this book. Kanella is shy and does not trust people. But eventually she is cared for by a refugee worker who allows her to sleep inside the kitchen building. In the refugee camp, Kanella meets many people who come and go. But one young boy stays. While he bonds with Kanella and understands her plight, he hopes that, one day, his family will come through this camp. And when they do, Kanella faces the loss of her friend and all that she knows. This is a gently told story of refugees but told through the voice of a dog which gives it a lovely, unique tone that will resonate with young readers.

Pajama Press, ISBN 978-1-77306-381-2

One of the most intriguing books I have read by a refugee author is Nujeen. This autobiography has the subtitle ‘One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair’. The book is skillfully co-authored by Christina Lamb who also co-authored I Am Malala. Nujeen’s voice, though, is all her own – a teenager who was pampered by her family because she suffers from cerebral palsy. While her siblings brought her treats, Nujeen watched soap operas. Little did she know that this would teach her English. When their town becomes the centre of ISIS militant fighting, Nujeen and her sister are forced to leave. Together they embark on a 16 months journey across Turkey, the Mediterranean, Greece and Europe to freedom. Nujeen’s sister pushes her wheelchair while Nujeen discovers that her skill to speak English will benefit them. A fascinating read for older students and adults.

Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-256773-4.

I also want to list some wonderful titles which I previously reviewed in TIE-in-print before we went to blog format. These books are also highly recommended for use with students:

Across the Dark Sea by Wendy Orr is a child’s look at a refugee family from Vietnam. This early-read  novel brings a dark period in history to life as Trung escapes across the dark sea to Australia.  ISBN 1-876944-45-5. Check out: www.nma.gov.au/makingtracks for more titles on Australian history.

Adrift At Sea, A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines, a nonfiction picture book. ISBN 978-1-77278-005-5

Let Me Tell You My Story, Refugee Stories of Hope, Courage and Humanity, a coffeetable photo book is a personal glimpse into the lives of refugees. Beautiful photos are accompanied by an interview that sheds light on each individual: their struggles, their journey but also their hopes and dreams for the future. This is a book that can grace any library shelf but also a school’s office. It can lead to discussions as well as art with students of all ages. Proceeds benefit refugees. Check out online: https://www.familius.com/let-me-tell-you-my-story Familius, ISBN 978-1-64170-049-8

The challenges and promises of migration

How many have slipped on an Oculus or Odyssey headset and experienced virtual reality? Recently a colleague and I intentionally introduced seventh grade students to a unit on migration by seeing firsthand what life is like in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Za’atari is home to more than 80,000, with over half the refugees being children. Students are exposed Sidra’s world,a tent-city where the 12-year old has lived the more than half her life. Clouds Over Sidra, available at no cost, was created to support a United Nations goal of developing resilience in vulnerable communities.

The decision to hook students through this experience was founded upon a desire for students to emotionally connect and hopefully generate not only greater interest and understanding, but ultimately empathy. As students followed Sidra through the camp, into a classroom, onto the football field, and into a shop baking a thin, flat bread called saj, curiosity piqued. Students were partnered so one could act as note taker, recording all that was wondered. For example:

*Why are there more kids than adults?
*How do the people here get money aside from donations?
*How does this affect children’s well-being?

After partners switched roles, students were asked to complete a three question survey.
*What is one word to describe how you felt, seeing and hearing about Sidra’s life?
*What did you see and/or hear that led to your feeling this way?
*Did you enjoy doing the VR?

The overwhelming majority of students responded favorably to the third question. To enhance the depth of emotional response and explanation, students were provided with the Mood Meter. Marc Brackett, Yale professor and founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence developed this evidence-based road map to emotions. In a nutshell, the tool supports building vocabulary and also measures the energy and pleasantness of a feeling. Over 50 percent of students surveyed indicated unpleasant and high energy emotions. Words like, “concerned,” “stressed,” and even “peeved” were selected.

Further, one student explained why she thought felt this way. “I felt stressed because looking at her life, I don’t know what she is going to do next. Or how she is going to survive through the war.” Another shared, “I felt angry because I was appalled by the fact that rulers can be so dumb. That they make decisions to destroy other people’s homes, just to have POWER. I mean WHY, why would you do that? To get power by destroying other people’s houses? Who does that? So mean!” The level of emotional response was clear. So too was the empathy. Exactly what we were hoping to cultivate.

But this is just a beginning.

Following empathetic awareness, students will explore the myriad reasons for why people migrate and how migration impacts people and places. Through deeper understanding, the goal is to empower students to ultimately transfer their learning in meaningful ways. As a culminating project students will create documentary films of stories from individuals in our community who have experience with migration. The films will then be submitted to the The United Nations International Organization for Migration Film Festival. Ultimately the intention is capture the multitude of challenges of migration but also the promise.

Against the Wind

This past summer, while international schools across the world were on vacation, the one thing that did not take time off were the unreal numbers of conflicts and disasters that are displacing people. According to the UNHCR, the number of refugees worldwide surpassed the fifty million mark; the highest number since World War II. Fifty million. That’s unreal.

If international schools are the best hope for our future (which I strongly believe), then what are we doing about this? How many scholarships has your school given to refugee students? How many I.B. students are dedicating their CAS to helping refugees? How many of you have connected with UNHCR? If you have, congratulations. If not, I’m willing to bet that your school is not too far away from a refugee zone. Even in Switzerland (my current residence and of course home to the UNHCR), the impact of refugees from Syria, the Ukraine and parts of Africa is present.

Fifty million. That’s crazy. I know how busy we are. I’ve been in education for twenty years. I get it. But busy for what? Have you read your mission statement lately? Are you living it or just talking about it at a few beginning of the year meetings as you prepare for accreditation.

Fifty million people. That’s the entire country of Italy without a home. Imagine that?

So while all those orientation activities are going on in the coming weeks about the new pool that was finished over the summer, the increase in enrollment, the introductions of all the new staff, etc. etc., take a moment to think of all those students living in tents, somewhere, some without parents, wondering if they’re ever going to go to a school again.

There’s so much to do to start the year. Well, there’s always a lot to do. I challenge us to do something against the wind by reaching out to make a difference for those 50 million, especially the kids who won’t be starting school this Fall.

I think vintage Bob Seger should play this one out.

Against the Wind