BOOKS ABOUT REFUGEES – The 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 me 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.
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