War, refugees… these are not easy topics to write about for children. But books are powerful tools to share stories of war and to show what it is like to live as refugee. These capable authors and illustrators convey the stories, creating tools for parents and educators to use to show what life can be like – sorrowful but also hopeful. Not only are these books stories of war, they are also stories of friendship, compassion and how we can help one-another.
The Capybaras by Alfredo Soderguit is hands-down the most impressive picture book I have come across in recent months. I could fit this story into the category ‘friendship’, or ‘finding home’ but, even though it is not mentioned anywhere in the story, ‘refugees’ is probably the most applicable label. The chickens were content to live in their cozy coop. They did not intend to share it with anyone. Until the large, unfamiliar capybaras show up. The chickens don’t want to build fences, but neither do they plan to invite them. But… it is hunting season. Reluctantly they agree to let them stay until it’s safe to go home. They do tell their young ones not to mingle. But of course, two of them do. And after the little cabybara saves the little chicks life, do the chickens realize it’s fine to share and benefit from each other. An amazing parallel to humans… ISBN 978-1771647823
A Sky-Blue Bench by Bahram Rahman has beautiful art by Peggy Collins. Dedicated to the children of Afghanistan, this is the story of Aria who lost a leg to a landmine but who knows she can do anything, even carpentry. Finding it too hard to sit on the floor of her classroom, Aria collects wood and learns the skills needed to build herself a bench. A bench so beautiful that all the girls in class want to learn how to build furniture. A heartbreaking and heartwarming story all at once. ISBN 978-1-77278-222-6, Pajama Press
In A Feast For Joseph, by Terry Farish and Od Bonny, illustrated by Ken Daley, Joseph and his mom reminisce about the way food was shared with many others around the campfire in the refugee camp. Now they eat alone in their apartment. But Joseph wants to celebrate and share their food with friends. Will his grandmother come from Africa? Will his neighbours show up if they cook for them? A lovely picture book about food and customs and the simplicity of sharing. ISBN 978-1-77306-438-3, Groundwood Books
What The Kite Saw, written by Anne Laurel Carter, illustrated by Akin Duzakin. After the tanks and the soldiers come and take away the men, a young boy wishes he had wings so he could see where his father was and what was happening beyond his town.He builds a kite, and many other children do too, to send a message of hope into the sky. Inspired by Palestinian children, this is a universal story of war and hope. ISBN 978-1-77306-243-3, Groundwood Books
Stealing Home, J. Torres and David Namisato is a graphic novel for middle grade. Not only tells this book the story of Sandy, love for baseball. It is based on the true story of Japanese internment camps during World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the attitude of Sandy’s friends and their family towards his Canadian-Japanese family changes. Suddenly they won’t play baseball with him anymore. Their relatives lose jobs and homes. Eventually Sandy and his family are taken away to live in remote ‘ghost towns’. With nonfiction information in the back, this graphic novel brings renewed awareness to young readers of a dark period in history. ISBN 978-1-5253-0334-0, Kids Can Press
Story Boat by Kyo Maclear, with art by Rashin Kheiriyeh. When you have no home, when you are walking towards a new place, ‘here’ is a different concept. ‘Here’ is home and ‘here’ changes all the time. A cup, a blanket can mean home. They can also let your imagination roam, help you tell stories, sing songs about ‘home’. A lovely, award winning book that will encourage children to think and write about what ‘here’ means to them. ISBN 978-0-7352-6359-8, Tundra
When My Name Was Keoko, by Linda Sue Parks is the impressive story of war in Korea. I grew up in Europe and have heard and read much about World War II in Europe. But I did not realize how similar this was to life in (South) Korea under Japanese occupation. This book was an eye-opener for me, told in two voices – Keoko and her brother who are both given Japanese names and can no longer speak their own language. A gripping novel and important story that makes a good read for older children, even for adults. ISBN 978-0606247160