As the refugee crisis grew across the world, a new trend in children’s literature has also kicked in, sharing stories of refugees in children’s books.
In recent decades, conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Myanmar have led to a growing refugee crisis, which has inspired so many people to tell the stories of trauma, displacement, long arduous journeys and asylum.
The growing volume of refugee children’s literature can be instrumental in developing empathy in host communities, according to authors and refugee advocates.
This literature could also potentially help shape global opinion in favour of refugees.
Here are some of influential books children can read to understand what it means to be a refugee.
This book explains a fatherless family’s incredible journey from a war-torn country to a safe country through the voice of a little girl. Francesca Sanna, the book’s writer, has interviewed with many refugee and migrant families across the world. But among all, the two girls she met in a refugee center in Italy inspired her to tell “a story about many journeys”. Bonus: it is beautifully illustrated.
Lubna and Pebble
Lubna, a little refugee girl, has a best friend, a stone, whom she tells all her tales about everything from home to war. Pebble never interrupts her and always loyally listens to Lubna’s stories with a smiling face. Lubna lives in a tent and despite the difficulties, she feels lucky to have Pebble. But when a little boy comes to their refugee camp alone and heartbroken, Lubna’s world fundamentally changes, recognising that this boy needs Pebble’s friendship more than Lubna does.
The story’s author is Wendy Meddour, who is also a well-known illustrator, credited with helping to improve understanding between different races and cultures. She has previously been honoured with the John C Laurence Award for writing.
The Kite Runner: Children's Edition
The book is a children's adaptation of the best-seller novel written by Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan writer and a member of a refugee family, who moved to Iran in 1973 after a military coup in Afghanistan. The book tells a refugee family’s struggles through the lens of an Afghan boy, focusing on a father-son relationship. It also sends the message that loyalty to a friendship can rescue relationships and also lives.
Where Will I Live?
This book is a collection of photos, portraying refugee children around the world. When people hear the word of photos of refugee children, they expect to see kids in hopeless and miserable conditions.
But Rosemary McCarney, a photographer and the author of the book, aims to show the images of hope and power in refugee children’s eyes. If you want to see how kids could develop an incredible sense of optimism under miserable conditions, check this book out.
This book will make you travel not only in time but also to different continents across the world with stories of refugee children from Nazi Germany prior to World War II to Cuba in Central America in 1990s. The book’s most recent hero, Mahmoud, is a Muslim Syrian boy from Aleppo.
Like other refugee children from Germany and Cuba, Mahmoud was also forced to leave his hometown Aleppo in the midst of a brutal civil war in 2015. The book’s author, Alan Gratz, has written many novels for young adults. (The book is appropriate for 11+).
A Stepping Stones: A Refugees Family’s Journey
Unlike adult literature, children's books not only contain simple, poetic prose but also carry illustrations to help kids understand some complicated circumstances. This book is one of the most beautifully illustrated books with stone artwork by Nizar Ali Badr, thanks to Canadian children’s author Margriet Ruurs’ fateful discovery of Badr’s artwork.
Ruurs recounted a Syrian refugee family’s difficult journey, using Badr’s poignant stone images, which was already produced by the Syrian artist.
Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
In a memoir written by Sierra Leone-origin orphan Michaela DePrince, who grew up in an orphanage as an abandoned child, the author narrates how she suffered from a skin condition, which left spots on her body and led some people around her to call her a “devil child”. The orphanage had a picture of a beautiful ballerina hanging on the wall, which inspired DePrince to dance like her.
The 4-year-old de DePrince was adopted by an American family, who helped her realise her dream of being a ballerina. She eventually succeeded to become one, even appearing in Beyonce's Lemonade most recently.