As stories about refugees appear on the news, children may have questions about what what it means to be a refugee. Books can help not only with learning facts, but also with helping children imagine themselves in another person’s situation. As I worked on a list of titles, I came across a list of 14 Children’s Books About Refugees from the Institute for Humane Education. It’s a good list (with different titles from the one that follows), and it also includes some advice for talking with children about upsetting news stories.
90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis
When unrest hits the streets of Havana, Cuba, Julian’s parents must make the heartbreaking decision to send him and his two brothers away to Miami via the Pedro Pan operation. But when the boys get to Miami, they are thrust into a world where bullies seem to run rampant and it’s not always clear how best to protect themselves. A chapter book recommended for ages 9-12. This title is also available in paperback and as an audiobook.
Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War, written by Jessica Dee Humphreys & Michel Chikwanine; illustrated by Claudia Dávila
“Michel Chikwanine was five years old when he was abducted from his schoolyard soccer game in the Democratic Republic of Congo and forced to become a soldier for a brutal rebel militia. Against the odds, Michel managed to escape and find his way back to his family, but he was never the same again. After immigrating to Canada, Michel was encouraged by a teacher to share what happened to him in order to raise awareness about child soldiers around the world, and this book is part of that effort.”–Amazon website. A book in graphic novel format recommended for ages 10-14.
How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz
As he spends hours studying his father’s world map, a young boy escapes the hunger and misery of refugee life. Based on the author’s childhood in Kazakhstan, where he lived as a Polish refugee during World War II. A picture book recommended for ages 7-10.
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín; translated from the Spanish by E.M. O’Connor; illustrated by Lee White
When her beloved country, Chile, is taken over by a militaristic, sadistic government, Celeste is sent to America for her safety and her parents must go into hiding before they “disappear.” A chapter book recommended for ages 10-14. This title is also available as a downloadable e-book.
The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margaret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden ; illustrated by Allan Drummond
A nonfiction book reminiscent of a scrapbook tells the story of the creators of Curious George escaping a Nazi invasion on cobbled-together bicycles. Recommended for ages 8-12.
Kiki and Jacques by Susan Ross
“Eleven-year-old Jacques, who must contend with difficult family dynamics and pressure from an older boy to help him commit a crime, is surprised to discover that he has much in common with Kiki, one of the many new Somali refugees who have immigrated to his Maine town”– Provided by publisher. A chapter book recommended for ages 8-12.
Living in a Refugee Camp: Carbino’s Story by David Dalton
“Carbino was 11 when he left his Sudanese village to go to school in Ethiopia; 14 years passed before he returned. Now 28, he recounts the story of his life in his homeland, then being marched from one place to another, living in camps, making friends only to see them killed, and finally returning home, where he is a translator for Doctors Without Borders.” (from a review in School Library Journal by Peg Glisson) A nonfiction book recommended for ages 10-13.
Mohammed’s Journey: A Refugee Diary by Anthony Robinson and Annemarie Young; illustrated by June Allan
A Kurdish boy from Iraq tells the story of his father’s disappearance and his remaining family’s dangerous journey to England. A nonfiction picture book recommended for ages 6-8.
My Name is Sangoel written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed; illustrated by Catherine Stock
As a refugee from Sudan to the United States, Sangoel is frustrated that no one can pronounce his name correctly until he finds a clever way to solve the problem. A picture book recommended for ages 7-10.
A Path of Stars by Anne Sibley O’Brien
A refugee from Cambodia, Dara’s beloved grandmother is grief-stricken when she learns her brother has died, and it is up to Dara to try and heal her. A picture book recommended for ages 5-8.
One older title that caught my eye earlier this year, as people were marking 100 years since the Armenian genocide, is The Road from Home: The Story of an Armenian Girl by by David Kherdian. This Newbery Honor book tells the story of the author’s mother and how she escaped by coming to the U.S. as a teenaged mail-order bride. Her story is continued in Finding Home.