June 20th is World Refugee Day, and given the current state of the world, it's imperative that we instil in our children- at home and in our schools- empathy, understanding and kindness. When millions around the world are displaced, and growing populist movements work to make us fear those who need help and love the most, it's more necessary than ever to show our children the stories of children who aren't just like them. Thankfully, this past year has seen the publication of so many beautiful, heartfelt and touching stories about refugees that are sure to spark conversation and humanize those who are currently feared and maligned. Here are some of my favourites!
"Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey" by Canadian author Margriet Ruurs, and with artwork in stones by Syrian sculptor Nizar Ali Badr, is a beautiful and uniquely work that follows a family as they flee war torn Syria. The story, told in both English and Arabic, is told simply, as the family decides, as bombs start dropping close to home, to leave, and the hardships they face on the way- losing people at sea, leaving behind everything they know, coming to a new country where they don't speak the language. It is a stunning work that deserves to be on every shelf.
"Where Will I Live" by Rosemary McCarney is a beautiful photographic essay on children refugees around the world. McCarney, Canada's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the U.N., has made a simple and poignant book from the point of view of refugee children in a number of countries, asking questions like, "Will i sleep in the same place each night?" "Will I find friends?" "How will I get there?" The photographs are gorgeous and the thought provoking questions will (hopefully!) inspire lots of empathy amongst children who realize that there are children who have to worry about such things, and what would that feel like.
"Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey" by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes and illustrated by Sue Cornelian is a fabulous (and true!) story of a cat and his family who became separated on their escape from Mosul, Iraq. The story follows their escape from Iraq to Turkey and eventually to the boat crossing to Greece. Kunkush went missing at the boat landing, and eventually, following a long journey that covers much of Europe, the cat and family are reunited in Norway, where the family had settled.
The authors, Doug and Amy, were both in Greece working with refugees- Amy as a volunteer helping arriving refugees, and Doug as a photojournalist and they were directly responsible for bringing Kunkush back to his family. The story has a touching afterword, as well as photos of the real life Kunkush and his family, and is lovely, beautifully illustrated and charming tale.
"My Beautiful Birds" by Suzanne Del Rizzo is one of the most beautiful books I've seen in a long time, and features absolutely gorgeous clay and paint illustrations. The story follows a young boy fleeing the Syrian war, who is always thinking of his pet pigeons back home. When they reach a refugee camp, they begin to settle in. The children are given paint and Sami, the little boy, paints his page black and panics, running away. The book lovingly and gently portrays trauma and children dealing with trauma quite well, and eventually Sami finds new birds in the camp, and things start to improve. A delicate, gentle and again, stunning, book, "My Beautiful Birds" is a must have for any class library.
"The Journey" by Francesca Sanna was the very first book I reviewed in this blog (here!) and my opinion on it hasn't changed. As I said before (and this applies to every single book on this list), the very best of children's literature doesn't shy away from hard topics, but rather deals with them in a non-patronizing way. "The Journey" is a perfect example- following a refugee family's escape from the eyes of a child (on one heart wrenching page that will be familiar to any parent, the child narrates that their mother is never scared, while we see the illustration- the children asleep in her arms, and the mother crying while they cannot see.) This book is perfect and should be on every bookshelf.
I hope that these books help with hard conversations and give your students and children an opportunity to step outside of their lives and gain empathy and understanding for those in difficult circumstances. Given the current political climate, I think books such as these are more necessary than ever. What are some of your favourite stories about refugees and displaced peoples?
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