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5 Books About the Refugee Crisis That Your Kid Can Read

Let these stories guide you during not-so-easy conversations

Leah Abraham

Published on: August 29, 2017


The word “refugees” dominates headlines and articles, but where do you even begin when talking to your kids about the plight of 65.6 million people forcibly displaced from their homes?     

These books can help. 

Here is a collection of real-life and fictional tales of children who had to leave their homes and struggled to find safety. These stories and illustrations can help kids get a glimpse of what life as a refugee is like, start a dialogue about the current state of refugees worldwide and better empathize with an experience that we hope they’ll never have to live through themselves.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees 

By Mary Beth Leatherdale and Eleanor Shakespeare

Travel the world from World War II Germany to war-torn Vietnam to Taliban-terrorized Afghanistan. These five true stories are about kids who had to flee from their home countries on boats, risk their lives to escape danger and seek asylum in foreign lands. Author Mary Beth Leatherdale and illustrator Eleanor Shakespeare pair personal stories with facts and figures; each story is accompanied with collage-like illustrations, as well as time lines and historical context of the corresponding war. The book ends with a time line and a list of resources and organizations that help refugees. 

A Long Walk to Water

By Linda Sue Park

This award-winning chapter book is based on a true story and chronicles the experiences of 11-year-old Salva in 1985 and of 11-year-old Nya in 2008. 

Salva is the oldest son of a well-off family in Sudan. His life is turned upside-down during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005), when he becomes one of the “lost boys of Sudan,” more than 20,000 boys displaced during the war. 

After years of hardship, Salva eventually immigrates to the United States. There he helps found the nonprofit Water for South Sudan.

While visiting Sudan for work, Salva meets 11-year-old Nya. Salva helps build wells for her village, freeing her to attend school. Learn about both their stories in this moving book.  

Where Will I Live?

By Rosemary McCarney

This book is a photo essay that depicts what displaced people and refugees from around the world look like. The photos from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees specifically focus on kids who have fled from their homes and now live in refugee camps; who are traveling to safety on boats, trucks and foot; who are searching for food and water; and who sleep on streets and live in other difficult situations. You will see the fear and desolation kids face when they are displaced, as well as their resilience. There are also photos of kids playing, finding new friends and, well, just being kids.

The Journey

By Francesca Sanna

Told from the perspective of a young child and with striking illustrations, this book by Francesca Sanna shares the narrative of a family who must flee for their lives from an unnamed country. Topics covered include the difficulty of leaving all of their worldly possessions behind, trying to cross borders and walls, sleeping in the forest to avoid guards and traveling to safety by any means necessary.

According to Sanna, the story was inspired by two refugee girls she met in Italy. Struck by their tales, Sanna began interviewing other immigrants and refugees. Writing and illustrating this book was meant to highlight their personal journeys, although the story itself is fictional.

The Red Pencil

By Andrea Davis Pinkney

Amira is 12 years old when her father explains the history of the war that is raging in her home of Sudan. Soon, a militia group terrorizes her village, and she has to escape to a refugee camp. At the camp, Amira’s thirst for life fades and her hope diminishes, until someone gives her a yellow pad and a red pencil. The reader follows along as Amira uses these tools to express herself. This book, written in poetic verse, may be difficult for younger readers, but it beautifully captures difficult topics to discuss.

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