For children trying to make sense of a complicated world or who have questions about what is in today’s news, books can be a good way to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. In 2020 we published the wordless picture book Migrants by Issa Watanabe, with its powerful message of empathy. Migrants narrates the journey of a group of animals that leaves behind a leafless forest — through extraordinary images it shows us the courage, loss and underlying hope it takes to migrate to a new land.
On this theme, we asked bookstagrammer Esther Brown of @mrsbrownsbookbox to share a book list of some of the best conversation starters about war and displacement for young readers.
It is so hard to make sense of what is happening in the world currently and my heart feels very heavy.
Books for me have always been a way of helping process and understand my own thoughts and can offer both solace and a starting point for dialogue.
My hope is that for anyone struggling, these eight brilliant books will be a small support and help start important conversations about war and particularly its impact on people. I hope they show the positive impact that hope, kindness and empathy can have too.
I’ve featured range of books from introductory picture books to more challenging YA texts. However, all are incredibly powerful and poignant.
I always recommend reading any text before you share it with your child/ren/class.
My Name Is not Refugee by Kate Milner
Tenderly, simply and carefully told for younger readers, this book describes each stage of a mother and her child’s journey. They will leave their town and walk and walk. They will feel sadness but also excitement and see new sights, and also face many challenges.
Each page poses a question, inviting young readers to consider how they might feel or what they might take if they had to leave their homes. Throughout the story, the boy’s mother is a constant, loving and supportive presence, reassuring him that although he will be called “refugee” this is not his name and does not define him.
The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
If you are looking for a book to introduce the idea of having to leaving your home and the importance of showing kindness and empathy, then The Suitcase is a beautiful and simply told starting point with a powerful message about how we treat those in need.
When a stranger arrives claiming to have a tea cup and his home in his suitcase, some of those he meets are suspicious. However when they learn the truth, they pull together and show that the power of a small act of kindness can never be underestimated.
Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour
Lubna and her father leave her brothers, the war and their home and travel on a boat to a “tent city.”
With no possessions, no friends and missing her brothers, Lubna draws a face on a pebble from the beach they arrive on and makes it her best friend, her support and her confidante. When the time comes for Lubna and her father to leave the camp, Lubna understands that another boy, lost and alone, needs Pebble even more than she does and passes it on, along with the hope and compassion it signifies.
The Day War Came by Nicola Davies
I defy anyone not to feel a profound impact after reading this beautiful, poignant picture book, where haunting images of war are powerfully shared through both the text and illustrations.
Depicting the journey of a refugee girl after a bomb blast destroys her classroom, it portrays the impact of war and the lasting emotional scars. It shows us rejection and prejudice as the girl is turned away by strangers; but with one boy bringing her a chair so she can attend his school, it ultimately illustrates how a small act of kindness can create bigger ripples and can help to begin to heal the wounds of the past.
Wisp by Zana Fraillon and Grahame Baker-Smith
A young refugee, Idris, discovers a Wisp. These wisps spark happy memories from ‘before’ in those that they seek out and see them. However, when Idris discovers his own wisp, he finds he has no memories other than the camp. But perhaps his wisp is not a memory but a promise for a better future…?
This is a beautiful, lyrical and emotive story — beautifully told, and one ultimately of hope.
When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
A stunning graphic novel which tells the true story of brothers Omar and Hassan, refugees from war torn Somalia living in the Dadaab camp in Kenya.
The realities of the refugee camp are shown — the monotony of daily life, scarcity of food, the lack of sleep, the injustice of the resettlement process. The horrors of lived experience are also seen through the nightmares and the often left unspoken memories of war. However, Omar, Hassan and the many others we meet also show the power of friendship, community, love and education. Despite the many setbacks faced, they never give up hope.
It is raw, poignant and honest; heartbreaking, heartwarming and hopeful all at the same time and is a book that will stay with you always.
Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga
Narrated by Jude, this is her story as she leaves her friends, brother and father to flee the increasingly volatile climate in Syria and move to the US with her mother.
Her new life is fast and loud and bright and she faces challenges both at school and with her American relations. However, she also finds new friends and the confidence to become herself. She shows incredible strength, vulnerability, courage and positivity as she carves her new future in America — whilst half of her heart remains in Syria.
Other Words For Home is a beautiful, powerful and emotive novel for older readers written in free verse that is ultimately uplifting and hopeful.
The Crossing by Manjeet Mann
Vividly sharing the graphic realities of the refugee crisis, this is an incredibly powerful and hard hitting YA novel that contrasts the themes of displacement and white supremacist narratives, and connects the lives of two teenagers from different sides of the world whose lives are inextricably linked.
Natalie, grief stricken after the death of her mother and anxious about her increasingly hate filled brother, is training to swim the channel to continue her mother’s work supporting refugees. Sammy is fleeing Eritrea and suffering the fear and brutality of people traffickers and holding camps. He tries to hold on to hope as he experiences and witnesses death and trauma at every step of the journey. The two stories cleverly intertwine in this beautifully told story written in verse.
Visit Esther’s bookstagram: @mrsbrownsbookbox
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