The Refugee Children’s Books of 2017 and an Ode to The Arrival
Sometimes people turn to children’s literature in an attempt to ignore the goings on in the world today. But books for kids don’t exist in bubbles. A person could spend their entire life examining the many ways in which the world of adults seeps into books for kids. Why is this? Sometimes it’s unconscious. Sometimes it’s didactic. And sometimes it’s simply a response to reality.
The Syrian refugee crisis has been responsible for a true uptick in the number of refugee-related picture books coming out from large publishers in 2017. Not that we didn’t have books about refugees on our shelves before. Read this list from What Do We Do All Day? called 12 Children’s Books about Refugees to see a rather nice collection of titles published before 2015 and updated in 2016.
In 2017 we’ve seen even more books on the topic, and they don’t limit themselves to the Syrian experience. Here they are, with some quick notes on their geographical locations.
2017 Refugee Picture Books
My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo
A contemporary Syrian refugee tale that ends in a refugee camp.
Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Schrodes, ill. Sue Cornelison
This family is leaving Mosul, Iraq and ends up in Norway by the tale’s end.
The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World by Kate Smith Milway, ill. Shane W. Evans
Set in the Lukole refugee camp in Tanzania.
Where Will I Live? by Rosemary McCarney
Second Story Press included this description of the book:
“Written by Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Where Will I Live? will . . . include images of children on the move and in refugee camps in countries such as Lebanon, Rwanda, Iraq, Niger, Hungary, Jordan, South Sudan, and Greece.”
Three Balls of Wool by Henriqueta Cristina, ill. Yara Kono
This is the description from the book’s translator: “… it’s based on actual events and follows a family that escapes the dictatorship in Portugal in the late 1960s, seeking freedom and a better life. Their journey takes them to Communist Czechoslovakia . . .”
Adriana’s Angels by Ruth Goring, Erika Meza
Ever notice how many of these end up being historical? This one is a 1990s tale about a family that moves from Colombia to Chicago.
And now, a word on the granddaddy of all refugee books for kids.
The other day I sat down with my 6-year-old daughter to read The Arrival by Shaun Tan. We’d read it before when she was four or five, but I’ve found recently that when you read an incredible number of books to a young child, they often have difficulty remembering them a year later. There’s an upside to that, in that you basically get to rediscover a book over and over again with them, and at each age they get something different out of the reading. This time around, my daughter was just beginning to grasp what Tan has done in this book regarding the refugee experience. In no other case (with the possible exception of the picture book Here I Am by Patti Kim and Sonia Sanchez) have I ever experienced a book where the author/illustrator put so much time and care into putting a reader into an immigrant’s shoes. What Tan did in The Arrival has never been bested, and it’s important that when we mention books for kids about refugees that elicit true empathy, you need the very highest quality literature. That would be Tan’s book. Look at all the 2017 books if you can, but don’t forget about the backlist titles that are the standard bearers to this day.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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