With the fastest-growing refugee crisis of our lives underway, we turn to picture books to help kids understand the refugee experience and to encourage them to open their hearts to help.
These stories, combined with thoughtful and appropriate discussions, can help students think critically, develop empathy, and inspire kindness.
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10 Picture Books to Help Kids Understand the Refugee Experience
*Always review materials for your particular audience before sharing.
#1 What is a Refugee? by Elise Gravel
Who are refugees? Why are they called that word? Why do they need to leave their country? Why are they sometimes not welcome in their new country? Explore what it means to be a refugee. –Amazon
- Get the Author’s free What’s a Refugee? Poster here.
#2 Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias
Marwan is a young boy on a journey he never intended to take, bound for a place he doesn’t know. On his journey, he relies on courage and memories of his faraway homeland to buoy him. With him are hundreds and thousands of other human beings, crossing the deserts and the seas, fleeing war, and hunger in search of safety. He must take one step after another—bringing whatever he can carry, holding on to dreams. –Amazon
A 2018 Kirkus Best Book * A National Council of Social Studies * CBC Notable Trade Book * An Outstanding International Trade Book (USBBY) * A Bank Street Children’s Book Committee Best Book of the Year
#3 The Journey by Francesca Sanna
With haunting echoes of the current refugee crisis, this beautifully illustrated book explores the unimaginable decisions made as a family leaves their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war. –Amazon
#4 Stepping Stones A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs
This story shares the journey of a young girl named Rama and her family. Their happy, peaceful life is disrupted by war, and Rama watches as life changes and friends and neighbors move away. Eventually, it is Rama’s family’s turn to leave on the difficult journey to start a new life. –Amazon
#5 My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner
A young boy discusses the journey he is about to make with his mother. They will leave their town, she explains, and it will be sad but also a little bit exciting. They will have to say goodbye to friends and loved ones, and that will be difficult. They will have to walk and walk and walk, and although they will see many new and interesting things, it will be difficult at times too. A powerful and moving exploration that draws the young reader into each stage of the journey, inviting the chance to imagine the decisions he or she would make. -Publisher
#6 Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes
When an Iraqi family is forced to flee their home, they can’t bear to leave their beloved cat, Kunkush, behind. So they carry him with them from Iraq to Greece, keeping their secret passenger hidden away. But during the crowded boat crossing to Greece, his carrier breaks and the frightened cat runs from the chaos, disappearing. After an unsuccessful search, his family has to continue their journey, leaving brokenhearted. A few days later, aid workers in Greece find the lost cat. Knowing how much his family has sacrificed already, they are desperate to reunite them.
A worldwide community comes together to spread the word on the Internet and in the news media, and after several months the impossible happens—Kunkush’s family is found, and they finally get their happy ending in their new home. –Amazon
#7 Story Boat by Kyo Maclear
Sometimes home is where we are: here.
When a little girl and her younger brother are forced along with their family to flee the home they’ve always known, they must learn to make a new home for themselves — wherever they are. And sometimes the smallest things — a cup, a blanket, a lamp, a flower, a story — can become a port of hope in a terrible storm. As the refugees travel onward toward an uncertain future, they are buoyed up by their hopes, dreams and the stories they tell — a story that will carry them perpetually forward. –Amazon
- Educator’s Guide -Tundra Books
#8 Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour
Lubna’s best friend is a pebble. Pebble always listens to her stories. Pebble always smiles when she feels scared. But when a lost little boy arrives in the World of Tents, Lubna realizes that he needs Pebble even more than she does. –Amazon
- Literature Guide –Learning to Give
#9 Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
When relief workers bring used clothing to the refugee camp, everyone scrambles to grab whatever they can. Ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that perfectly fits her foot until she sees another girl with the matching shoe. But soon Lina and Feroza meet and decide that it is better to share the sandals than for each to wear only one. –Amazon
- About & Behind the Story (and printable companion) from the Author
- Book Discussion Guide –Be a Learning Hero
#10 Counting Kindness 10 Ways to Welcome Refugee Children by Hollis Kurman
“Acts of kindness always count.” -Hollis Kurman
Arriving in a new place is stressful for newcomers, especially when the newcomers are little ones. But this beautiful counting book helps readers see the journey of finding a new home and the joys of being welcomed into a new community. From playing to sleeping, eating to reading, celebrating to learning, Counting Kindness proves we can lift the heaviest hearts when we come together. Endorsed by Amnesty International. –Amazon
- Author Read-Aloud Video –YouTube
- Activities for Home & School (Create a Welcome Box!) -Charlesbridge Publishing