In our Raising World Changers series, we hope to equip parents with practical ways they can educate and empower their children to make a difference in the world…
In our last post, we discussed strategies for talking to your preschooler about refugees. One strategy we suggest is to read to your preschooler. Fortunately, many wonderful picture books discuss the refugee plight. If you choose to read to your child, here are some tips to get you started:
Read the book on your own before you read it with your child. This way you can anticipate some questions your child might have.
Be prepared to answer a lot of questions as you go. For instance, my preschooler asked at least one question per page. His questions ranged from “why does that person look like a shadow” to “what happened to their dad?”
Be prepared for a vocabulary lesson (for yourself and your child). Don’t feel bad if you have to look up a word or two; sometimes we know what a word means but can have trouble expressing it. When I read The Journey to my preschooler, his first question was, “what does ‘chaos’ mean?” At first, I was not sure how to explain “chaos” to a him; I tried to think of synonyms, but words like “disorder” and “clutter” were not cutting it. Instead, I used concrete examples, such as explaining that chaos is when his toys are all over the floor in the living room.
Think about your reaction to the text. Were there times where you were scared? Confused? Angry? Though still a child, your preschooler is capable of processing different emotions. Be prepared for those reactions.
Overall, don’t be afraid. You’ve most likely read a book to your preschooler before. While this may be on a more serious subject, the same principles apply.
Here are five picture books about refugees that we recommend…
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
This book is currently getting a lot of attention and rightly so. Its beautiful illustrations and simple, yet clear, storytelling make it the perfect book to start with. The story focuses on one family: a mom, dad, daughter, and son. While the narration is first person and in a child’s perspective, the reader does not know which child is telling the story. This makes it easy for any child to do what we all do when we read: put ourselves in the protagonist’s shoes (which leads to an even greater impact for the reader). Sanna does not sugarcoat. She tells the story of one family’s flight from their home with simplicity and honesty. Even though the topic is a difficult one, Sanna’s storytelling method makes it easy for any child to understand. It is Sanna’s portrayal of these events, however, that makes them impactful. While the reader never learns where the family originally lived or where they flee to, we know that they arrive safely.
Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes
This is the true story of a refugee family who fled Iraq in 2015. Along the way, they lose their precious cat, Kunkush. But this story has a happy ending: the family and cat are reunited. The happy ending doesn’t stop there because they are reunited through the relentless work of others who know a pet is a vital part of a family. This is a fantastic book to share with your child because it is a true story, because it involves a beloved pet, and because of its happy ending. However, the story includes higher-level vocabulary and detailed text, so it may be better suited for an older preschooler (probably age 5). If your child wants more info on this story, there is a wealth of resources available, including a short video that details Kunkush’s journey.
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien
This book tells the perspectives of three young refugees newly arrived in America. The story focuses the difficulties they face because they do not know the language or the customs of their new home. O’Brien goes beyond merely listing the difficulties these children face. Instead, she provides an example of something each child felt comfortable with in their former home and compares it to each child’s discomfort in the same scenario in their new homes. By the end of the book, each child begins to thrive in the new environment in part because of the kindness shown to them by new friends. O’Brien’s story highlights how important it is for all of us to help everyone feel comfortable.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs
Rama, a young Syrian girl, and her family once lived in peace and comfort in their village. Eventually, because of conflict they are forced to flee their homeland on foot. The story is told through Rama’s perspective, but the reader also gets to hear of her parents’ struggles. This book stands out not only because of the story but also because of its visuals and its language. The book was inspired by the stone artistry of Nizar Ali Badr, who illustrations the entire book with stonework. You and your child will be surprised by how beautifully Badr portrays every human emotion (and how easily you’ll be able to pick up on them) through stones. The story is also told in English and Arabic and often has a poetic feel to it. Ruurs and Badr succeed in creating a book that beautifully and realistically portrays the refugee plight.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon
Oskar, a young boy who has witnessed the horrors of Kristallnacht, arrives in New York City alone and must find his way to his aunt’s house. As he tries to find her home, he is introduced to the United States (and New York City) by his interactions with the people he meets. The text is fit for young readers, with some pages converting to comic book–style which allows your preschooler to use their imagination. While this story is not about a recent world crisis, it will provide the timeless story of the refugee and give your child some historical context. After all, if we are raising world changers, they need to know this is not a new crisis but one that has been raging for centuries.
As you can see, many wonderful books discuss the refugee plight. The books listed are only the beginning; a simple internet search will direct you to many other books about refugees. Reading these books with your child will create understanding and empathy and put you on the path to raising a world changer.