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. Today we are proud to share some of our favorite books about refugees ideal for elementary school students.
Elementary school kids have such an excitement to learn. If you ask them what they are studying in school, you’ll likely get a two hour lecture. At this age, they gobble up everything new and interesting. Luckily, there are many books about refugees written for this age group. If you want your kids to begin to understand the journey of a refugee, these are the books they must read.
Presented as a young girl’s collection of poetry chronicling her journey to a refugee camp, this fictional account captures the essence of what it means to grow up and what it means to experience life as a refugee. Amira is a twelve year old girl growing up in a land where a woman’s role is to cook and clean for her family. But that is not what Amira wants: she wants to make a difference in her world. Her options become more limited, however, when her village is attacked and she must flee. Upon reaching a refugee camp, Amira is given a red pencil and she begins to write. The poetry in The Red Pencil is beautiful yet accessible, making it a perfect book for any elementary-aged child. The reader can digest poem after poem or ruminate on the message of one poem. You can also read this with your elementary-aged child and discuss each poem. However you decide to make your way through the book, it’s a don’t miss.
This book perfectly encapsulates the message that “an unjust law is no law at all.” In this book, Ken Mochizuki tells the story of Hiroki Sugihara’s father, a Japanese diplomat who, in 1940, wrote thousands of visas for Lithuanian refugees trying to escape the Nazis. Against the orders of his government, Sugihara wrote visa after visa for over a month. Despite knowing the danger this represented to himself and his family, he persisted. This man gave up his position, and for a time his freedom, to ensure the safety of others. This is a powerful story to share with your child because it shows how one person can become a world changer.
This is a beautiful story of how easy it is to be kind to one another. Lina and Feroza are both young girls living in a refugee camp who have been without shoes for a very long time. One day, a shipment of shoes arrives for the refugees. Lina finds a yellow sandal with a blue flower, but she only finds one. Later, she sees its mate on Feroza’s foot. When she tries to introduce herself, Feroza flees. The next day, Feroza reluctantly gives her the other sandal. Instead of taking it, Lina suggests that they share. This story is a wonderful reminder that even in the darkest times in our lives, we can still give of what we have.
Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl growing up in a Connecticut town, is a from a poor family. Everyday, she wears the same dress and, everyday, her classmates bully her—even going so far as to wait for her before school. As a protective mechanism, she claims that she has one hundred dresses at home. Aside from the teasing, no one takes much notice of Wanda. She sits in the back of the classroom and no one really notices her, until she doesn’t show up to school for many days in a row. Eventually, some of Wanda’s classmates learn that changing the world happens one person at a time: it is up to each individual to stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves. A classic and timeless story of the value of nonconformity, this book is longer, so it may be more appropriate for older elementary-aged students.
Almost every child in the United States knows about the Statue of Liberty, but they may not know the story behind her creation or the significance of her right foot. (Did you know that she’s moving? I bet you didn’t.) The book describes the creation of the Statue of Liberty from inspiration to the time she finally arrived in New York. More than a book about her creation, however, it relates to the spirit of our country: welcoming, accepting, and giving to those in need, particularly those coming here for a new start. With superb artwork and some well-placed humor, this book will even appeal to parents.
Reading opens our hearts and our eyes to new experiences. These books about refugees give us different perspectives. Reading them creates empathy in our hearts which makes us want to change the world. Hopefully, reading these books will be meaningful step in your child’s journey to making the world a better place for us all.
*Images via Goodreads
Written by Gwen Skar