Since the year 2000, June 20 has been set aside as a day to raise awareness about the plight of refugees around the world. And if recent news and social media outrage haven’t been enough of an indication, allow me to make it clear: The global refugee crisis has only become more dire in the intervening years since World Refugee Day was first observed 18 years ago. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) currently estimates that there are 25 million refugees worldwide, and an additional three million designated as asylum seekers (meaning their claim of refugee status has not yet been accepted). And the presence of the Syrian Civil War, gang violence in Central America and countless other conflicts around the world mean that this crisis is something we, as Americans, will have to deal with – and so will our kids.
But how do we talk to our kids about a situation that even many adults can’t fully grasp? Here are some books that can help.
This picture book, by British author Kate Milner, sensitively tells the story of a young boy and his mother who are forced to flee an unnamed country in order to find a safe haven. The book engages its young audience by asking kids what decisions they would make in the same situation. And a free teachers’ toolkit is available online, offering parents and teachers alike ways to discuss the refugee crisis without alarming little ones.
I know I’ve wondered before why I got to be born in this country and to live a comfortable, safe life, when so many others face violence, hunger and untold trauma in their homelands. This sparsely illustrated book explores that same concept, considering what it would be like to live in a war zone, to move from place to place, or to experience a natural disaster. It’s told from a child’s point of view, so the concepts are never too difficult to understand, and a message of empathy clearly shines through.
This book is completely illustrated with photographs taken by the UNHCR of refugee children in countries like Greece, Rwanda and Jordan, to name just a few. The story is simple, explaining the different types of places that refugees live, from overcrowded tents to dingy stairwells. But my favorite part is the call to action for our youngest citizens: “I hope someone smiles and says ‘Welcome home.’ I hope that someone is you.” It’s also available in Spanish.
The lack of resources in refugee camps is a very real problem, and one that’s explored in this beautiful picture book. It tells the story of two 10-year-old girls, Lina and Feroza, who are forced to share the same pair of sandals, ultimately leading them to find a sisterly bond that transcends footwear. The authors’ note indicates that its inspired by a camp in Peshawar, a city on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but having volunteered in a refugee camp in Greece, I can attest that the tale is tragically universal.
While the number of refugees is at a five-year high, the existence of refugees is not a new phenomenon. This book for 9- to 12-year-old readers tells the stories of three refugees – a Jewish boy living in 1930s Germany, a Cuban girl fleeing Castro’s regime in 1994, and a Syrian boy escaping the violence of his country’s civil war in 2015. And while it’s technically historical fiction, the harrowing nature of their various journeys is as true as it comes.
Parents, this one is for you. This novel was partially responsible for my own awakening to the refugee crisis, a beautifully rendered tale of an Afghani mother’s struggle to help her family escape an oppressive regime. It touches on the dangers of making such a passage, the sheer amount of time it often takes, and the myriad of ways that plans can go awry – all remarkably accurate when compared to the heartbreaking accounts of real-life refugees and asylum seekers.