This week is Refugee Week, a week long festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees. Now more than ever, we need to shut down the misconceptions that we have of refugees and bring forth more positive encounters and promoting a culture of learning from one another and also, of welcoming one another. And there is no better way to facilitate that feeling through reading.
Below, you will find a list of book recommendations that are great conversation starters. If you want to know more about Refugee Week, the organization’s purpose and education resources, please visit their website:
The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf
2019 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize
There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it.
He’s eight years old (just like me), but he’s very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets – not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite!
But the truth is, Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to be his friend.
That’s where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because you see, together we’ve come up with a plan. (Credit: Hachette Children’s Group)
No Ballet Shoes in Syria by Catherine Bruton
Aya is eleven years old and has just arrived in Britain with her mum and baby brother, seeking asylum from war in Syria.
When Aya stumbles across a local ballet class, the formidable dance teacher spots her exceptional talent and believes that Aya has the potential to earn a prestigious ballet scholarship.
But at the same time, Aya and her family must fight to be allowed to remain in the country, to make a home for themselves, and to find Aya’s father – separated from the rest of the family during the journey from Syria.
With beautiful, captivating writing, wonderfully authentic ballet detail, and an important message championing the rights of refugees, this is classic storytelling – filled with warmth, hope and humanity. (Credit: Nosy Crow)
The Colour Of Home by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Karin Littlewood
Hassan feels out of place in a new cold, grey country. At school, he paints a picture showing his colourful Somalian home, covered with the harsh colours of war from which his family has fled. He tells his teacher about their voyage from Mogadishu to Mombasa, then to the refugee camp and on to England. But gradually things change. When Hassan’s parents put up his next picture on the wall, Hassan notices the maroon prayer mat, a bright green cushion and his sister Naima’s pink dress – the new colours of home. (Credit: Frances Lincoln)
The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Armed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At home her mother’s heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat.”The Weight of Water” is a startlingly original piece of fiction; most simply a brilliant coming of age story, it also tackles the alienation experienced by many young immigrants. Moving, unsentimental and utterly page-turning, we meet and share the experiences of a remarkable girl who shows us how quiet courage prevails. (Credit: Bloomsbury Publishing)
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter
Alia Muhammad Baker is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books. Until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library–along with the thirty thousand books within it–will be destroyed forever.
In a war-stricken country where civilians–especially women–have little power, this true story about a librarian’s struggle to save her community’s priceless collection of books reminds us all how, throughout the world, the love of literature and the respect for knowledge know no boundaries. Illustrated by Jeanette Winter in bright acrylic and ink. Credit: Harcourt)
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life. (Credit: Laurel Leaf)
Smiling for Strangers by Gaye Hiçyılmaz
During the war, fourteen-year-old Nina flees from her village in Yugoslavia, armed only with some letters and a photograph, to search for an old friend of her mother’s in England. (Credit: Farrar Straus Giroux)
Zoya’s Story: An Afghan Woman’s Struggle for Freedom by Zoya, John Follain and Rita Cristofari
Though she is only twenty-three, Zoya has witnessed and endured more tragedy and terror than most people experience in a lifetime. Born in a land ravaged by war, she was robbed of her parents when they were murdered by Muslim fundamentalists. Devastated, she fled Kabul with her grandmother and started a new life in exile in Pakistan. She joined the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), an organization that challenged the crushing edicts of the Taliban government, and she took destiny into her own hands, joining a dangerous, clandestine war to save her nation.
Direct and unsentimental, Zoya vividly brings to life the realities of growing up in a Muslim culture, the terror of living in a perpetual war zone, the pain of losing those she has loved, the horrors of a woman’s life under the Taliban, and the discovered healing and transformation that lead her on a path of resistance. (Credit: Harper Perennial)
Refugee by Alan Gratz
Three different kids.
One mission in common: ESCAPE.
Josef is a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world…
Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America…
Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe…
All three young people will go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers–from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But for each of them, there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, surprising connections will tie their stories together in the end. (Credit: Scholastic)
Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience edited by Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond
A beautiful collection full of creative poetry that tells realistic experiences. We hear different stories behind immigration and the refugee crisis. It is time we heard the truth and these poems finally provide that. This poignant and important collection will shine a light on what is really going on in the world. It is heartbreaking and beautiful but it is what today’s teens need to hear.
We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories From Refugee Girls Around the World edited by Malala Yousafzai
Malala has done it again. She has brought to powerful and emotional stories that needed to be revealed in the light. You think you know all you need to know about the refugee crisis but you are sadly mistaken. This truly opens your eyes to what news outlets regretfully leave out in their bulletins. Although this is directed towards a younger audience, this is a book that can be read by all ages. It doesn’t sugar coat the truth, something we really need right now.
We Are Not Refugees: True Stories of the Displaced by Agus Morales
Never in history have so many people been displaced by political and military conflicts at home–more than 65 million globally. Unsparing, outspoken, vital, We Are Not Refugees tells the stories of many of these displaced, who have not been given asylum.
For over a decade, human rights journalist Agus Morales has journeyed to the sites of the world’s most brutal conflicts and spoken to the victims of violence and displacement. To Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Central African Republic. To Central America, the Congo, and the refugee camps of Jordan. To the Tibetan Parliament in exile in northern India.
We are living in a time of massive global change, when negative images of refugees undermine the truth of their humiliation and suffering. By bringing us stories that reveal the individual pain and the global scope of the crisis, Morales reminds us of the truth and appeals to our conscience.(Credit: Imagine)
The Crossing by Manjeet Mann
Natalie’s world is falling apart. She’s just lost her mum and her brother marches the streets of Dover full of hate and anger. Swimming is her only refuge.
Sammy has fled his home and family in Eritrea for the chance of a new life in Europe. Every step he takes on his journey is a step into an unknown and unwelcoming future.
A twist of fate brings them together and gives them both hope. But is hope enough to mend a broken world? (Credit: Penguin)
The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla
How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport? Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’?
How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you?
How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London?
What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race?
How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?
Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.
Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until, by winning Olympic races or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant, challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and – most importantly – real. (Credit: Unbound)
Kololo Hill by Neema Shah
A devastating decree is issued: all Ugandan Asians must leave the country in ninety days. They must take only what they can carry, give up their money and never return.
For Asha and Pran, married a matter of months, it means abandoning the family business that Pran has worked so hard to save. For his mother, Jaya, it means saying goodbye to the house that has been her home for decades. But violence is escalating in Kampala, and people are disappearing. Will they all make it to safety in Britain and will they be given refuge if they do?
And all the while, a terrible secret about the expulsion hangs over them, threatening to tear the family apart.
From the green hilltops of Kampala, to the terraced houses of London, Neema Shah’s extraordinarily moving debut Kololo Hill explores what it means to leave your home behind, what it takes to start again, and the lengths some will go to protect their loved ones. (Credit: Pan Macmillan )
Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah
Acclaimed performance poet and novelist Benjamin Zephaniah’s honest, wry and poignant story of a young refugee left in London is of even more power and pertinence today than when it was first published. Life is not safe for Alem. His father is Ethopian, his mother Eritrean. Their countries are at war, and Alem is welcome in neither place. So Alem is excited to spend a holiday in London with his father – until he wakes up to find him gone. What seems like a betrayal is in fact an act of love, but now Alem is alone in a strange country, and he must forge his own path … (Credit: Bloomsbury Publishing)
Welcome to the New World: Waking Up in Trump’s America by Jake Halpern and illustrated by Michael Sloan
A story about ordinary people navigating a strange land, in even stranger times. On the eve of the US elections, a Syrian family leave their world behind for a chance at the American dream. But as the first day of their new life dawns, they are greeted by the news of Donald Trump’s victory. It’s as if they arrived in one country, and woke up in another. What does that mean for their past, their future… their home? Welcome to the New World began as a ground-breaking comic strip in the New York Times. Every week, the Aldabaan family’s experiences would be retold as a cartoon strip – keeping step as events unfolded in real life. (Credit: Bloomsbury Publishing)