Children’s literature has many notable options when it comes to refugees. To help you find the right books for you and your young reader, we’ve compiled a list of the best kids books about refugees.
Our list includes picture books and chapter books. Picture books are generally great options for toddlers and for preschool and kindergarten age children. Picture books are especially enjoyable for adults to read aloud with young kids. The chapter books on our list are generally best for elementary through early middle school age tween kids. You can filter to sort by the best book type for your kid.
When it comes to children’s stories about refugees, there are a variety of titles. This list covers everything, from classics like The Night Diary to popular sellers like A Long Walk to Water to some of our favorite hidden gems like The Day War Came.
We hope this list of kids books about refugees can be a helpful resource for parents, teachers, and others searching for a new book! As you explore the list, please comment below to let us know what books you would add.
A timely rendition of the nativity follows Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus as they travel in a strange land, hoping to find refuge in the kindness of strangers. $1 from the sale of each print book sold until October 2017 will go to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Everyone knows the story of how Jesus was humbly born in a manger when was no room at the inn. But here is a lyrical depiction of what came next: the new family’s travels through the desert, fleeing Herod’s soldiers in order to find a safe place to welcome their son into the world. A refreshing look at the classic Christmas story that’s never been more relevant, Refuge asks readers to consider the modern day implications of being forced to flee your home country.
An Inspiring True Story about One Family’s Escape from Behind the Berlin Wall!
Peter was born on the east side of Germany, the side that wasn’t free. He watches news programs rather than cartoons, and wears scratchy uniforms instead of blue jeans. His family endures long lines and early curfews. But Peter knows it won’t always be this way. Peter and his family have a secret. Late at night in their attic, they are piecing together a hot air balloon—and a plan. Can Peter and his family fly their way to freedom? This is the true story of one child, Peter Wetzel, and his family, as they risk their lives for the hope of freedom in a daring escape from East Germany via a handmade hot air balloon in 1979.
• A perfect picture book for educators teaching about the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, and East Germany
• Flight for Freedom is a showcase for lessons of bravery, heroism, family, and perseverance, as well as stunning history.
• Includes detailed maps of the Wetzel family’s escape route and diagrams of their hot air balloon
For fans of historical nonfiction picture books like Let the Children March, The Wall, Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon.
• True life escape stories
• For picture book readers age 5–9
• For teachers, librarians, and historians
Kristen Fulton is a children’s book author. She can always be found with a notebook in hand as she ventures through historical sites and museums. Most of the time she lives in Florida—but she can also be found traveling the country by RV.
Torben Kuhlmann is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator. Starting in kindergarten he became known as “the draftsman.” Flying machines and rich historical detail often adorn his work. He lives in Hamburg, Germany.
Imagine if, on an ordinary day, after a morning of studying tadpoles and drawing birds at school, war came to your town and turned it to rubble. Imagine if you lost everything and everyone, and you had to make a dangerous journey all alone. Imagine that there was no welcome at the end, and no room for you to even take a seat at school. And then a child, just like you, gave you something ordinary but so very, very precious. In lyrical, deeply affecting language, Nicola Davies’s text combines with Rebecca Cobb’s expressive illustrations to evoke the experience of a child who sees war take away all that she knows.
Refugees from a Caribbean island embark on a dangerous boat trip to America where they have a special reason to celebrate Thanksgiving.
In an unforgettable story that subtly addresses the refugee crisis, a young girl must decide if friendship means giving up the one item that gives her comfort during a time of utter uncertainty. 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. This emotionally stirring and stunningly illustrated picture book explores one girl’s powerful act of friendship in the midst of an unknown situation.
Wherever I Go - A hopeful and timely picture book about a spirited little girl living in a refugee camp. Of all her friends, Abia has been at the Shimelba Refugee Camp the longest—seven years, four months, and sixteen days. Papa says that’s too long and they need a forever home. Until then, though, Abia has something important to do. Be a queen. Sometimes she’s a noisy queen, banging on her drum as she and Mama wait in the long line for rice to cook for dinner. Sometimes she’s a quiet queen, cuddling her baby cousin to sleep while Auntie is away collecting firewood. And sometimes, when Papa talks hopefully of their future, forever home, Abia is a little nervous. Forever homes are in strange and faraway places—will she still be a queen? Filled with hope, love, and respect, Wherever I Go is a timely tribute to the strength and courage of refugees around the world.
When Stars Are Scattered - Heartbreak and hope exist together in this remarkable graphic novel about growing up in a refugee camp, as told by a Somali refugee to the Newbery Honor-winning creator of Roller Girl. Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, have spent most of their lives in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Life is hard there: never enough food, achingly dull, and without access to the medical care Omar knows his nonverbal brother needs. So when Omar has the opportunity to go to school, he knows it might be a chance to change their future . . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only family member he has left, every day. Heartbreak, hope, and gentle humor exist together in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting, and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult of settings. It’s an intimate, important, unforgettable look at the day-to-day life of a refugee, as told to New York Times Bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story.
Other Words for Home - A gorgeously written, hopeful middle grade novel in verse about a young girl who must leave Syria to move to the United States, perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed. Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives. At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is. This lyrical, life-affirming story is about losing and finding home and, most importantly, finding yourself.
The Eleventh Trade - From debut author Alyssa Hollingsworth comes a story about living with fear, being a friend, and finding a new place to call home. They say you can’t get something for nothing, but nothing is all Sami has. When his grandfather’s most-prized possession—a traditional Afghan instrument called a rebab—is stolen, Sami resolves to get it back. He finds it at a music store, but it costs $700, and Sami doesn’t have even one penny. What he does have is a keychain that has caught the eye of his classmate. If he trades the keychain for something more valuable, could he keep trading until he has $700? Sami is about to find out. The Eleventh Trade is both a classic middle school story and a story about being a refugee. Like Katherine Applegate, author of Wishtree, Alyssa Hollingsworth tackles a big issue with a light touch.
A timely, poignant tale of family, sacrifice and the friendship between a young Syrian refugee and an American boy living in Brussels.
Sangoel is a refugee. Leaving behind his homeland of Sudan, where his father died in the war, he has little to call his own other than his name, a Dinka name handed down proudly from his father and grandfather before him.
When Sangoel and his mother and sister arrive in the United States, everything seems very strange and unlike home. In this busy, noisy place, with its escalators and television sets and traffic and snow, Sangoel quietly endures the fact that no one is able to pronounce his name. Lonely and homesick, he finally comes up with an ingenious solution to this problem, and in the process he at last begins to feel at home.
Written by the authors of the acclaimed Four Feet, Two Sandals, this poignant story of identity and belonging will help young readers understand the plight of the millions of children in the world who are refugees.
From Jill Twiss and EG Keller, the author and illustrator team behind the #1 New York Times bestselling picture book John Oliver Presents A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, comes The Someone New, a fresh and timely story about how it feels when someone new comes knocking at your door.
Jitterbug the chipmunk likes it when things stay the same. So when one day Pudding the snail comes into her woods, Jitterbug worries that everything will be different. What if Pudding spoils everything? What if there’s no more room for Jitterbug? With the help of her friends, can Jitterbug welcome the newcomer and learn that kindness is stronger than fear?
This is the real-life story of 12-year-old refugee Juliane. At 3 years old, Juliane was separated from her mother due to the violence in her country of Zimbabwe. Told in Juliane’s own words, the story tells of her fear and isolation growing up in an orphanage, how she was reunited with her mother, and how the two of them fled to another country to establish a new life together.
The New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about two eleven-year-olds in Sudan, a girl in 2008 and a boy in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.
The Night Diary - Shy twelve-year-old Nisha, forced to flee her home with her Hindu family during the 1947 partition of India, tries to find her voice and make sense of the world falling apart around her by writing to her deceased Muslim mother in the pages of her diary.
The Crossroads - Jaime and Ángela discover what it means to be living as undocumented immigrants in the United States in this timely sequel to the Pura Belpré Honor Book The Only Road. After crossing Mexico into the United States, Jaime Rivera thinks the worst is over. Starting a new school can’t be that bad. Except it is, and not just because he can barely speak English. While his cousin Ángela fits in quickly, with new friends and after-school activities, Jaime struggles with even the idea of calling this strange place “home.” His real home is with his parents, abuela, and the rest of the family; not here where cacti and cattle outnumber people, where he can no longer be himself—a boy from Guatemala. When bad news arrives from his parents back home, feelings of helplessness and guilt gnaw at Jaime. Gang violence in Guatemala means he can’t return home, but he’s not sure if he wants to stay either. The US is not the great place everyone said it would be, especially if you’re sin papeles—undocumented—like Jaime. When things look bleak, hope arrives from unexpected places: a quiet boy on the bus, a music teacher, an old ranch hand. With his sketchbook always close by, Jaime uses his drawings to show what it means to be a true citizen. Powerful and moving, this touching sequel to The Only Road explores overcoming homesickness, finding ways to connect despite a language barrier, and discovering what it means to start over in a new place that alternates between being wonderful and completely unwelcoming.
Hamid's Story - This is the real-life story of 10-year old refugee Hamid, who flees Eritrea with his mother to escape the war and threats to his family from the government. Told in Hamid’s own words, this story describes the hardship experienced by immigrants who are rebuilding their lives with little understanding of the language and culture of their new country.
A Crack in the Sea - “Pip, a young boy who can speak to fish, and his sister Kinchen set off on a great adventure, joined by twins with magical powers, refugees fleeing post-war Vietnam, and some helpful sea monsters”—
“Amira, look at me,” Muma insists.She collects both my hands in hers.”The Janjaweed attack without warning.If ever they come— run.” Finally, Amira is twelve. Old enough to wear a toob, old enough for new responsibilities. And maybe old enough to go to school in Nyala— Amira’s one true dream. But life in her peaceful Sudanese village is shattered when the Janjaweed arrive. The terrifying attackers ravage the town and unleash unspeakable horrors. After she loses nearly everything, Amira needs to dig deep within herself to find the strength to make the long journey— on foot— to safety at a refugee camp. Her days are tough at the camp, until the gift of a simple red pencil opens her mind— and all kinds of possibilities. New York Times bestselling and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney’s powerful verse and Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist Shane W. Evans’s breathtaking illustrations combine to tell an inspiring tale of one girl’s triumph against all odds.
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