According to news reports I’ve read, more travelers will be on the road and in the skies in the US than ever before this Thanksgiving weekend, traveling to celebrate the holiday with family and friends. But as we celebrate, I think it’s important to remember those that travel for different reasons, including the boy and his mother in today’s Perfect Picture Book.
Title: My Name is Not Refugee
Written & Illustrated By: Kate Milner
Publisher/Date: The Bucket List (an imprint of Barrington Stoke/2017)
Suitable for Ages: 5 and under
Themes/Topics: refugees; moving; empathy
We have to leave this town, my mother told me, it’s not safe for us, she said. Shall I tell you what it will be like?
Brief Synopsis: Step by step, a mother explains to her young son that they are leaving the home they know because it isn’t safe and traveling to a new place where they’ll have to learn a new language, eat different foods, and otherwise adapt.
Links to Resources:
- Describe or draw a journey or walk you’ve taken;
- Find many more activities in the Teacher Toolkit;
- Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome in your school or community.
Why I Like this Book:
In simple, child-friendly sentences, a mother explains to her young son their upcoming journey and what they may find in their new home. Unlike many picture books about the refugee experience, Milner mentions and shows the unsafe home the pair leave, but there is no mention of death, soldiers or bombs. She thus leaves it to a child’s imagination, or the answer of a caregiver or teacher, to explain why there’s no running water and why there’s garbage everywhere. The adult reading with a child then can tailor the answer to the comprehension level of that child.
In addition to his mother’s reassurances, the young boy finds comfort in a stuffed animal that he carries in most spreads. I think younger children will relate to this, and find it reassuring as well. For the youngest of listeners, they may even want to search the pages to find the beloved item.
On the right-side page of most spreads, Milner addresses the reader, asking direct questions that are highlighted in blue boxes. From “what would you take,” to “how far could you walk,” and “what is the weirdest food you have ever eaten,” Milner invites readers to journey along with the unnamed refugees, to better understand their journeys and build empathy.
Milner uses pencil drawings and lots of white space to engage readers in the refugee experience. And by not showing a specific region or including details that could indicate that the refugees practice a particular religion, she universalizes the experience: anyone could be a refugee.
A Note about Craft:
Although the main character is a child, he relates the story as told to him by his mother. The reader thus experiences the journey through the mother’s perspective, too, which, in my mind, provided a reassurance missing from many refugee stories.
The inclusion of direct questions helps an adult reader tailor story-time to particular children, I think. To stick to the narrative, an adult reading aloud can skip a question or all questions, or s/he can stop and explore the main character’s experiences and discover how they may relate to the experiences of children listening.
My Name is Not Refugee is the winner of the Klaus Flugge Prize, which “celebrates the most exciting newcomer to children’s book illustration.” Milner won the V&A Student Illustrator of the Year in 2016 for My Name is Not Refugee.
Edinburg-based, independent publisher Barrington Stoke is the “home of super-readable books” and aims to publish books for children with dyslexia and reluctant readers.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!