PPBF – The Refuge

With Mars and space exploration in the news right now, I thought this was a perfect time to feature a picture book that features a friendship born out of a shared love of astronomy.

Title: The Refuge

Written By: Sandra le Guen

Illustrated By: Stéphane Nicolet

Translated By: Danial Hahn

Publisher/Date: Amazon Crossing Kids/2020 (originally published in French, Éditions les P’tits Bérets/2019)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: refugee, astronomy, friendship

Opening:

When Jeannette got home from school that day, she dropped her bag on the floor. She didn’t bother to take off her shoes, and she didn’t bother to have her afternoon snack.

When Jeannette got home from school that day, she hurried into her mom’s office. She opened the window wide. She pointed the telescope toward the sky and brought her eye up close.

Brief Synopsis: When a new girl, Iliana, who doesn’t speak the language arrives at Jeannette’s school, Jeannette and Iliana become friends, bonding over a shared love of the night sky.

Links to Resources:

  • Discover activities to learn about space with NASA;
  • Because Iliana doesn’t know the language in her new school yet, she uses hand motions and draws pictures of her home country and her journey to her new home and school. Try telling a story using only gestures and/or pictures;
  • Think about ways you could help a new student in your class or new neighbor feel welcome, especially if you and she don’t speak the same language.

Why I Like this Book:

In The Refuge, a French picture book translated into English, two young girls bond over a shared love of astronomy. I love that this book not only builds empathy for refugees from an unnamed war-torn country, but that it features two science-loving girls who bond over their shared passion.

I also love that Jeannette’s mother keeps a telescope in her office, and that she encourages Jeannette to use it. Similarly, Iliana’s mother calms Iliana during the perilous sea journey by encouraging her to focus on the stars in the sky and by reminding her that the sky “belonged to everybody”.

In many refugee books, a child seeks to teach a newcomer the language spoken at the new home. That happens in The Refuge, but, in addition, Jeannette also seeks to learn Iliana’s language. I love the mutuality shown, and I think kids and adults will enjoy seeing the English and Arabic words side-by-side.

Although le Guen doesn’t shy away from letting readers know that Iliana’s family has fled a war and experienced a life-threatening journey to reach Europe, the focus on a shared passion and friendship makes this a hope-filled book, perfect to help explain the refugee experience to children.

Nicolet’s expressive and fanciful illustrations transport readers to the young girls’ star-filled world.

A Note about Craft:

In The Refuge, a sky that knows no borders, that belongs to everybody, is the passion that unites two astronomy-loving friends. By focusing on the sky, le Guen shows, I think, how everyone is united, how these two friends, who speak different languages, can find a shared language over which to bond.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

4 responses to “PPBF – The Refuge

  1. Wow! This sounds amazing! So many layers! Thanks for putting it in your spotlight. I’ll add it to my TBR list. Found it through LINK+, our extended library system. Yay!

  2. I love everything about this story — it’s more than just a refugee story. It’s sharing similar interests and friendship the has no boundaries. The book cover is interesting!

    • I don’t think I did this book justice, though. The interaction of the illustrations & English/Arabic vocabulary is simply stunning. It’s a refugee story I could read & reread all day long.

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