In honor of #WorldRefugeeDay2018 and in solidarity with the “20 people [who] leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror” every minute (according to the United Nations), I’m posting this list of several Picture Books that I’ve reviewed in the past few years that illuminate the plight of those who flee their homes to seek refuge and that give voice to children separated from their parents due to immigration issues.
The refugee crisis is global, and several empathy-building Picture Books explore the refugee experience. This list focuses primarily on the Americas, however, as the events on the US border are uppermost today on my mind, and, I believe, on the minds of many parents, teachers and children trying to make sense of a senseless situation. Note: all links are to my reviews, which include resources to explore and discuss these issues further.
Please share in the comments other picture books that you’re reading about the refugee and migrant experience.
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
Written By: Edwidge Danticat
Illustrated By: Leslie Staub
Publisher/date: Penguin Young Readers Group/2015
Suitable for Ages: 5-8
Opening: “When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice.”
Brief Synopsis: When Mama is arrested and held in a women’s correctional facility because she lacks the correct immigration papers, young Saya misses her terribly. Mama records stories from her native Haiti for Saya while Papa writes letters to politicians and the media without success. Saya also writes a story that Papa sends to the local media, and that leads, ultimately, to the resolution of the problem.
Somos como las nubes, We Are Like the Clouds
Written By: Jorge Argueta
Pictures By: Alfonso Ruano
Translated By: Elisa Amado
Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2016
Suitable for Ages: 7-12
Somos como las nubes
Elefantes, caballos, vaca, cuches,/ flores,/ballenas,/ pericos.
Somos como las nubes.
We Are Like the Clouds
Elephants, horses, cows, pigs,/ flowers,/ whales,/ parakeets.
We are like the clouds.
In this bilingual (Spanish and English) poetry collection, Argueta explores the hopes and fears that cause young people to leave Central America, the perils of the journey, and the arrival to the United States.
Written By: José Manuel Mateo
Illustrated By: Javier Martínez Pedro
Translated By: Emmy Smith Ready
Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/ 2014 (Mexican edition: Ediciones Tecolote/2011)
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
I used to play among the roosters and the pigs. The animals roamed free, because in the village there were no pens, nor walls between the houses. On one side of the village were the mountains; on the other side, the sea.
Brief Synopsis: In this bilingual (Spanish and English) picture book, a young boy recounts his journey with his mother and sister from a small village in Mexico to Los Angeles, after the men of the village, including his father, are forced to move to find work.
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale
Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013
Suitable for Ages: 6-9
One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.
When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.
Written By: Maxine Trottier
Illustrated By: Isabelle Arsenault
Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2011
Suitable for Ages: 4-7
Themes/Topics: Mennonites, Canada, Mexico, farming, migrant
There are times when Anna feels like a bird. It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.
Her family is a flock of geese eating its way there and back again.
Brief Synopsis: Migrant is the story of Anna and her family, Mennonite farmers, who journey each summer to Canada to supplement their income by harvesting produce.
Alfredito Flies Home
Written By: Jorge Argueta
Illustrated By: Luis Garay
Translated By:Elisa Amado
Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2007
Suitable for Ages:4-9
My name is Alfredo, just like my father, but everyone calls me Alfredito. I am as happy as a bird today because I’m going back home. Finally, after four whole years in San Francisco, my mother, Adela, my father, my grandmother Serve and I are going to climb on a plane tomorrow and fly back to El Salvador.
A young boy and his family who fled their home in El Salvador journey back to visit relatives and friends.
Two White Rabbits
Written By: Jairo Buitrago
Illustrated By: Rafael Yockteng
Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, 2015
Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (per the publisher)
When we travel, I count what I see. Five cows, four hens and one chucho, as my dad calls them.
Brief Synopsis: Like the two white rabbits of the title, a young girl and her father journey together trying to find a way to, and across, a border.
Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees
Written By: Mary Beth Leatherdale
Illustrated By: Eleanor Shakespeare
Publisher/date: Annick Press Ltd/2017
Suitable for Ages: 10-12
At last, Ruth was free. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked up the gangplank of the SS St. Louis. After trying to get out of Germany for two years, her family had finally secured passage on a ship headed to Havana, Cuba.
Brief Synopsis: Stormy Seas is a collection of five true stories about young people who fled their homelands by boat from World War II until today.