Older children often wonder about the reasons refugees and asylum seekers have left their homelands. They are able to think critically about economic and political systems that displace people and want to hear refugees’ stories. They may be intrigued by the extreme measures some families will take to immigrate, or upset by the living conditions in refugee camps that they see depicted in the media. Reading a chapter book about a person or family’s immigration experience can help them understand the hopes, dreams, and experiences of refugees. It may also motivate them to welcome new immigrants into their communities and schools.
Here are some of our favorite chapter books about refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrants:
Boy, Everywhere (2021). Sami loves playing soccer and PlayStation games with his best friend, Joseph. But when a bomb goes off at a mall near his home in Damascus, his parents decide the family must flee Syria. With the help of international friends and for-profit smugglers, they leave their comfortable, middle-class home and travel by car, boat, truck, and plane to the U.K., where they request asylum. Their journey to safety includes times in a detention center and homeless shelter, as well as Sami’s bumpy start in a new school where not everyone is happy to welcome a refugee. Author A.M. Dassu based this novel on the stories of three Damascene refugees.
One Good Thing about America: Story of a Refugee Girl (2019). Nine-year-old Anais has come to Maine with her mother and little brother to escape violence in the Congo. Missing home, she writes letters to her Oma, telling her all about ‘Crazy America’ and asking for news of the dad and big brother she left behind. She shares tales of new holidays, strange foods, and the impossible spellings of English words, as well as requests for photos and documents that will help the family gain asylum. Author Ruth Freeman draws on scores of students she has taught in English Language Learning (ELL) classes to portray the hard adjustments and sometimes humorous experiences that refugee children encounter during their first year in the U.S.
When Stars Are Scattered (2020). Authors Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson use a graphic novel format to tell the true story of Omar and his brother, Hassan, who spent 15 years in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. Omar was only four when they left Somalia and he longs for his mother to come and take him home again. But his village has been destroyed and his only hope for a new home is resettlement by United Nations refugee workers. The waiting is hard and sometimes he wants to give up. And then, finally, he and Hassan get good news: they are going to America!
Other Words for Home (2019). Jude loves living in Syria, but as the nation erupts into violence, her father sends her and her mother to live with Jude’s uncle in America. The book describes her difficulty in leaving part of her family behind and worries about their safety, as well as her struggle to adjust to make a new home in a new culture. She finds America exciting, loud, and fast-paced. Authur Jasmine Warga also explores how Jude discovers what it means to have courage as she comes to terms with her (not always welcome) new identities: ‘immigrant’, “Middle Eastern’, and ‘American Muslim’.