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Hope Away from Home

Yesterday was World Refugee Day, an event first declared by the UNHCR (United Nations Human Rights Commission) in 2000. As I explained in a previous post (which includes additional statistics, resources, and links), it is a day intended to draw attention to the plight of tens of millions of people displaced from their homes each year. The UNHCR estimates that the number of refugees increased from 27.1 million in 2021 to 35.3 million in 2022. More than half came from the Syrian Arab Republic (6.5 million), Ukraine (5.7 million) and Afghanistan (5.7 million).

Refugees are people compelled to leave their homes by violent conflict and persecution, famine, disease, and natural disasters, including those attributable climate change. They come from all walks of life and all over the world, and their numbers are only likely to increase given resurgent conflicts in various regions as well as conditions like draught, extreme weather events, and rising sea levels.

The causes of displacement are many and diverse as are the outcomes for people. Many seek asylum in neighboring lands where some spend years living in camps intended to be temporary. Others brave grave risks to reach uncertain shelter on more distant shores.

This year's theme for World Refugee Day is Hope Away from Home: We Were Here, a campaign that seeks to raise awareness and build empathy through sharing individuals' stories and focusing attention on what refugees have in common with those who have not (yet) been displaced.

This video tells more of the story of three sisters from Ukraine:

A few days ago, PBS posted an article exploring reasons that refugees today are living in unstable situations with uncertain resolutions longer than in previous decades:

"Refugees live in a legal limbo that can increasingly stretch for decades. And the number of people remaining refugees for five years or longer more than doubled over the past decade, topping 16 million in 2022. These are people who do not have a clear path to residency in any country but are unable to return to their homes because they are unsafe."

Among the reasons listed are longer-lasting conflicts, lack of sufficient international cooperation and effective strategies at national, regional, and international levels, and an uptick in restrictive policies, particularly among wealthier nations: "They are also taking actions that make it harder for refugees to ever cross their borders – including building more border walls, detaining refugees in offshore islands and intercepting refugee boats."

Refugees and Immigrants in Children's Literature

In another previous post, I shared children's books that highlight the experiences of refugees and immigrants at different times, to and from different places. So many more amazing titles have been released since I first made that post, so I decided to send out another set of recommendations, though I'm a little late for the day itself.

These are stories that can and should be read any day, any time. Stories and books (like all art forms) are magical and transformative in part because they enable us to expand beyond our lived experience. That stretching of our perspective (reaching beyond the tunnels, caves, or bubbles by which so many of us are bound) is essential in building empathy, which in turn, hopefully, builds compassion and breaks down ignorance, misconception, fear, and disdain, particularly for those we define as other. There are no easy solutions, but the crises we face as a global community must be approached from places of compassion, understanding, and respect. Books can be a good place to start.

Here's a video reading of Neil Gaiman's poem "What You Need to Be Warm." It will be released as a picture book in October 2023, with contributions from several illustrators, and is available for pre-order. Proceeds go to support the work of the UNHCR on behalf of forcibly displaced and stateless persons.

Now, to some books already on the shelves:

This wordless picture book about a girl and her family's flight from Vietnam is just stunning. The story, told through muted collages that follow the family as well as the ants that lead them safely through the jungle, is riveting.

Simple couplets tell the complementary stories of two children in different parts of India impacted by climate change in two very different but similar ways. The illustrations are gorgeous, and I love the layering of the narrative and the imagery. Lots of important things to discuss should one choose.

I love Kyo Maclear so I was excited to see this one. A more general thematic text (not rooted in a particular place or people) combines with gentle illustrations to show the power of stories and simple things in times of great upheaval.

This might be my favorite of the new ones I'm listing but I have a really hard time picking favorites. I adore textile art though, and the textures here are so immersive. The story, too, is a moving juxtaposition of the healing and hope that can be found amid the horror and grief.

Here, a young girl joins her aunt and uncle in another country, and the aunt tells the girl a story about another land, another group of refugees, another foreign shore, and a glass of sweet milk ... It's beautifully done.

This autobiographical picture book follows a boy from Nigeria to the United States where he discovers and practices chess for hours while living in shelter, wins the New York State Chess Championship, and finds a new home. More independent and advanced readers can read the longer narratives of Tani's experiences.

This one I just put on reserve because it sounds amazing. From Goodreads: "At the front of a middle school classroom in Oklahoma, a boy named Khosrou (whom everyone calls "Daniel") stands, trying to tell a story. His story. But no one believes a word he says. ... Like Scheherazade in a hostile classroom, author Daniel Nayeri weaves a tale of Khosrou trying to save his own life: to stake his claim to the truth. And it is (a true story)." Check out this interview with the author!

I just put this one on reserve, too, because I'm so enthralled with the concept and the artwork. From Goodreads: "Through extraordinarily powerful images, Migrants narrates the journey of a group of animals that leaves behind a leafless forest. With forceful simplicity, Migrants shows us the courage, loss and underlying hope migration takes. And that arriving in a new land may mean burying a portion of the past."

Several must-reads in the middle grade and novel in verse department:

Several more middle grade novels that I just added to my stack and can't wait to read:

How about a read-aloud for this next one? The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, a less obvious take that is brilliantly done. So much to love!

There are so many good middle grade books and other children's books out there. I can't list them all here, but please look for them in the links below!

Check out the list of picture books, chapter books, and middle grade novels that tell the stories of refugees and immigrants. There are so many stunning, beautiful, and just amazing works out there.

You can find more lists and descriptions of books at these links:

I want to leave you with more music, by another remarkable individual, a musician named Mariela Shaker and her husband, Riyad Nicolas, a pianist. Shaker left behind her home in Syria in 2013 following attacks on the University of Aleppo and pursued asylum in the United States.

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