I shared a few refugee books several years ago in Brainstorm 47, so I will not repeat those here. You’re welcome to check those out by clicking on the link.
If you’d like to see my full reviews for any of the books below click on the title. For the Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult books click on the title to see any content notes/trigger warnings.
Next week we’ll resume the International Reads series with some books set in Central America and the Caribbean.
Fiction Picture Books
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, ill. by Rafael López
Applicable to multiple circumstances, this book is a great reminder that we often feel alone or left out, but when we are brave enough to be ourselves, we'll often be surprised by the friends who'll come our way. It's also a reminder that differences don't have to divide us and connections can be found in the most unexpected places.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, ill. by Thi Bui
In this historical fiction, Caldecott Honor picture book, a little boy and his father go fishing early on a Saturday morning. As they fish you learn that the family has recently come to American from Vietnam where the father lost a brother in the war, and they are fishing for dinner because things in America are so expensive.
Here I Am by Patti Kim, ill. by Sonia Sanchez
In this wordless picture book, a little boy moves from far away to New York City. At first the signs are in gibberish, the new place is confusing and scary. When he accidentally drops a treasured possession from his former home out the window, he must venture outside and face the scary land to recover his treasure. Make sure to read the author’s note about how this reflects her own immigration experience.
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Three immigrant children start at a new school in America. Maria comes from Guatemala, Jin comes from South Korea, and Fatimah comes from Somalia. They all are overwhelmed with the spoken and written language and the way school works, but over time they start to adjust and make friends.
Migrant by Maxine Trottier, ill. by Isabelle Arsenault
A little girl who is part of a family of migrant workers tries to explain how she feels about her life through a series of metaphors comparing herself to animals that migrate. (Make sure to read the author’s note in this one!)
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote by Duncan Tonatiuh
Pancho is waiting for his Papa to come home from the North. A big fiesta is planned, but Papa doesn't come on time. Pancho is worried, and when Coyote offers to take him North in exchange for the food Pancho carries, Pancho agrees. The journey is hard, and Coyote takes more and more. Eventually, Pancho fears for his life, but Papa shows up just in time. (Again, make sure to read the author’s notes on this allegory and the real situations faced by migrant workers and illegal immigrants.)
Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh
A little girl, Rashin, from Iran who now lives in Brooklyn is excited about going to the beach at Coney Island. She shares memories of going to the beach in Iran on the Caspian Sea and what that was like, and then shares her new experience of going to the beach in the States. She misses some things but enjoys new things too.
Shelter by Céline Claire, ill. by Qin Leng
Two strangers appear in the woods one night as the residents scurry to prepare for the coming storm. It seems no one has room or food to spare for the strangers. But when one of the resident families has a catastrophe and ends up out in the storm themselves, will the strangers be willing to do them a good turn?
Teacup by Rebecca Young, ill. by Matt Ottley
A little boy has to leave his home, so he sets off in a boat with just a book, a bottle, a blanket, and a teacup full of dirt from his old home. The journey is sometimes peaceful and at other times scary, but eventually he finds a new place to call home.
Tomás and the Library Lady by Pat Mora, ill. by Raúl Colón
Tomás travels with his family of migrant workers to Iowa for the summer and then back to Texas in the winter. He is at first not happy to be going to Iowa again, but at the suggestion of his storyteller Grandfather, Tomás visits the local library. The kind librarian suggests wonderful books for him to read, lets him borrow books under her name, and when the library is quiet asks him to teach her Spanish. New worlds open to Tomás and his family when he shares the stories with them.
Middle Grade Fiction
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
In this wordless graphic novel, a man leaves his daughter and wife to find a place for them in a new land. The new country has strange words, strange food and is horribly confusing and daunting for the man. But eventually he starts to find some work, make friends, and figure out what some words mean and what foods to eat. And one glorious day his daughter and wife are finally able to join him.
Children of Exile (Children of Exile, #1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Rosi, her little brother Bobo and the other children of Fredtown have lived an idyllic childhood with their Fred-parents. But then the children are relocated back to their real parents. None of the children know anything about the land they came from or why they were taken a few days after birth to Fredtown. But one thing's for sure, they are in for a huge shock after their plane ride home. What is wrong with all their real parents? Why are so many missing limbs, and do people actually strike others and call each other names here? Rosi and her friend Edwy are determined to try and figure out what went on and why they were taken, especially when they overhear someone plotting sinister activities and Rosi's father points out a secret hiding place under the floor.
Hidden: a Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier, translated by Alexis Siegel, ill. by Marc Lizano & Greg Salsedo
Grandma is up late looking at a scrapbook when her granddaughter finds her. She sees grandma is sad and asks her to tell the story so she can feel better. So Grandma tells her about when she was a little Jewish girl in France, and had to hide in a wardrobe when people arrested her father and mother. She tells about a nice neighbor family who took care of her, and kept her safe until the end of the war. And how they helped her find her mother again.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Há loved her life in Saigon, but the Vietnam War eventually forced her family to leave. After time in a boat and refugee camp, their family is eventually sponsored by a man in Alabama. Adjusting to life in Alabama and learning English is HARD. Há struggles so much in her first year, but with the help of a friendly older neighbor lady and her family, eventually Há starts to adjust to life in a place with no papaya.
The Last (Endling, #1) by Katherine Applegate
Byx is perhaps the last of the dairnes. Dairnes are hunted for their soft fur, even though they are intelligent creatures capable of speech, valued for their ability to tell truth from lies, and one of the five great species in their world. In a very hodge-podge group, Byx and company make their way to the island of the scholars, perhaps Byx’s best hope. But what they find on the island is not what any of them expected and soon the group realizes that for the good of the world they must figure out if there are any other dairnes left, or if Byx really is the Endling.
Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star, #1) by Kevin Emerson
Liam feels like he's the only one sad to say goodbye to Mars. The adults all view Mars as just a layover on their escape from the Earth, or more exactly, the Sun as it is on its way to going supernova. Their end goal is a new home in a planet called Aaru in another solar system. Today is the day the last people will board the starship for their long journey there. The only one who seems to understand Liam is his friend Phoebe, another of the kids who was born on Mars. As they prepare to leave the only home they've ever known, Liam and Phoebe are stuck on the last transport up to the starship because their parents are scientists finishing up the terraforming project for Aaru. But as the solar storms get worse and the time for the starship to depart draws near, things start to go horribly wrong, they stumble across some big secrets, and it is up to Liam and Phoebe to save the day.
Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Moon over Manifest is primarily about healing wounds and finding home. It does so by following the stories of several of the people in Manifest, a mining town in Kansas that is made up of a lot of immigrants. The book is happening in 1936, following the story of Abilene Tucker, whose daddy is a drifter and sent her to Manifest for the summer. In her quest to get to know her daddy, she learns a lot about the town through the stories of Miss Sadie, old newspapers, and interactions with various townspeople. Most of the stories take the reader back to Manifest in 1918. WWI, flu epidemics, racial issues, the corrupt and oppressive mining operation and a mixture of moonshine and "elixir" all are involved in that storyline. All the stories, even those seemingly unrelated, cleverly come together at the end
Nevermoor: the Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, #1) by Jessica Townsend
Morrigan Crow has known since forever exactly when she would die. She was born on Eventide, which means she'll die at midnight before the next age begins on her eleventh birthday, and also means everyone knows she's cursed. As the age draws to a close and her death looms, Morrigan is desperate for any sign of affection from her family or hope that she could live to see twelve. Hope comes in the funniest packages, like a wildly dressed ginger-haired man named Jupiter who snatches her away to the land of Nevermoor and sponsors her as a candidate for the Wundrous Society. But others don't want her to pass the trials for Society membership, her sponsor seems to forget to train her at all, and if she fails she will be sent back to her home to the death she narrowly evaded.
The Secrets of Solace (Solace) by Jaleigh Johnson
In the mountains of Solace are found the Archivists' three fortresses. The fortress Ortana is home to Lina, an apprentice archivist with a penchant for trouble. She's rather short on friends, and her teachers all seem to either ignore her or hate her (especially Tolwin who will never forgive her for a certain moss incident). Lina thought she had a friend in Zara, but her mentor has been so caught up with council business aiding refugees since war broke out between the Merrow Kingdom and the Dragonfly Territories that Lina's hardly seen her in ages. Lina's one refuge lies in her secret workshop deep in a forgotten cavern where she discovered an airship. Lina has almost gotten the airship free of the rubble it was buried under, but four stubborn boulders remain. Lina can't figure out how to get the ship free until she literally runs into a refugee named Ozben. Ozben is just as eager for a friend and some excitement, and he's hiding his own reasons for wanting the ship working. Little do Lina or Ozben realize how their friendship will give them both more than enough excitement and perhaps a dose of healing neither realized they needed.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, ill. by Charles Santoso
Red is an old oak tree. She's been in her spot hundreds of years, and witnessed many things both amazing and heartbreaking. Every year around May for many, many years locals have hung their wishes on her. Wishes both silly and 100% serious. Red can talk, but it is a solemn secret, known only by other trees and animals. But when she thinks her time is drawing short, and a little girl newly living under her shade, who visits her and the animals who live in her branches nightly, makes a heartbreaking wish Red thinks she can make come true, she breaks her solemn silence.
Young Adult & Adult Fiction
The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
Jade Moon is a Fire Horse, a spunky girl with entirely too many opinions and too much spirit in the view of her traditional Chinese community, feels trapped with no future in China. As the New Year is about to start a man named Sterling Promise appears in the village looking for her father with an opportunity to got to America with him as a paper family. The trio arrives only to find themselves stuck on Angel Island for an indefinite amount of time while the authorities put them through rounds of questionings. And then they tell her she must return home to China. Jade Moon can't abide with that vision of her future, so she comes up with a bold and daring plan. She steals Sterling Promise's clothing and papers and hops the ferry in his place. In the mad chase that follows, Jade runs into a man named Harry who takes her (dressed as the man named Fire Horse) to his father, a leader of one of the Chinese tongs in San Francisco. Mr. Hon likes Fire Horse's spirit, and decides to give “him” training in fighting, the business, and English. Fire Horse trains, but begins to see that Mr. Hon's world is just as much of a trap as China was for Jade Moon. When Jade finally is given an escape route, she finds herself given an opportunity to do something unselfish for the first time in a long time and must choose between comfort or helping others.
Ms Marvel, Vol. 8: Mecca by G. Willow Wilson, ill. by Marco Failla & Diego Olortegui, colorist, Ian Herring
With Chuck Worthy's usurping of the Mayoral office of Jersey City comes changes in the form of an enforcement group rounding up all unregistered super heroes (or anyone different…they aren’t picky). They're gunning to get leverage to take Ms Marvel out, and have no qualms about playing dirty and unjustly to get it. Things are looking pretty bleak for Jersey City, and Kamala can't help but feel like no one wants her around any more. After that, an unexpected visitor joins her in a mission to stop a runaway train.
Now Is the Time for Running by Michael Williams
Deo's village in Zimbabwe had people who voted "wrongly" in the last election, so the President's soldiers come to punish the town. Deo and his older brother Innocent (who has special needs) are the only ones to escape alive. They make it to another village where a friend lives who gets them smuggled down to the South African border. From there, the brothers are escorted across the border through a wildlife park and given jobs at a tomato farm. But the nearby town resents the refugees who steal their jobs and Deo decides they should head to Johannesburg to try and find a better place, but they arrive in the middle of the 2008 xenophobic riots and the city isn't safe for them either. Without a home or friends, Deo succumbs to despair until a man recruits him to play street soccer.
Refugee by Alan Gratz
Josef is a Jewish boy about to turn thirteen in 1930s Germany. When his father gets a chance to be released from a concentration camp if he'll leave the country immediately, his mother pounces on the opportunity and books the family passage on the MS St Louis bound for Cuba.
Isabel is a tween girl in 1994 Cuba. When her father is targeted after a riot, he must leave the country during the window Castro has given people to leave if they want. The entire family decides to try for Florida with their neighbors in a boat Isabel's friend Iván has made with his father.
Mahmoud is a tween boy in Aleppo, Syria in 2015. When a drone strike destroys their apartment building, his family decides this is no kind of life any more and they should go north through Turkey to Germany before they are all dead in the never-ending war.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
It's early 1945 in East Prussia. The Nazis occupy most of the land, but they are slowly crumbling and the Russians are pushing in from the East. And there's a host of people who have been displaced from their homes by the war moving towards the shore of the Baltic Sea in hopes they can escape before the Russians arrive. One of the biggest ships waiting at Gotenhafen for refugees and evacuating German forces is the former cruise ship, Wilhelm Gustloff. Readers experience this harrowing time through the voices of four young adults: Florian, the German, who may or may not be on a special mission from one of Hitler's top men. Joanna, a Lithuanian nurse who seeks to help those around her and assuage the guilt of something she did in her efforts to survive. Emilia, a Polish teenager who has lost everything to the war. And Alfred, a German soldier assigned to prepare the Wilhelm Gustloff for its rescue journey. Florian, Emilia, Joanna, a giant woman named Eva, a blind young woman named Ingrid, an old cobbler the group calls the Shoe Poet, and a young boy who wandered out of the woods form a rag-tag group as chance encounters bring them together on the road to Gotenhafen. Through them, readers experience all the joys and horrors of the life of refugees trying to make it to safety. Meanwhile, Alfred is using his amazing brain to figure out ways to evade work and write imaginary letters to his sweetheart. All of them meet at Gotenhafen, where most of them board the Wilhelm Gustloff and watch their salvation turn into what seems to be doom.
Sirius: the Story of a Little Dog Who Almost Changed History by Jonathan Crown
Levi is the family dog of the Liliencrons of Berlin. The family consists of a distinguished professor who specializes in plankton, his fashionable wife, and their teenage son and daughter. Levi has a comfortable life with the family on Klamstrasse. But it is 1938 and the Liliencrons are Jewish. At first they think the professor's position at the university will keep them safe but they still rename Levi Sirius to give him a less Jewish name. Then Professor Liliencron loses his position and the family witnesses Kristallnact. With the help of the daughter's boyfriend and a former friend who is now a Hollywood actor, the family sneaks out of Hollywood and finds themselves employed in Hollywood, California. Sirius will soon accidentally find himself a star and stardom will take him to places he never expected, and through a chain of crazy events will lead Sirius back to Berlin and eventually right underneath the Fuhrer's table working for the resistance.
Snow Like Ashes (Snow Like Ashes, #1) by Sara Raasch
Sixteen years ago, the kingdom of Spring attacked the kingdom of Winter, broke the Winterian locket, its magical conduit, and killed the Queen. Most Winterians were killed in the war or put in work camps, but a small group escaped. The Winter general, William, with the infant heir to the throne and a few others. They have been on the run, trying to recover the broken locket, and find another kingdom to support their prince in reclaiming his kingdom. Mather is the king, and besides him, there’s only one other teen in the refugee group, Meira. They’ve grown up never seeing their kingdom, and constantly training for the day they can reclaim the magic of Winter. Meira is desperate to prove herself a skilled warrior to William, who she calls Sir. She wants to go on the raids to try to capture the locket, but he never thinks she’s ready. With Mather’s help Meira finally gets to go on a raid and recovers one half of the locket, but in doing so she puts the camp in danger and they must scatter to their only hope of an ally, Cordell. Sir doesn’t trust the king of Cordell, but he has to. Spring is gaining power, and King Angra is threatening the other season kingdoms now. Meira expects to help as a warrior, but upon their arrival in Cordell she finds that Sir and Mather have other plans for her. Plans that have her question her worth.
Lower Grade & Middle Grade Nonfiction
Dangerous Jane by Suzanne Slade, ill. by Alice Ratterree
A picture book biography of Jane Addams who started Hull House in Chicago to help the poor, especially immigrants, better their situation, inspired women and national leaders to settle disagreements peacefully during WWI, and then worked to help the poor and hurting after the dust of WWI settled, and became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Hedy's Journey: the True Story of a Hungarian Girl Fleeing the Holocaust by Michelle Bisson, ill. by El Primo Ramon
A biographical picture book that tells the story of how the author's mother became a refugee in WWII and eventually made her way from Hungary to the United States.
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, ill. by Shawn Harris
A short history of the design and construction of the Statue of Liberty, as well as a look at the symbolism of the various parts of the statue, particularly of her right foot which is in mid-step, moving forward to welcome the tired, the worn, the weary, the homeless, etc.
On Our Street: Our First Talk about Poverty by Jillian Roberts & Jaime Casap, ill. by Jane Heinrichs
Though focused on breaking down for kids what poverty is and what homelessness is, and many factors that can contribute to a person winding up in those positions, this book also touches on fundamental human rights and factors that can cause someone to become a refugee as well. Includes lots of ideas of how kids can get involved practically (and safely) and links to organizations with further information on poverty, homelessness, and refugees.
Young Adult & Adult Nonfiction
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
A graphic novel autobiography in which the author's own entry into motherhood causes her to explore what shaped her own mother and father into the people she grew up with as parents. In doing so, the book visits both northern and southern Vietnam tracing the family history from the end of WWII through the Vietnam war that eventually forced her parents to flee as refugees, and then their settlement in the United States.
Every Falling Star: the True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee with Susan Elizabeth McClelland
Sungju Lee had a cushy childhood in Pyongyang. And then out of the blue when he was about ten, Sungju's parents told him they were going on an extended vacation up north. In reality, his father had fallen out of favor with the regime and they were forced to leave. For a while, their wealth helped them continue to live fairly well in a more primitive setting. Their new house had no running water or electricity, but with saved money they ate well. Eventually the money ran out, and first his father and then his mother left on temporary trips to go find more food. Neither of them returned in the time promised and Sungju found himself on the streets left to fend for himself. He soon made his own gang with other street boys and together they found ways to survive. Street life was harrowing and made Sungju an angry and hardened teen, until one day a man standing in a train station recognized him and Sungju's life started to change for the better. Eventually, Sungju receives word that his father wants him to sneak out to China, and he begins a strange and terrifying trip to what he hopes will be a reunion.
When the Taliban started telling people that girls should not go to school, Malala (now around 11 or 12) and her father would speak out and give interviews. Malala started to be recognized around Pakistan for her voice for women's education and receive awards, which brought both positive and negative awareness of her family. Her father had already received death threats, but then Malala started to as well. Like her father, Malala decided she would rather keep doing what was right than let the threats hide her away. One day on the way home from school she and two fellow female classmates were shot. Malala was soon flown to Birmingham to help ensure her recovery. The Taliban had tried to quiet her voice, but instead probably brought her and the cause of women's education more of a spot light than ever before.
Inker’s Shadow by Allen Say
Allen Say continues his autobiography sharing his memories starting from the time he landed in California as an immigrant from Japan with his father, his short stint in a military school, and then how he worked his way through high school surviving on his own.
Lafayette! (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales) by Nathan Hale
This Nathan Hale Hazardous Tale is a graphic novel biography of Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, who came from a military family in France, dreamed of fighting the British who killed his father, and eventually snuck over to America to help George Washington and the Americans in the Revolutionary War. The book follows Lafayette from his childhood through to the end of the Revolutionary War, highlighting major events in his life along the way and major battles of the war he was involved in.
More books about displaced people on my radar (either already in our library or waiting in my TBR pile), but I haven’t gotten around to reading yet.
Nonfiction Picture Books
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
Middle Grade Fiction
Bamboo People by Mital Perkins
The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson
The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth
Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse
Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff
Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
The Other Side of Truth by Beverly Naidoo
Shadow by Michael Morpurgo
Middle Grade Nonfiction
Of Beetles & Angels: a Boy’s Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard by Mawi Asgedom, edited by Dave Berger
Young Adult & Adult Fiction
Rare Earth (Marc Royce, #2) by Davis Bunn
Tangled Threads: a Hmong Girl’s Story by Pegi Deitz Shea
Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin
Young Adult & Adult Nonfiction
Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge
The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: a Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
Outcasts United: an American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John
Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephen Bauman, Matthew Sorens, & Issam Smeir
They Say We Are Infidels: on the Run from ISIS with Persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz
The Unwanted: Stories of Syrian Refugees by Don Brown
We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls around the World by Malala Yousafzai