Supporting Our Newcomers with Literature
Stories of the journeys taken by refugees touch all of our lives. Perhaps we have neighbors, friends, or family who are refugees. Perhaps we have read about the global crisis in the news. Perhaps refugee children are new to our schools. The moment a newcomer walks into a classroom, the journey that student took to reach that doorway becomes a part of the story of the classroom and the school community. As educators, we must provide a sense of safety and belonging for our newcomers. Children’s literature can support difficult discussions and foster empathy and understanding about the journey of their classmates. CLI recommends the books below for their emphasis on journeys to safety and the intensity of students’ initial experiences in a new community.
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien (recommended for PreK – 1st grade)
In this picture book, three students take turns sharing their feelings about being new to their school, each acknowledging the loss of what used to feel easy: speaking, reading and writing, and making friends. Each child struggles, observes, practices, and one day makes a breakthrough, leading to a sense of hope and security. This approachable story can help facilitate classroom discussion about community, collaboration, and caring for one another.
The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman and Karin Littlewood (recommended for 1st & 2nd grades)
Also a story of a breakthrough, The Color of Home addresses not only Hassan’s adjustment to his new school but the events that led his family to flee Somalia and the journey they took to the United States, including living for a time in a refugee camp. Homesick, confused, and fearful, Hassan conveys his story to his teacher through a translator. Vivid and hopeful, this story can help students gain a better understanding of the struggles a student their age might overcome in order to begin a new life in a new community.
Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (recommended for 3rd grade and up)
Illustrated with stones collected on the Syrian seashore, Stepping Stones tells the story of a family forced from their home by war. This moving narrative, told in both English and Arabic, shows the happiness and freedom of daily life before the war, the terrifying journey toward an uncertain future, and the arrival in a strange new land where people say, “Stay here with us. You will be safe now.” A detailed foreword tells the cross-continental story of how the book was made.
Thankfully many organizations are turning their attention toward providing information and book recommendations about refugee experiences. We recommend the following resources for further reading:
- Books to Help Kids Understand What It’s Like to Be a Refugee
- A New Land, a New Life: Mighty Girl Books about the Immigrant Experience
- The Refugee Experience: Books for Children
- Immigrant and Refugee Children: A Guide for Educators and School Support Staff
- 12 Children’s Books about Refugees
- 14 Children’s Books about Refugees
- Children’s Books about the Refugee/Immigrant Experience
By: Mia Allen & Galen Longstreth
Children's Literacy Initiative
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