Welcome to another exciting edition of Tundra Telegram, a column in which we look at the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.
We’ve had fun talking popular music and baseball these past two weeks, but one issue that has been top of mind for so many readers is the terrible conflict that has raged for nearly two months in Ukraine. And – central to that – the millions of Ukrainian refugees who have fled their country for other temporary homes around the world. Just this past week, some of the first Ukrainian refugees began to arrive in Canada. Fleeing countries for reasons of political violence, war, or persecution is not always an easy subject matter to approach in children’s books or even YA, but we’ve got a few recommendations if you’d like to read stories that look at refugees’ perspectives.
The two children in Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh’s Story Boat are fleeing a non-specific crisis in a non-specific land, but their story of leaving behind nearly everything for an uncertain future will ring true for many refugees – as will how the tiniest things (a cup, a lamp, a flower) can become beacons of hope. (And it was even given a shout-out from the UN Refugee Agency!)
Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour and Daniel Egnéus is likewise subtle in its depiction of the refugee life. Lubna is a girl who live in the World of Tents, and her best friend is a pebble, who makes her feel better when she’s scared. But when a lost little boy arrives, Lubna realizes that he needs Pebble even more than she does.
Quebec’s own Elise Gravel gives kids the straight talk with her What Is a Refugee?, an accessible nonfiction picture book that introduces the term “refugee” to picture book readers: Who are refugees? Why are they called that word? Why do they need to leave their country? Answers to these questions and more are illustrated within.
Francesca Sanna’s The Journey is a picture book about many journeys (not just one). Sanna interviewed refugees from dozens of different countries who now found themselves in an Italian refugee center about their personal journeys. The resulting picture book is a collage of those personal stories and looks at the incredibly difficult decisions families make to leave their homes.
And in the Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley picture book, Teacup, a boy is forced to leave his home to find another. He brings with him only a teacup (what else?) full of earth from the place where he grew up, and sets off on a dangerous sea journey
New York Times bestselling author/artist Victoria Jamieson teamed with former Somali refugee Omar Mohamed to tell When Stars Are Scattered, a National Book Award nominated comic-book memoir of Mohamed’s childhood, chronicling the day-to-day highs and lows of growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya with his younger brother Hassan.
Newbery honor book The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani takes readers back to India’s partition in 1947, and a half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old named Nisha, whose family decides they can no longer stay in the newly formed Pakistan. She and her family become refugees, travelling by train and foot toward what they hope will be a brighter future.
And Canadian author Eric Walters tells the story of Muchoki and his younger sister, Jata in Walking Home, who flee the political violence that kills their father, and soon find themselves in an overcrowded Kenyan refugee camp. Soon they set off on a treacherous journey in hopes of reaching their grandparents, hundreds of kilometers away.
Rachel DeWoskin’s Someday We Will Fly explores the journey of a fifteen-year-old Jewish refugee from Poland during World War II. Lillia, her sister, and father flee to Shanghai, one of the only places that would welcome Jewish refugees at that time.
Walk Toward the Rising Sun is the moving autobiography of Ger Duany, a young Sudanese boy who became a child soldier, then a refugee – one of the 20,000 “Lost boys of Sudan.” He eventually was resettled to the U.S. from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, reunited with his family with some help form the UNHCR, and later became a peace activist and Hollywood actor (check him in I Heart Huckabees!)
If you like your refugee narratives with a dash of sports drama, you’ll score with Warren St. John’s Outcasts United, the story of the Fugees – a real-life youth soccer team made up of refugees from around the world (now living in Georgia) and coached by a young Jordanian-American woman.
And Susan Kuklin’s We Are Here to Stay is an anthology of the real stories of nine undocumented young adults living in the U.S. They come from Colombia, Korea, Ghana, and more – many escaping poverty and fleeing violence. Real stories from real teenaged refugees living in America.