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16 Books about Refugees for Kids & Adults

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you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

                               —“Home” by Warsan Shire

For anyone trying to understand what it feels like to be driven from your home or your country, books—many first-person accounts, written by refugees themselves—are a good first step toward insight.

refugee covers

Many excellent book lists on this topic have been published recently. This one outlines 16 of our favorites, both fiction and nonfiction, for readers of all ages.

Picture Books

sanna

The Journey by Francesca Sanna
The author describes this beautifully illustrated picture book as “a collage of all those personal stories” that refugee children have to tell.

 

 

four

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed
Two Afghan girls in a refugee camp in Pakistan must share a single pair of sandals between them.

 

 

teacup

Teacup by Rebecca Young
A subtly told story of a boy sailing across the ocean, carrying a teacup of dirt from his homeland.

 

 

 

https://browse.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C__Rb20911558__SJoseph's%20Big%20Ride__Orightresult__U__X7?lang=eng&suite=def

Joseph’s Big Ride by Terry Farish
After Joseph leaves a refugee camp and comes to the United States, he sees a girl on a bicycle—a familiar symbol of home that he’d always longed for—and begins to establish a real friendship and build a new life.

 

 

Books for Older Kids

drita

Drita, My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard
Fourth grade in New York City is a shock to Drita, a Muslim-Albanian refugee from Kosovo, but she soon befriends Maxie—a native New Yorker with secrets of her own. Both girls learn about each other and their respective cultures over the course of their burgeoning friendship.

 

 

 

 

miles

90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis
This novel—based on the author’s own experiences as a child fleeing Cuba—traces the journey of Julian, a boy who was swept up by Operation Pedro Pan in 1961 and taken to the United States. He winds up in a children’s refugee camp in Miami, where he’s separated from his brothers and subjected to brutal bullying.

 



 

hitler

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
A nine-year-old girl and her family flee Germany and get out of the Nazis’ path just in time. But they spend years as refugees in several different European countries, trying to find a safe and welcoming place to call home.

 

 

 

 

inside out

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Vietnam to Alabama is a difficult journey, and Ha’s story (which echoes the author’s life) chronicles it in beautiful free verse. Easy to read even for a reluctant reader, these poems are a good way into one 10-year-old girl’s experience as a refugee.

 

 

 

Books for Young Adults

long way

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Beah was a refugee twice over: once at 12 when he was forced to leave his village and become a child soldier in his native Sierra Leone, and once at 17 when he left the country for the United States. Crystal-clear writing and a straightforward, unforgettable narrative.

 

 

 

 

 

deep sea

Deep Sea by Annika Thor
A deeply emotional novel about Jewish sisters who escaped Austria to live in Sweden during World War II, while their parents were sent to a concentration camp. Thor wrote this book in Swedish—it’s a good opportunity for teens to read a work in translation. (This is the third book in the series but works perfectly as a standalone; the first two books in the series, A Faraway Island and The Lily Pond, are both available in the children’s section.)

 

 

 

braider

The Good Braider by Terry Farish
Sixteen-year-old Viola is a refugee from a Sudanese village who’s resettled in Portland, Maine, and trying to figure out her relationship with both her new and old homes. Farish tells her story in free verse.

 

 

 

 

 

outcasts

Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team that Changed a Town by Warren St. John
When a small town in Georgia became a refugee resettlement center, children from all war-torn regions all over the world—Iraq, Kosovo, Mozambique, Liberia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and more—were thrown together in one community. A true story with an inspiring message that’s appropriate for older and younger teens alike.

 

 

 

Books for Adults

fire

They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky by Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, and Benjamin Ajak; with Judy A. Bernstein
A brutal true story told by three “lost boys” who escaped Sudan via a refugee camp and immigrated to the United States. The writers were children themselves when the events of the book began, and reading it will be an unforgettable experience for mature teens as well as adults.

 

 

 

little bee

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
A devastating novel about a refugee girl from Nigeria who flees to safety at the home of a posh London couple she’d met years ago. Beautiful and brutal.

 

 

 

 

 

thorns

City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence
One reviewer called this work of nonfiction, which chronicles the massive Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, “a book that just might change the world or, at the very least, awaken readers to one criminally forgotten corner of it.” 

 

 

 

 

 

hope

A Hope More Powerful than the Sea by Melissa Fleming
Fleming, the chief spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Refugees, wrote this incredibly compelling true story of Doaa Zamel, a Syrian refugee who survived the September 2014 shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea.

 

 

 

 

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Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!

Comments

Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

When I told my children's

When I told my children's librarian how much I enjoyed "Inside Out & Back Again," she immediately directed me to "Home of the Brave" by Katherine Applegate. Another beautiful novel in verse, it's perfect for late elementary readers on up. I have made it my mission to spread the word about this amazing book - I want every American kid to read it! Please help me out & add it to your future lists!

Thank you

The refugee book list is fantastic. I continue to believe that librarians will be key heroes in our current civil rights movement. Thank you.

another to recommend

Growing up, I loved Kiss the Dust, by Elizabeth Laird, a story about Kurdish refugees from Iraq. Probably good for 9-12 year olds.

I love this list! "Messages

I love this list! "Messages From Maryam," by Lauren Pichon is also a good children's book about refugees!

Wonderfully diverse list!

Your blog has introduced great resources for a range of ages, particularly for young children through the various picture books suggested. The diversity of the resources, traversing through refugee stories in a range of settings and experiences will no doubt enrich the lives of children and young adults who visit your library. The mixture of fiction and non-fiction portrays trials and experiences that will influence our youth today – and the lack of censorship for young adults is a rare but wonderful sight to see. Thank you for sharing this list in your blog, and highlighting the diversity in your library!

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