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Celebrating Refugee Week

This week we celebrate Refugee Week and, alongside it, World Refugee Day which falls today on the 20th June. To commemorate its 20th anniversary, this year Refugee Week is asking that everyone take part in at least one of 20 simple acts to help change the way we see refugees and ourselves. No. 3 on the list suggests that we share a refugee’s story and No. 9, that we read a book about exile. So what better way for us to celebrate today than by revisiting some of our most important books?

The word “Refugee”, its connotations and the complex issues that surround it can be a difficult thing to approach, particularly with younger children. However, picture books can offer an invaluable and accessible way to discuss what all of it really means.  Kate Milner’s My Name is not Refugee perfectly depicts the emotional journey of leaving everything you know and love behind, in search of a more promising future.

As the narrative follows a mother trying to prepare her child for the process of migration, the reader is asked directly to think about the smaller details that are often forgotten, such as where you would brush your teeth or change your pants if it were to happen to you. How would you feel if you had to leave your home behind? The book’s simple prose coupled with Kate’s moving, muted illustrations makes for an engaging and emotive story that is sure to elicit discussion and empathy from even the youngest of readers. You can view our discussion guide resources for this book here.

My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner

“Helps show readers that children forced from their homes are not just refugees but children just like them”

– Lily Caprani, UNICEF UK 

Worry Angels by Sita Brahmachari follows Amy-May as she struggles with anxiety, her parents’ separation and the prospect of starting at a new school. When Amy-May starts attending Grace’s classes she meets Rima and her family who have travelled from war-torn Syria and are struggling to settle into an alien life in the UK.

As the girls craft, draw, cook and grow in confidence, they also, despite a language barrier, develop their friendship and begin to help each other overcome their individual struggles. Amy-May works hard on her Arabic to help Rima feel comfortable and to better understand what her friend has been through. While Rima helps Amy-May to talk about her anxieties and to acknowledge that they’re not insignificant.

For a younger audience this delicately crafted short novel tackles a lot of the complex issues of the refugee crisis, helping to highlight the humanity of others and the importance of empathy. Ultimately, Worry Angels shows us how listening, working together, and building friendships can help us all to better understand. You can view our discussion guide resources for this title here.

“It makes you realise we’re not that different. When I sit with Rima I understand that most of the things we want to build in the sand are the same.”

Worry Angels by Sita Brahmachari 

For older readers, our graphic novel Alpha: Abidjan to Gare du Nord from Bessora and Barroux tells the true story of one man’s harrowing journey from West Africa to France.

Alpha becomes desperate when he is unable to obtain a visa to travel to his family in Paris, so leaves his home in Abidjan as one of the thousands of refugees making the challenging journey to Europe. He is met with people traffickers, border guards and overcrowded boats on a journey that sees all the odds stacked against him. Undeterred, Alpha stays on course making it to the safety of Europe and his family.

This deeply moving graphic novel communicates the plight of Alpha and the  other refugees making the treacherous journey overseas, desperate to find a better life. You can view our discussion guide resources for this title here.

“Once you read this deeply troubling book, passing by, looking away, is no longer an option”

– Michael Morpurgo on Alpha

This Refugee Week why not take part by reading or sharing one of these titles, or find your own to start a discussion with someone close to you. As Kate Milner said in our recent Empathy Day post, we need to share stories like this to show children that those being labelled as “the other” are just people like us. Empathy and tolerance are a child’s best defence for the future.

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