11 Books to Teach Students About the Refugee Experience

Talking with students about refugees around the world.

Best Kids Books About Refugees, as Chosen by Educators

Stories about refugees are often featured in the news, both on television and on social media. When you return to the classroom this fall, questions about refugees might come up, as there’s a good chance that your students have seen these stories and are curious: What’s a refugee? Someone who had to leave their home country and can’t return. Why did they leave? Because of war or other things that might harm them. Where do they go? They go to other countries. Here are 11 kids’ books about refugees that you can use to develop student understanding.

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1. My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald (K–3)

My Two Blankets tells the story of a refugee from Africa and how she makes a new friend by sharing her language, one word at a time. This story about the refugee resettlement experience also has themes about friendship and dealing with change.

2. Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz (K–3)

Lost and Found Cat is the true story of how one family took their cat with them when they fled Iraq. On the way to Greece, a frightened Kunkush escapes, and the family has to continue on without him. When aid workers find Kunkush, they work to reunite him with his family. This book introduces children to the basics of how and why people leave their country as well as the ways that people help along the way.

3. Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (K–3)

Dreamers is a beautifully illustrated story about a woman who leaves her home in Mexico to travel to the US with her son. It explores what she brings with her—not objects, but her strength, work ethic, hopes, and dreams. This story about family and community will set the stage for a deep conversation.

4. Stepping Stones by Margriet Ruurs (1–3)

Stepping Stones has illustrations inspired by the artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, which the author uses to tell the story of a family fleeing Syria. It’s a powerful use of art to tell the story of the Syrian civil war and how it affected families.

5. The Journey by Francesca Sanna (1–4)

The Journey tells the story of a family that flees after their father is killed in a war. It’s an intense book with an uncertain ending, but a good one for building compassion. Use it to help students engage in conversation and generate questions.

6. La Frontera by Deborah Mills (2–4)

La Frontera tells the story of a boy and his father traveling through Mexico to reach the US. It’s a great illustration of the current refugee conversation about people coming to the US in language that students can understand.

7. Brothers in Hope by Mary Williams (2–4)

Brothers in Hope is the story, told in first person, of eight-year-old Garag, who escapes Sudan by walking through Ethiopia and Kenya, eventually getting to the US. This book deals with a tough subject in a delicate but honest way.

8. The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz (5–7)

Best Kids Books About Refugees, as Chosen by Educators

The Only Road is a novel that would be great for a whole class read aloud or middle school literature circle book. In the story, 12-year-old Jaime travels from Guatemala to the US to escape gang violence. It’s inspired by true events and connects with current events.

9. The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney (5–8)

Best Kids Books About Refugees, as Chosen by Educators

The Red Pencil tells the story of a Sudanese refugee who leaves her village after experiencing the horror of Janjaweed attackers. During her stay at a refugee camp, she starts to become pessimistic until a red pencil starts to open her up to possibility and hope.

10. Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario (8–12)

Best Kids Books About Refugees, as Chosen by Educators

At this point, Enrique’s Journey is a classic, so it’s definitely worth reading this narrative nonfiction account of Enrique and his trip through Central America to find his mother. Use it to talk about refugees, connect to current events, and talk about the research that Nazario did to get the story just right.

11. The Unwanted by Don Brown (9–12)

Best Kids Books About Refugees, as Chosen by Educators

The Unwanted: Stories of Syrian Refugees is a graphic novel depiction of Syrian experiences. There are stories of both horror and hope, making this book a great entry point for a class discussion about the resilience and courage of Syrian refugees.

We’d love to hear your favorite kids’ books about refugees. Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, books for developing kindness.

11 Books to Teach Students About the Refugee Experience

Posted by Samantha Cleaver

Samantha Cleaver, PhD, teaches middle school special education and writes about her favorite thing to do, reading.

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