Back to top

Books for the Refugee Experience

I have a colleague, a fellow doctoral student, who teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) full time at a local middle school.  Recently she has shared stories of her students and their brave journeys from their homelands to this country.  She speaks on their behalf—to represent their marginalized voices at a time when those students might feel unrepresented.  Reading children’s and young adult literature with children can promote fruitful dialogues about this difficult topic (Stewart, 2015).  Additionally, reading children’s and YA literature can foster empathy, understanding, and the desire to create safe, welcoming spaces.  When used for refugee students, reading children’s and young adult literature can provide an opportunity to see themselves in a book.  When given the chance to write about their experiences, not only can it prove cathartic, but it can also improve English (Jacobs, 2008) and, more importantly, provide a counter-narrative, “returning agency to students” (Uptin, 2013). 

Children’s Literature about the Refugee Experience
Teacup by Rebecca Young

Mama’s Nightengale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes

Middle Grades Literature
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle

Young Adult Literature
Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince
The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Schwartz
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Academic Resources
Carey, R.J., & Kim, J.S. (2010). Tapping the potential of refugee youth. In G. Sonnert & G. Holton (Eds.), Helping young refugees and immigrants succeed: Public policy, aid, and education (pp. 191--208). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Godina, H., & McCoy, R. (2000). Emic and etic perspectives on Chicana and Chicano multicultural literature. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(2), 172--179.

Lee, C.D. (2001). Is October Brown Chinese? A cultural modeling activity system for underachieving students. American Educational Research Journal, 38(1), 97—141

Martínez-Roldán, C.M., & Newcomer, S. (2011). "Reading between the pictures": Immigrant students' interpretations of The Arrival. Language Arts, 88(3), 188--197.

Stewart, M.A. (2013). Giving voice to Valeria's story: Support, value, and agency for immigrant adolescents. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 57(1), 42--50. 


Jacobs, L.T. (2008). Long-term English learners writing their stories. English Journal, 97(6), 87--91.

Stewart, M.A. (2015). My journey of hope and peace. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literature, 59(2), 149-159.

Uptin, J., Wright, J., & Harwood, V. (2013). "It felt like I was a black dot on white paper": Examining young former refugees' experience of entering Australian high schools. Australian Educational Researcher, 40(1), 125--137.