Across the world, families are crossing borders in search of a resting place where their children can be safe and go to school. 2017 saw new books coming out to help children understand the lives of other children displaced by war and poverty.
A Different Pond by the poet Bao Phi, whose family migrated to the U.S. after the American war in Vietnam, and illustrated by Thi Bui is one. Bao Phi tells a story of a small Vietnamese-American boy’s ritual of fishing early in the morning with his father to catch food for supper before his father goes to work, one of his two jobs. The text and illustrations capture the boy’s love for his father, his growing skill in their ritual, his fear, and the tight web of their family as they learn to survive in the U.S. This story is a model for writers who seek to tell their own migration story. The author selects one ritual vital to the life of a migrant family and allows the emotion and the story to flow from it.
The Canadian magazine Quill and Squire profiles a number of books to help children understand the lives of other children seeking a safe place to call home in the article, Publishers and Authors Answer the Need for Books that Shed Light on the Refugee Experience.
One of my favorite books from the list is My Beautiful Birds, about a Syrian child’s survival, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Del Rizzo’s polymer clay and acrylic illustrations help us imagine the black sky, the walking for days from a small child’s mind. “Day’s blur together in gritty haze. All I have left are questions. What will we do? How long will we be here?” The child has one thing in the camp that becomes home, birds he watches and feeds. And he has his parents who love him.
A 2017 booklist produced by the New York Public Library is 16 Books about Refugees for Kids & Adults. I’m honored that two of my books are on it. This list begins with this epigraph:
you have to understand/ that no one puts their child on a boat/ unless the water is safer than the land – from “Home” by Warsan Shire