Thinking outside of the Christmas Stocking: Fifteen books on refugees for children and teens

To help us all navigate the Christmas tide, Inis magazine asked two of its passionate contributors (Debbie Thomas and Liz Morris) to round up books that help talk about the plight of refugees the world over.

For as long as there have been stories there have been stories about refugees. From the fall of Ur and the Biblical exodus to the current crisis, writers have been recording human migrations for four thousand years. What better way for children to engage and empathise with refugees than through the challenging safety of a book? Here’s a quick round-up of some more recent titles.

AGE 4-8

Refuge by Anne Booth and Sam Usher, Nosy Crow 2015

A topical take on the Christian world’s most famous story of flight. A man leads his wife on a donkey to a stable where her baby is born. Warned of danger in a dream, they flee to Egypt where they find safety in the kindness of strangers. (See the full review here)


Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Tanya Simon and Richard Simon, Roaring Brook Press 2015

Oskar escapes to New York in 1938 after surviving Germany’s Kristallnacht. Walking the streets to find his aunt, he sees the sights of Manhattan and encounters small kindnesses from people who welcome him to a new life.

My Two Blankets  by Irena Kobald, Little Hare 2014

A young African girl fleeing war arrives in a new country full of strange sights, sounds and smells. She finds comfort by wrapping herself in her blanket and her memories of home. Meeting a girl in the park, she strikes up a friendship and begins to learn the girl’s language, creating a brand new blanket of words and experiences.


The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman, Frances Lincoln 2003

Hassan and his family reach America after escaping conflict in Somalia. Missing the colours and language of home, Hassan learns to express himself through art. With the help of his paintings and a kind teacher, he tells his story of war and flight. (Full review here)


AGE 9-12

Too Much Trouble  by Tom Avery, Frances Lincoln 2011

Prince and Emmanuel have fled the Democratic Republic of Congo to the home of their uncle in England. After neglect and assault, they run away to London where the Fagin-esque Mr Green takes them under his wing and into his gang of young pickpockets. (Read the full review here)


The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Walker Books 2011

Two refugee brothers from Mongolia are determined to fit in with their Liverpool schoolmates, but bring so much of Mongolia to Bootle that their new friend and guide, Julie, is hard-pressed to know truth from fantasy as she recollects a wonderful friendship that was abruptly ended when Chingis and his family were forced to return to Mongolia. Equally hilarious and touching.


The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Little Brown Books 2014

When the Janjaweed militia attack a Sudanese village, Amira witnesses her father’s murder. She gathers her few belongings and joins thousands of fugitives on the march to a refugee camp. Left mute by the horror of what she has seen, Amira communicates through a yellow pad and a red pencil, and learns the power of reading and writing.

Azzi idir dhá stól by Sarah Gartland, translated by Fidelma Ní Ghallchóir, An Gúm 2012

Dírítear ar an iarracht a dhéanann Azzi déileáil le saol nua i dtír iasachta; scéal faoi fás nua atá léirithe le siombail na bpónairí a thug athair Azzi leis ón garraí sa sean tír….Cuirtear dathanna dorcha agus scáthanna drochthuaracha i gcodarsnacht leis na dathanna geala ina léirítear an chuid eile den scéal agus éiríonn léi faitíos agus éadóchas na gcarachtar a chur in iúl. (Read the full review here)

And the less historical but movingly metaphorical …

The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson, Amulet Books 2012

Parallels have been drawn between this tale of yetis who travel to England when their Himalayan home is threatened and Ibbotson’s own escape to London from Vienna aged nine, following Hitler’s rise to power. Hilarious and ridiculous, the yetis are portrayed with such love and sensitivity you forget they’re not real and could weep for them as they are persecuted on arrival at a genteel country home.  


The Rock Boy by Jan Michael, The O’Brien Press

When Josephine finds an injured boy in the water at the mouth of a small cove in St Thomas Bay, Malta, some instinct warns her not to tell her family. Perhaps he is a smuggler, or a refugee … This book is accompanied by a teaching guide that is free to download on the publisher’s website.


AGE 12+

Mosi’s War by Cathy MacPhail, Bloomsbury 2013

Patrick lives happily with his mum. When he meets and befriends Mosi, a quiet boy whose family is seeking asylum, Patrick discovers Mosi is terrified of someone. As he tries to fathom who and why, Patrick uncovers Mosi’s extraordinary story. 


Give me Shelter edited by Tony Bradman,  Frances Lincoln 2007

Stories of flight from war zones around the world, from Kosovo to Ethiopia, Vietnam to Iraq. From those who travel to those left behind, the stories capture the horror and humanity of the refugees’ experiences.

After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross, Oxford University Press 2013

Following the collapse of the British banking system, food becomes currency. When Matt and his family, who own an allotment, are targeted by raiders, they stow away in the back of a lorry through the Channel Tunnel to France. This prophetic reverse-journey ends in a refugee camp where locals are hostile, tents are lacking and crooks abound. How will Matt take care of his little brother?



Gluaiseacht by Alan Titley, An Gúm 2009

Tá an scéal bunaithe ar bhuachaill óg ón Afraic atá ag gluaiseacht go dtí An Eoraip. Bhí gnáthshaol aige go dtí gur tháinig sé ar ais ón tobar lá amháin: nuair a shroich sé a bhaile bhí gach rud dóite, bhí na daoine ann marbh, agus bhí boladh an bháis i ngach áit. Cruthaíonn an t-údar íomhánna éifeachtacha, uafásacha dúinn i rith an leabhair ar fad. Teitheann an buachaill ón áit agus téann sé ar aistear go háit ina bhfuil ‘ór le fáil ar na sráideanna’, ach feictear an saol léanmhar a bhí aige fad is a bhí sé ag gluaiseacht. (Older teens, full review here)


The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Hodder Children’s Books 2007

The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.