16 Books about Refugees for Kids & Adults

  • by Gwen Glazer

    you have to understand,
    that no one puts their children in a boat
    unless the water is safer than the land

                                   —“Home” by Warsan Shire

    For anyone trying to understand what it feels like to be driven from your home or your country, books—many first-person accounts, written by refugees themselves—are a good first step toward insight.

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    Many excellent book lists on this topic have been published recently. This one outlines 16 of our favorites, both fiction and nonfiction, for readers of all ages.

    Picture Books

    sanna

    The Journey by Francesca Sanna
    The author describes this beautifully illustrated picture book as “a collage of all those personal stories” that refugee children have to tell.

     

     

    four

    Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed
    Two Afghan girls in a refugee camp in Pakistan must share a single pair of sandals between them.

     

     

    teacup

    Teacup by Rebecca Young
    A subtly told story of a boy sailing across the ocean, carrying a teacup of dirt from his homeland.

     

     

     

    https://browse.nypl.org/iii/encore/record/C__Rb20911558__SJoseph's%20Big%20Ride__Orightresult__U__X7?lang=eng&suite=def

    Joseph’s Big Ride by Terry Farish
    After Joseph leaves a refugee camp and comes to the United States, he sees a girl on a bicycle—a familiar symbol of home that he’d always longed for—and begins to establish a real friendship and build a new life.

     

     

    Books for Older Kids

    drita

    Drita, My Homegirl by Jenny Lombard
    Fourth grade in New York City is a shock to Drita, a Muslim-Albanian refugee from Kosovo, but she soon befriends Maxie—a native New Yorker with secrets of her own. Both girls learn about each other and their respective cultures over the course of their burgeoning friendship.

     

     

     

     

    miles

    90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis
    This novel—based on the author’s own experiences as a child fleeing Cuba—traces the journey of Julian, a boy who was swept up by Operation Pedro Pan in 1961 and taken to the United States. He winds up in a children’s refugee camp in Miami, where he’s separated from his brothers and subjected to brutal bullying.

     



     

    hitler

    When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
    A nine-year-old girl and her family flee Germany and get out of the Nazis’ path just in time. But they spend years as refugees in several different European countries, trying to find a safe and welcoming place to call home.

     

     

     

     

    inside out

    Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
    Vietnam to Alabama is a difficult journey, and Ha’s story (which echoes the author’s life) chronicles it in beautiful free verse. Easy to read even for a reluctant reader, these poems are a good way into one 10-year-old girl’s experience as a refugee.

     

     

     

    Books for Young Adults

    long way

    A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
    Beah was a refugee twice over: once at 12 when he was forced to leave his village and become a child soldier in his native Sierra Leone, and once at 17 when he left the country for the United States. Crystal-clear writing and a straightforward, unforgettable narrative.

     

     

     

     

     

    deep sea

    Deep Sea by Annika Thor
    A deeply emotional novel about Jewish sisters who escaped Austria to live in Sweden during World War II, while their parents were sent to a concentration camp. Thor wrote this book in Swedish—it’s a good opportunity for teens to read a work in translation. (This is the third book in the series but works perfectly as a standalone; the first two books in the series, A Faraway Island and The Lily Pond, are both available in the children’s section.)

     

     

     

    braider

    The Good Braider by Terry Farish
    Sixteen-year-old Viola is a refugee from a Sudanese village who’s resettled in Portland, Maine, and trying to figure out her relationship with both her new and old homes. Farish tells her story in free verse.

     

     

     

     

     

    outcasts

    Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team that Changed a Town by Warren St. John
    When a small town in Georgia became a refugee resettlement center, children from all war-torn regions all over the world—Iraq, Kosovo, Mozambique, Liberia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and more—were thrown together in one community. A true story with an inspiring message that’s appropriate for older and younger teens alike.

     

     

     

    Books for Adults

    fire

    They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky by Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, and Benjamin Ajak; with Judy A. Bernstein
    A brutal true story told by three “lost boys” who escaped Sudan via a refugee camp and immigrated to the United States. The writers were children themselves when the events of the book began, and reading it will be an unforgettable experience for mature teens as well as adults.

     

     

     

    little bee

    Little Bee by Chris Cleave
    A devastating novel about a refugee girl from Nigeria who flees to safety at the home of a posh London couple she’d met years ago. Beautiful and brutal.

     

     

     

     

     

    thorns

    City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence
    One reviewer called this work of nonfiction, which chronicles the massive Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, “a book that just might change the world or, at the very least, awaken readers to one criminally forgotten corner of it.” 

     

     

     

     

     

    hope

    A Hope More Powerful than the Sea by Melissa Fleming
    Fleming, the chief spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Refugees, wrote this incredibly compelling true story of Doaa Zamel, a Syrian refugee who survived the September 2014 shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea.

     

     

     

     

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    Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

    Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!