Picture Books about Refugees

A growing list of books to build compassion and emathy for the refugee experience.

Open your hearts to the refugee experience.

With so many news stories about families fleeing Syria and other war-torn places, your children may be asking questions about these heartbreaking situations. It's hard to know what to say. It's important to protect our kids from traumatizing images and information, but we also want to encourage empathy for those who are struggling -- and, of course, to empower our children to know they can make a difference. These children's books will build understanding.

Conversation Starters

  • What would it be like to be forced to leave home suddenly? What would you pack if you had just a little time? What would you miss?

  • What could help make a refugee feel more comfortable and less scared in their new home?

  • With older children, explain what "refugee" means -- someone who is forced to flee their home because they fear they will lose their lives or freedom if they stay.

  • Together, imagine arriving in a new country without knowing the language or customs. Help your child "walk in the shoes" of a refugee child by asking:

    • What would it be like to have to leave home quickly and suddenly?

    • What would you pack if you had just a little time? (Many refugees leave their homes with little warning and cannot even bring basic necessities.)

    • What would you miss?

    • How would you feel?

    • What could help make a refugee feel more comfortable and less scared in their new home?

  • Always reassure children that they are safe, and focus on positive ways to make a difference rather than on despair.

Featured Title

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
The author shares her own immigration story in this beautifully illustrated book. Gently told and lyrical, this story focuses on the intangible things immigrants carry with them, hope and strength, resilience, and powerful stories.

More DGT Favorites

A Different Pond by Bao Phi
This beautiful story illuminates the struggle working class immigrants face while trying to make ends meet for their families. The fishing trip at the heart of this story is described in beautiful detail, both the universally recognizable moments of childhood, like grimacing at the slimy feeling of your freshly caught fish, and the unique worries and triumphs of this father and his son.  

Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams
Based on true events, this touching tale follows orphaned boys walking from their war-ravaged village to a refugee camp. Ages 7 and up.

Calling the Water Drum by LaTisha Redding
After losing his parents in a tragic attempt to reach the United States from Haiti, Henri has retreated within himself. His uncle and a neighbor help Henri connect with his past by connecting to the beat of his own drum.

The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman 
The story of a recent immigrant from Somalia and his first day in an American school. The amazing watercolors help tell of this little boy's fears and hopes. Ages 4 and up.

Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom by Dia Cha
The story cloth, Southeast Asian folk art, provides a beautiful back drop for this sweet story.  of Ages 6 to 11.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams
Two girls in a Pakistani refugee camp decide to share a pair of sandals given to them by a relief worker. A simple story of friendship. Ages 6 and up.

global conflict.jpg

Global Conflict (Children in Our World) by Louise Spilsbury ad Hanane Kai
When international conflicts saturate the headlines, children may have complicated questions. This well-crafted book is designed to help you answer questions about global conflict in a straightforward way.

How many days to America? A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting
A family is forced to flee their Caribbean island and set sail for America in a small fishing boat. They arrive on Thanksgiving Day, having experienced fears and hardships very similar to those faced by those who celebrated the first Thanksgiving. This is a very moving story sure to open a conversation about compassion and courage. Ages 4 to 7.

Joseph's Big Ride by Terry Farish
Follow Joseph, a new refugee, on his mission to learn to ride a bike. Ages 4 to 7.

The Journey by Francesca Sanna
Explore the impossible decisions people must make when leaving their homes behind. Ages 3-7.

Leaving Vietnam: The Journey of Tuan Ngo, a Boat Boy by Sarah S. Kilborne
Join Tuan Ngo and his father as they escape Vietnam by boat, spend time in a refugee camp and ultimately arrive in the United States. Ages 6 and up.

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat
Mama records bedtime stories for Saya to help her cope while Mama is in an immigration detention center. Ages 5 and up.

My Name is Sangoel by Karen Williams
Join this Sudanese refugee on as he attempts to find belonging in the new, noisy world of the United States. Ages 6 to 10.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Tanya Simon
Set in 1938, Oskar is a Jewish immigrant new to the U.S. Follow him as he walks through New York City experiencing small acts of kindness, making him feel welcome in his new home. Ages 4 to 8.

Stepping stones. A Refugee Family's Journey by Margaret Ruurs
This story about the Syrian refugee crisis began when Rurrs, a Canadian children's author, encountered the breathtaking stone art of Syrian artist Nizar Bdr. This dual language book is warm and beautiful in spite of its harsh subject matter. Ages 4 and up.

Teacup by Rebecca Young
The beautiful allegory is sure to become a family treasure, and it will speak to the difficult journeys that we all must face. Ages 4 to 8.

The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden
This remarkable story is perfect for literature buffs of any age. Ages 7 and up.

The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland
A simple but eloquent story of a young Vietnamese girl who brings a lotus seed with her to America as a way to remember her homeland. Ages 6-9.


We at Doing Good Together are committed to expanding this list over time, and look forward to hearing your recommendations in the comments.

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