Who will Time Magazine’s Person of the Year be this year, I wonder? If a refugee is not in the running, I will be surprised, even disappointed.
Photo credit BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
What a year it has been for the innocent victims of war. And what a teaching moment for those of us with young children in our lives, to awaken and fan the embers of compassion in their consciences.
Here are five beautiful picture books to help you do just that.
Dreams of Freedom: In Words and Pictures, compiled in association with Amnesty International UK
published in 2015 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
This gorgeous, thought-provoking book is the top of the list.
Structured around phrases from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the book pairs brief quotations from a slate of human rights leaders with inspired artwork from an enormously talented roster of artists.
Each two-page spread features one bit of the Declaration, such as Freedom to Learn, Freedom from Fear, Freedom not to be Unfairly Imprisoned, Freedom to Have a Home. Thoughts from activists ranging from Aung San Suu Kyi to Nelson Mandela to Harriet Tubman help us understand the world’s longings for each of these freedoms. Bios – just a sentence or two long — are included in the end pages so you know just who is talking to you.
The artwork is spectacular, ranging widely in style, and so beautiful and captivating at every turn of the page. Here is Peter Sis, Mordicai Gerstein, Shane Evans, as well as illustrators from the UK, Germany, Iceland, Brazil, France, Spain, Australia, South Africa, Palestine, and Korea. An amazing collaboration!
All together, these pages offer much to talk and wonder about together. It’s a truly remarkable compilation that will speak to ages 2 to 100.
Four Feet, Two Sandals, written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Doug Chayka
published in 2007 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Two young girls, Afghani refugees living in a Pakistani refugee camp, encounter one another when they both find one of a pair of sandals during a clothing distribution.
Here’s an aside: I saw a sign the other day at a Minneapolis shoe store that read, “Life is too short to wear boring shoes.” Well, for these girls, whose feet are cracked and swollen from wearing no shoes at all for years at a time as they walked the many miles in search of security, no shoe is a boring shoe.
As the girls negotiate an amicable solution to the sandals, a sweet and healing friendship emerges until the moment comes when one receives permission to immigrate to America.
It’s a touching, warm story based on Khadra Mohammed’s experiences with refugees in Peshawar and it’s handsomely illustrated in the sun-drenched colors of this region. Share this with children ages 4 and up.
The Peace Tree from Hiroshima: The Little Bonsai with a Big Story, by Sandra Moore, illustrations by Kazumi Wilds
published in 2015 by Tuttle Publishing
An ancient Japanese bonsai tree, almost 400 years old, stands in the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. After reading this book, I would love to visit the arboretum and see it!
It arrived in 1976, part of a gift of 50 bonsai trees from the Japanese people to celebrate America’s bicentennial.
Extraordinary enough, that such a peaceful and beautiful gift should be exchanged by two nations who were once enemies. Yet the story of this particular tree is made more remarkable by its long history.
Follow the life of the Yamaki Pine as it sprouts on the island of Miyajima, is transplanted by a man named Itaro in the days of medieval Japan, and is passed down and cared for by this one family for over 300 years. Watch it survive the attack on Hiroshima and continue to flourish until its gentle owner dedicates it as a Peace Tree to be given to the United States.
Vibrant, beautiful illustrations bring the entire history to life. Included are fascinating facts about bonsai which are sure to spark an interest in this ancient art form. Ages 4 and up.
Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home, written and illustrated by Youme
published in 2010 by Cinco Puntos Press
Malichansouk is a young Laotian-American woman who was forced to flee with her family to Thailand when she was 5 years old.
Her beautiful homeland was embroiled in war that had crossed the border of Vietnam into Laos. A dangerous, arduous walk, a nighttime crossing of the Mekong River, and even a jail cell when her family was arrested upon arrival in a safe, but foreign land – all of this is part of Mali’s experience.
The lovely, sweetness of her once-peaceful Laotian home is also embedded in her memory.
Here is her story, told briefly and appropriately for young children ages 2 and older. The colorful, bold illustrations wonderfully capture Mali’s Lao homeland and culture, including page borders that showcase Laotian textiles and designs. A sprinkling of Laotian words and script are also included. It’s a great first window into the refugee experience and the Lao culture.
How I Learned Geography, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
published in 2008 by Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Caldecott-winning author/illustrator Uri Shulevitz was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1935. He fled the devastating outbreak of WWII with his family at age 4, ending up in Kazakhstan for a number of years.
Here is his story of the transition to a strange, new homeland where there was safety, but little else. And of a surprising purchase his father made at the bazaar one day. And of the most unexpected and enchanting effects of that item upon Uri.
As always, Shulevitz’s writing is crystalline and his striking illustrations gleam against white space. It’s an unusual, hope-filled glimpse of a dark time, a treat for ages 2 and up. An Author’s Note, which includes a photo of young Uri and some of his early (astonishing!) artwork are wonderful additions for elementary readers.
There are a number of other books about the refugee experience in the Orange Marmalade archives. Here are a few, with links to my reviews: