In my house, we have young children who love books. We have to read to them all the time (at breakfast, at dinner, before bed - oy, it makes me crazy). Below are some books we've read that relate to my profession: Asylum and immigration. I've also included a few books that have crossed my desk for older kids or teens.

Of course, these subjects can be pretty heavy. How do you talk to young children about fleeing home, moving to a new place, separation from family? Thankfully, all this is outside my own children's experience. But I do think it is important for them to learn about it. In part, because I work with refugees, but mostly, because it is a reality for many people, and children need to understand their world.

I must admit that the below list is pretty random. People gave us these books, or we found them at the library. If you're looking for a more comprehensive list, check out BRYCS (Bridging Refugee Youth & Children's Services), the "What Do We Do All Day?" blog, and the Institute for Humane Education. But, for what it's worth, here is my reading list for small, medium, and large children interested in a very grown-up issue:

Hannah Is My Name by Belle Yang (2004) - This is the story of a young girl who moves with her parents from Taiwan to San Francisco in the 1960s. She gives up her Chinese name, Na-Li, and takes an American name: Hannah. The girl and her family struggle in America while waiting and waiting for their green cards. A lawyer (or notario?) named Mr. Choo has helped the family with their paperwork, but there seems to be no progress and the family is stuck waiting for a decision (sound familiar?). At one point, the father has to escape from INS agents. This is a brightly colored book that really gave my children some idea about what I do in the office (waiting and more waiting). This book is probably appropriate for pre-school and elementary school-age children.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2007) - This is a graphic novel without words. It is probably more appropriate for middle and high school-age kids, but since I love it, I read it (assuming you can "read" a book with no words) to my elementary school-age children. The illustrations in the book are magnificent, and convey a sense of moving to a new, unfamiliar land. The book tells the story of a family living in a repressive and dangerous city. The father moves to a strange new country, where he must adapt, find work, and send for his family. This is probably my favorite illustrated book about the refugee experience. It is a moving and positive story about how people can help each other.

How I learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz (2008) - When he was four years old, author Uri Shulevitz and his family fled Poland and found refuge in Central Asia. It was World War II, and conditions in their new home were bleak. They barely had enough to eat, and so when Uri's father spends the family's dinner money on a large world map, Uri is understandably angry (and hungry). This book tells the story of how the young author uses the map and his imagination to escape his difficult existence and "explore" the world. In the end, Uri comes to appreciate his father's wisdom. This is a beautifully illustrated and poetic book, which covers a challenging topic in a way that elementary-age children can understand and appreciate.

Two While Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng (2015) - This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a little girl and her father who are traveling from Central America to the United States. Sometimes, they stop so that the father can work to earn more money for their trip. Why they are traveling and whether they reach their destination, we do not know. But the sights and experiences of the migration are shown from the perspective of the young girl, who spends her time counting the people, animals, and objects she encounters on the journey. As adults, we see a dangerous ride atop a freight train, menacing soldiers or a treacherous boat ride across a wide river. The girl in the story is barely aware of the danger. She focuses more on the beauty she encounters on her trip. There is a lot going on in this book visually, and my children enjoyed talking about the pictures and wondering about the girl's journey. This story is appropriate for pre-school and elementary-age children.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, and Giovanni Rigano (2018) - This graphic novel is for teens or adults. I read it, but my children are still too young for a story like this. Illegal tells the story of two brothers who leave Niger, cross the Sahara, and try to reach Europe. The story is fiction, but the incidents portrayed are taken from real-life events. The book gives readers an idea about the difficult and very dangerous journey that many people take from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. The themes are necessarily mature, and though the worst issues (such as rape and murder) are not directly shown, there are plenty of scary incidents, including the deaths of many migrants. This is a sad, yet hopeful tale, which humanizes people who are too often treated as less than human.

An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar by Reinhardt Kleist (2015) - This graphic novel is similar to Illegal, with a greater emphasis on the sad than the hopeful. It tells the true story of Samia Yusuf Omar, who represented Somalia in the 2008 Olympics. After the Games, she returned to her country where opportunities to train--especially for women--were limited (to put it mildly). To escape the threats and fulfill her dream of returning to the Olympics, she fled Somalia for Europe. Sadly, Samia died en route (and by the way, I am not really spoiling the story here--Samia's death is described in the book's introduction). While the story is depressing, the author conveys the sense of the journey and does a good job humanizing his subject. This book is appropriate for teens and adults.

Of course, this is just a sampling of the many books that discuss migration and asylum. What these books have in common is that they tell a very human story--the struggle for safety and freedom in a difficult and dangerous world. In this respect, these books form a powerful counterbalance to the dehumanizing narrative of asylum seekers as nefarious "others." While these stories can be challenging, they are also uplifting, and they help children (and adults) better understand our world.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: