13 children’s books exploring the impact of war and the refugee experience
It’s shocking to watch events unfolding in Ukraine and, understandably, many children have a lot of questions and concerns about what is happening. As parents we’re keen to address this but it can be hard to know where to start.
Our children’s school has been talking about what’s happening which they’ve found very helpful. The kid-centric content produced by Newsround and The Week Junior has been invaluable too.
As parents we found this article from The Metro about how to talk to children about what’s happening really valuable and were pleased to see they suggested books as a good entry point to discussions.
We’re huge advocates of books for helping children to explore their feelings, practise empathy and develop their understanding of the world around them. With that in mind, we’ve put together this list of 13 books that you might find a useful starting point for talking with children about the war in Ukraine and its impact:
Powerful picture books
My Name is Not Refugee
This beautiful book is written and illustrated by Kate Milner and puts the reader in the shoes of a little boy on a journey to find a new, safe home. Readers will wonder what they would do and feel in his position.
This is a heart-warming story of a little mouse with a big idea – to build a home that’s open to everyone. A great prompt for discussions with little ones about acceptance and working together to achieve something.
The Day War Came
Written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb, this is a poignant story of how a little girl’s life is turned upside down when war arrives in her town one day. Davies was prompted to write the book after the UK government refused to allow 3000 child refugees to enter the country in 2016.
Chapter books for younger readers
This beautifully illustrated chapter book is perfect for helping children aged 5+ understand anxiety and how talking about your feelings is far better than holding them all in.
The Silver Sword
This is a classic World War 2 stories for readers aged 7+. Four children escape from Warsaw after their children are arrested and travel across Europe to find safety.
More complex stories for readers aged 8 to 12
Max and the Millions
This fantasy adventure from Ross Montgomery may revolve around kingdoms of miniscule people living and fighting on the floor of a bedroom but explores important themes around conflict and intolerance, how wars can start and what brings them to an end.
The Boy at the Back of the Class
This multi award-winning book from Onjali Rauf centres on what happens when Ahmet, a Syrian refugee, arrives in an English classroom and three classmates decide to become his friend. It’s exciting and funny whilst also being deeply moving and casting a light on the prejudice that refugees face.
Whilst not strictly about refugees, this is a funny and moving story about settling into a new country and the challenges migrants face, especially when they do not speak the same language. Wonderful graphic novel-style illustrations pepper the text and give real insight into how Jingwen feels as he struggles to fit in in Australia.
Hard-hitting graphic novels for kids aged 8+
Joe Brady is the deputy editor of The Phoenix magazine and has created this dark and dystopian book with illustrator Patrice Aggs. Set in a near-future where a country closely resembling the UK is in chaos and democracy is gone, the story explores how it feels when home is no longer safe.
When Stars are Scattered
Omar Mohammed spent his childhood in a refugee camp, having escaped the war in Sudan. He’s teamed up with award-winning author and illustrator Victoria Jamieson to offer an intimate portrait of what life in a refugee camp is really like. Heart-breaking in places it is also hopeful and uplifting.
For tweens and early teens
This is a story set during The Blitz and offers a moving insight into the experience of living in a city under siege. When angry Joseph is sent to live with Mrs F. in London little does he know that she is the owner of a zoo, which she fights to keep safe each night. Joseph develops a particular bond with Adonis, a silverback gorilla, but how long can the zoo survive and what would happen should a bomb blast set the animals free?
Sami is an ordinary boy living in Damascus but as war edges closer his life is turned upside down. This is the story of his family’s journey from their home to a new life in England. It’s powerful, frightening and desperately realistic.
The Week at World’s End
This thriller from Emma Carroll is set in 1962 against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Stevie discovers a mysterious girl hiding in her coal shed who says she’s on the run from people who are trying to poison her. But things turn out to be much more complicated.
We said 13 books but we've got another to add to the list! This month we sent this title to our Macaw subscribers:
Me, In Between
Madina's family have fled war to seek asylum in Europe and begin a hopeful new life. An ordinary world of fitting in at school, learning the language and forging friendships lies before Madina. Yet she finds herself caught between her new life and her traumatic memories of the past. With the endless wait to be granted asylum, and her anxious father growing ever more controlling, can Madina find the path that's right for her?
We have a few copies of this book and accompanying activities available here.
You may also be interested in checking out this more general guide to reading for empathy for children.