Every year, World Refugee Day commemorates the challenges refugees face while celebrating their courage and strength. Since 2001, the United Nations and over 100 countries have observed World Refugee Day on June 20th.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has launched the #WithRefugees petition to send a message of action, solidarity, and responsibility to governments worldwide on behalf of refugees. We can work together to end the refugee crisis and find homes for the world’s displaced people.

On June 20, the world commemorates World Refugee Day. It gives us a great impetus to start or continue raising our students’ awareness of how different people’s experiences are worldwide and the importance to teach our children about refugees fosters qualities such as compassion, kindness, and understanding. Three things we all know the world could use more of!

We put together a list of great books to read for World Refugee Day.

Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile

Written by María José Ferrada
Illustrated by María Elena Valdez
Translated by Lawrence Schimel

“Birds pray, trees pray, flowers pray, mountains pray, the winds and rain pray, rivers and the little insects pray as well. The whole earth is in constant prayer, and we can join with its great prayer,” says award-winning author and illustrator Paul Goble.

Every element of creation — from the magpie to the minnow — glorifies God in its own way in this bold and brightly illustrated work, adapted from The Book of Common Prayer. Goble invites readers to join with the land and the animals in singing praise to God.

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“A book to be read and remembered: a tribute to children whose lives were lost to forces not of their own creation.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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“Dedicated to ‘the memory that helps us defeat monsters,’ the childhoods that Ferrada imagines for these young victims of violence—childhoods in which nothing bad happens, and there’s enough time for each to do whatever they like—feel both poignant and haunting.” — Publishers Weekly

A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation

Written by Lindsey McDivitt
Illustrated by Charly Palmer

This stirring biography explores Mandela’s long fight for equality and the courage that propelled him through decades of struggle.

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“Beautiful, informative, essential.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred)

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“Palmer employs vivid colors and vigorous brushwork that capture his subject’s charisma admirably. . . . Rewarding reading for students of any country or culture afflicted with racial conflicts.” — Booklist

“Highly recommended for libraries that need titles about the ongoing global fight against racism. Mandela’s journey makes for a powerful reminder of the ability to change.” — School Library Journal (starred review)

Eva’s Story

By Eva Schloss
Ages 14 & up

Eva, like Anne Frank, was imprisoned in Auschwitz at the age of 15. Together with her mother, Eva endured daily degradation and countless miseries at the hands of the Nazis. She was freed in 1945, but it would be decades before Eva was able to share her survivor’s tale with the world.

Facing Fear: An Immigration Story

Written by Karen Lynn Williams
Illustrated by Sara Palacios

A powerful depiction of the everyday struggles faced by undocumented immigrants and their families. 

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“Crucial in its timeliness.” — Kirkus Reviews

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“Heartfelt and sympathetic.” — Publishers Weekly

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“Williams and Palacios lay bare the internal and external conflicts faced by this immigrant family, prompting critical readers to ask questions about the system that puts people into circumstances like these.” — Booklist

Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War

Written by María José Ferrada
Illustrated by Ana Penyas

This moving book invites readers onto the Mexique with the “children of Morelia,” many of whom never returned to Spain during Franco’s almost forty-year regime. Poignant and poetically told, Mexique opens important conversations about hope, resilience, and the lives of displaced people in the past and today.

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“Specific yet universal in its narration, this makes the refugee experience accessible to young readers.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)

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“In commemoration of a lesser-known predecessor to WWII’s Kindertransport, this atmospheric import recalls a 1937 voyage in which the titular ship carried 456 children of Spanish Republicans to safety in Mexico for, supposedly, a brief stay. Ferrada, a Chilean writer, takes the voice (if not the language) of a younger child for her terse, poetic narrative: ‘War is a huge hand that shakes you / and throws you onto a ship.’ Working from period photos for her illustrations, Penyas uses a dark, somber palette to portray downcast children trooping aboard a ship made small on a broad ocean, being welcomed in Veracruz, and then taking a train for Morelia, a city in Michoacán where, due to the outcome of the Spanish Civil War, most were to remain until at least 1948.” — Booklist

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“A sobering contribution to the history of Spanish-speaking people in North America, and a memorial to a little-known group of refugees.” — Publishers Weekly

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“Although the specifics of the story are clearly historical, there is a universality to them that connects these pages ot the tale of every child sent away from home for safety during times of war.”
The Horn Book Magazine

My Name is Sangoel

My Name is Sangoel children book for kids

Written by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed
Illustrated by Catherine Stock

This poignant story of identity and belonging will help young readers understand the plight of the millions of children in the world who are refugees.

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“This simple story puts a child-friendly spin on a common immigrant experience. . . an excellent addition to the growing body of immigration stories for young readers.”
School Library Journal

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“A sensitively written, hope-filled immigrant story. . . Though a skinny eight-year-old with downcast eyes, Sangoel is such a picture of quiet dignity that readers will come away admiring his courage and self-possession.” — Kirkus Reviews

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“This is the gentle story of one refugee boy from Sudan and his adjustment to life in his new country, the United States. . . Through soft watercolors and the occasional torn photo or fabric collage, Stock’s illustrations let the reader understand exactly how Sangoel is feeling and what a tremendous challenge it is to move to a new country and continent. . . Most schools in America have refugee children or children who are adjusting to a new culture and language; this is a book. . . that should help build compassion in many classrooms.” — BookPage


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