The best books to learn about refugees

Kao Kalia Yang Author Of From the Tops of the Trees
By Kao Kalia Yang

Who am I?

I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. I lived there until I was six. I was a child from America’s Secret War in Laos, a child who knew very little of the outside world before my family sought refuge in America. Much of my life’s work has been devoted to a search for peace, to understand the forces that put families in situations like mine. I have published widely on the topic, written of it in books for both adults and children.


I wrote...

From the Tops of the Trees

By Kao Kalia Yang, Rachel Wada (illustrator),

Book cover of From the Tops of the Trees

What is my book about?

Young Kalia has never known life beyond the fences of the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. The Thai camp holds many thousands of Hmong families who fled in the aftermath of the little-known Secret War in Laos that was waged during America's Vietnam War. For Kalia and her cousins, life isn't always easy, but they still find ways to play, racing with chickens and riding a beloved pet dog.

Just four years old, Kalia is still figuring out her place in the world. When she asks what is beyond the fence, at first her father has no answers for her. But on the following day, he leads her to the tallest tree in the camp, and, secure in her father's arms, Kalia sees the spread of a world beyond. Kao Kalia Yang's sensitive prose and Rachel Wada's evocative illustrations bring to life this tender true story of the love between a father and a daughter.

The books I picked & why

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Sea Prayer

By Khaled Hosseini,

Book cover of Sea Prayer

Why this book?

Hosseini's book is timely and important. It is a story inspired by the image of a child washed up on the beach of a foreign shore. It tells the story of another child, whose parent send them off on a vessel across a wide ocean in search of a less turbulent future. The art is sweeping. The words travel far into the heart.

Sea Prayer

By Khaled Hosseini,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sea Prayer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An illustrated book on the refugee crisis that will break your heart in under 48 pages, from the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed.

"Intensely moving. . .Powerfully evocative of the plight in which displaced populations find themselves."– Kirkus, STARRED Review

"Hosseini's story, aimed at readers of all ages, does not dwell on nightmarish fates; instead, its emotional power flows from the love of a father for his son."– Publishers Weekly, STARRED BOX Review

A short, powerful, illustrated book written by beloved novelist Khaled Hosseini in response to…


A Different Pond

By Bao Phi, Thi Bui (illustrator),

Book cover of A Different Pond

Why this book?

Phi returns to the fishing trips of his childhood with his refugee father. The story is set beautifully in Minneapolis but sails far away on the winds of memory. A celebrated poet, Phi’s words are metaphorically rich and the story is nuanced and gentle. The illustrations are powerfully conceived and rendered from Caldecott honor illustration Thi Bui.

A Different Pond

By Bao Phi, Thi Bui (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Different Pond as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 2018 Caldecott Honor Book that Kirkus Reviews calls "a must-read for our times," A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event - a long-ago fishing trip. Graphic novelist Thi Bui and acclaimed poet Bao Phi deliver a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son - and between cultures, old and new. As a young boy, Bao and his father awoke early, hours before his father's long work day began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in a Western city. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food,…


The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family

By Ibtihaj Muhammad, S.K. Ali, Hatem Aly (illustrator)

Book cover of The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family

Why this book?

The voice of a child is tenderly captured in this telling of a refugee story, how a child’s relationship to a color and the different members of her family help build a home. The language is simple and evocative. The art is immersive and emotional. The cultural details of this family are beautifully communicated and drawn.

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family

By Ibtihaj Muhammad, S.K. Ali, Hatem Aly (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Proudest Blue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER AND AN AMAZON BEST BOOK OF 2019!
'A ground-breaking picture book about religion, sisterhood and identity' Waterstones Best Picture Books of 2020
Asiya's hijab is like the ocean and the sky, no line between them, saying hello with a loud wave.
It's Faizah's first day of school, and her older sister Asiya's first day of hijab - made of a beautiful blue fabric. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful. In the face of hurtful, confusing words, will Faizah find new ways to be strong?
This is an uplifting, universal story of new experiences, the…


Dreamers

By Yuyi Morales,

Book cover of Dreamers

Why this book?

Here the words and illustrations are one, the language flows into the pictures, and emerges page by page. Each is a lush invitation to remember, to play, to imagine and dream of the past and present. It commemorates the beauty of language and how generous stories can be to those who are looking for belonging in the world.

Dreamers

By Yuyi Morales,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Dreamers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We are resilience. We are hope. We are dreamers.
 
Yuyi Morales brought her hopes, her passion, her strength, and her stories with her, when she came to the United States in 1994 with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn't come empty-handed.

Dreamers is a celebration of making your home with the things you always carry: your resilience, your dreams, your hopes and history. It's the story of finding your way in a new place, of navigating an unfamiliar world and finding the best parts of it. In dark times, it's a promise that…


Teacup

By Rebecca Young, Matt Ottley (illustrator),

Book cover of Teacup

Why this book?

In the space where our fears and our hopes live, there is the landscape of our dreams and nightmares. This book lushly carries a boy's search for home to readers everywhere. It's a magical book for it carries a great deal of room for the reader to step into the words and images within. 

Teacup

By Rebecca Young, Matt Ottley (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Teacup as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning picture book that addresses life’s big journeys with hope, beauty, and reassurance

School Library Journal [STARRED REVIEW!]  
“[A] moving, allegorical tale… inspiring reflection and empathy”
 
Kirkus Reviews [STARRED REVIEW!] 
“A potent discussion starter… Enchanting, beautiful, and full of hope. “
 
Booklist [STARRED REVIEW!]  
“A lyrical tale of leaving home and finding a new one…Thought-provoking and arrestingly beautiful.”

A boy must leave his home and find another. He brings with him a teacup full of earth from the place where he grew up, and sets off to sea. Some days, the journey is peaceful, and the skies are cloudless…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Digging for Words, Hands Around the Library, and The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey if you like this list.