The most recommended books about refugee children

Who picked these books? Meet our 13 experts.

13 authors created a book list connected to refugee children, and here are their favorite refugee children books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Book cover of When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children

Ellen Leventhal Author Of A Flood of Kindness

From my list on the healing power of kindness.

Who am I?

I am a teacher, writer, mother, and grandmother who sees the debilitating effects of meanness and the healing effects of kindness daily. In case that isn’t reason enough for writing A Flood of Kindness, I’m also what some call “A Floodie.” Like my character’s home flooded, so did mine. As devastating as it was, the kindness of others was overwhelming. I spent time with children whose homes also flooded. Aside from losing material things, it is easy to feel powerless. Like myself, I found that the children began their healing when they were able to give back, even in very small ways. I knew this had to be my book. 

Ellen's book list on the healing power of kindness

Ellen Leventhal Why did Ellen love this book?

Janie Reinart’s lyrical telling of this story, coupled with Morgan Taylor’s beautiful illustrations, takes the reader on a ride filled with love and emotion. It’s about refugee children who have, as the author says, “nothing but dreams.” Big Sister wants Little Sister to be happy, so she decides she can create something from nothing. She makes amazing things, but they don’t last. However, when Big Sister makes a mud doll, the two sisters play together, create other mud dolls, and continue to dreamWhat affected me the most as I read this is that this book is based on a real refugee camp, and proceeds are donated to UNICEF where our collective kindness can have the power to heal. 

By Janie Reinart, Morgan Taylor (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Water Makes Mud as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

When war forces two sisters to flee their home in South Sudan with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, Big Sister strives to help Little Sister smile again at the refugee settlement. But as quickly as Little Sister's smile appears, it disappears: that is until water makes mud. In the end, Big Sister's artistry and kindness brings hope to their situation.

This title is a tribute to the resourcefulness of children who have no toys, but continue to play and is dedicated to the 200,000 refugee children living at the Bidibidi settlement in Uganda.

Book cover of Other Words for Home

Rachel Bithell Author Of Brave Bird at Wounded Knee: A Story of Protest on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

From my list on middle grade that feature inspiring teachers.

Who am I?

Teachers and children’s writers are some of each other’s biggest fans, and I have been both, so I couldn’t resist putting a teacher in my book. Besides that, teachers are very useful characters because they can make kids in books do things like write reports or keep a journal. Initially, my main character, Patsy, doesn’t especially like her teacher, Miss Ashman. Patsy thinks she’s too strict. But by the end of the book, she realizes that challenging students and having high expectations are some of the things that make a great teacher. If you’ve ever had a teacher you loved, you’ll want to check out the books on this list. 

Rachel's book list on middle grade that feature inspiring teachers

Rachel Bithell Why did Rachel love this book?

I loved the language in this novel-in-verse and the valuable insights from an “outsider” experiencing American culture.

As a refugee fleeing war-torn Syria, Jude, the main character, finds one of the only places she feels safe and accepted is in her class for English learners. The example of her teacher, Mrs. Ravenswood, shows how sometimes one person can’t change the world, but they might change the world for one person. It made me think about how small things I do and say impact people around me. 

By Jasmine Warga,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Other Words for Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestseller and Newbery Honor Book!

A gorgeously written, hopeful middle grade novel in verse about a young girl who must leave Syria to move to the United States, perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed.

Jude never thought she'd be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always…

Book cover of Lubna and Pebble

Jyoti Rajan Gopal Author Of American Desi

From my list on children figuring out their place in the world.

Who am I?

As someone straddling multiple cultures, growing up everywhere and belonging nowhere, I know what it feels like to not fit in. I know what it feels like to want to hide parts of yourself so you can fit in. And so, as a picture book writer and a Kindergarten teacher, I'm always looking for books that share stories about children trying to figure out their place in the world. I didn't have those books growing up. What a difference that would have made in my own journey. The books that I picked are unique in the way they portray belonging. I hope you love these gems as much as I do!

Jyoti's book list on children figuring out their place in the world

Jyoti Rajan Gopal Why did Jyoti love this book?

Such a tenderly written refugee story. I’ve included this picture book because it offers a gentle but much-needed glimpse into the lives of refugee children and reminds us how we all, but especially those who are fleeing their homelands through no fault of their own, seek a place to belong. Through Pebble, Lubna reminds us that we all need someone who sees and accepts us without judgment and with unconditional love. And that we can also be that person for someone else. Such a joy to read!

By Wendy Meddour, Daniel Egnéus (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lubna and Pebble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

In an unforgettable story that subtly addresses the refugee crisis, a young girl must decide if friendship means giving up the one item that brings her comfort during a time of utter uncertainty.

Lubna's best friend is a pebble. Pebble always listens to her stories. Pebble always smiles when she feels scared. But when a lost little boy arrives in the World of Tents, Lubna realizes that he needs Pebble even more than she does.

This emotionally stirring and stunningly illustrated picture book explores one girl's powerful act of friendship in the midst of an unknown situation.

TIME Magazine's Top…

Book cover of Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Alyssa Hollingsworth Author Of The Eleventh Trade

From my list on refugees.

Who am I?

My sister worked for nine years teaching women in Afghanistan, and the Taliban tried to kill her for it—several times. Back in 2011, I was able to visit her in-country and I fell in love with the kind, brave people and their scarred, stubborn nation. But when my sister was eventually forced to return home, she was not the sister who had left. Refugees told me similar stories; stories about memories that wouldn’t stay quiet even though they were safe. I couldn’t help wondering: How do you rebuild a life after losing everything? My debut book, The Eleventh Trade, became the place I wrestled with that question. 

Alyssa's book list on refugees

Alyssa Hollingsworth Why did Alyssa love this book?

Stormy Seas is a compelling collection of true stories about the child refugees who had to take to the water throughout history. With a diverse cast and engaging visual design, this book is a great introduction to the topic for middle-grade readers. Even adults might be surprised by some of the stories. 

The story of Najeeba, fleeing from Afghanistan, particularly spoke to me during my research for The Eleventh Trade. Though my main character only speaks briefly of his journey across the Mediterranean, stories like Najeeba’s helped make the dangers of that voyage real for me. A quick but intense read that opens the door to important conversations with children. 

By Mary Beth Leatherdale, Eleanor Shakespeare (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The phenomenon of desperate refugees risking their lives to reach safety is not new. For hundreds of years, people have left behind family, friends, and all they know in hope of a better life. This book presents five true stories about young people who lived through the harrowing experience of setting sail in search of asylum: Ruth and her family board the St. Louis to escape Nazism; Phu sets out alone from war-torn Vietnam; Jose tries to reach the U.S. from Cuba; Najeeba flees Afghanistan and the Taliban; Mohamed, an orphan, runs from his village on the Ivory Coast. Aimed…

Book cover of Mexique: A Refugee Story from the Spanish Civil War

Mary Beth Leatherdale Author Of Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

From my list on what it’s like to be a refugee.

Who am I?

Growing up on a farm in Southwestern Ontario, Canada that my family had owned for six generations, my world was small. That all changed when I moved to Toronto and met my husband, the Canadian-born son of Polish Jews who survived death camps and the Holocaust. His family taught me what it means to find yourself in the crosshairs of history, to be forced to make impossible choices under dire circumstances. I’m passionate about sharing stories that build understanding and celebrating those forced by fate to be fighters — their strong yet often surprising personalities, their unique journeys, and their inspiring grit. 

Mary's book list on what it’s like to be a refugee

Mary Beth Leatherdale Why did Mary love this book?

I’m a big fan of picture books for older readers that tackle tough subjects. Before I read Mexique, I knew nothing about the 456 Spanish children who were sent to Mexico by ship to escape the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Yet, what I love about this book is how it goes beyond the historical facts to share the truth of the story in a moving and memorable way. The lyrical narrative is written in 1st person from the perspective of a child on the ship. And, the artwork, based on actual photographs, with its child-like style, somber colours, and graphic-novel style panels is stunning. You feel like you’re on the journey with the children. Waiting and wondering when you can return home. 

By María José Ferrada, Ana Penyas (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On May 27, 1937, over four hundred children sailed for Morelia, Mexico, fleeing the violence of the Spanish Civil War. Home was no longer safe, and Mexico was welcoming refugees by the thousands. Each child packed a suitcase and boarded the Mexique, expecting to return home in a few months. This was just a short trip, an extra-long summer vacation, they thought. But the war did not end in a few months, and the children stayed, waiting and wondering, in Mexico. When the war finally ended, a dictator—the Fascist Francisco Franco—ruled Spain. Home was even more dangerous than before. 


Book cover of The Surrendered

Eugenia Kim Author Of The Kinship of Secrets

From my list on historical fiction set in Korea.

Who am I?

Eugenia Kim’s debut novel, The Calligrapher’s Daughter, won the 2009 Borders Original Voices Award, was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and was a critic’s pick by the Washington Post. For that novel, which is set during the Japanese Colonial Period in Korea, 1910-1945, and for her second novel (below), whose first half is set during the Korean War, 1950-1953, she read more than 500 books and twice traveled to Korea in order to accurately depict these little-known slices of history.

Eugenia's book list on historical fiction set in Korea

Eugenia Kim Why did Eugenia love this book?

What happens after you survive the atrocities and randomness of war? Chang-rae Lee examines the deep intricacies of this question and its ramifications, portraying three survivors (Korean War, Sino-Japan War) whose lives mesh at an orphanage somewhere in South Korea after liberation. From that common crossroad, the lives of Sylvie, a missionary wife, Hector, a G.I., and June, a Korean orphan, are forever intertwined, shadowed by pervasive doom pitted against the human need to endure. Lee’s intense focus on physicality seems to reflect the characters’ bodily will to continue life, even as their hearts are blackened by tragedy. It is an intense and absorbing read, frightening for what we do to ourselves and how, despite all the darkness and violence we create in the name of war, some continue to persist in a semblance of life, and helplessly pass along the damage of war to those they touch as they…

By Chang-Rae Lee,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

June Han has forged a life thousands of miles from her birthplace: she has built a business in New York, survived a husband, borne a child. But her past holds more secrets than she has ever been able to tell, and thirty years after her escape from war-ravaged Korea, the time has come for her to confront them.

Hector Brennan, fighter, drinker and 'failure grand and total', is the man who long ago saved June's life. And between them lies the story of the beautiful, damaged Sylvie Tanner, whose elusive love they both once sought. On a journey that takes…

Book cover of Solito: A Memoir

Tania Bayard Author Of Murder in the Cloister

From Tania's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Historian Nature lover Lifelong bookworm

Tania's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Tania Bayard Why did Tania love this book?

Zamora recounts in vivid detail the harrowing three-thousand-mile journey he made in 1999, when he was nine years old, from El Salvador to the US, where he crossed the border illegally to join his parents in California.

The two-month journey, described through the eyes of the author as a child, was fraught with unimaginable hardships, a perilous boat trip, days of hunger and thirst in the desert, arrests, and betrayals; but there were moments of joy as well, for although he traveled with strangers, some in the group helped him survive the ordeal with their kindness and compassion.

Zamora’s poignant memoir is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

By Javier Zamora,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestseller • Read With Jenna Book Club Pick as seen on Today • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiography • Winner of the American Library Association Alex Award

A young poet tells the inspiring story of his migration from El Salvador to the United States at the age of nine in this “gripping memoir” (NPR) of bravery, hope, and finding family.  

Finalist for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction • One of the New York Public Library’s Ten Best Books of the Year

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence…

Book cover of Refugee Boy

Mary Jennifer Payne Author Of Enough

From my list on unforgettable protagonists in urban settings.

Who am I?

Born the same year as Winona Ryder, Tupac Shakur, and Elon Musk, I’m a Toronto-based writer of novels, short fiction, graphic stories, nonfiction, and scripts for film and television. My YA books include the graphic novella The Lion of Africa, the supernatural, climate change-fuelled Daughters of Light trilogy, and the hard-hitting Since You’ve Been Gone. My writing gives voice to strong, diverse protagonists in urban settings who are dealing with seemingly insurmountable challenges. I’ve been a special education teacher for more than 20 years and my characters are often inspired by the amazing young people I’ve worked with. The cities in my work are living, breathing entities that shape the plot and the protagonist’s character.

Mary's book list on unforgettable protagonists in urban settings

Mary Jennifer Payne Why did Mary love this book?

In a world where the number of forcibly displaced people is rising faster and to the highest levels ever, I believe this beautifully written story of fourteen-year-old Alem is incredibly important. Thinking he’s on a short holiday to the UK with his father, Alem, who is an aspiring architect, happily soaks in the sights and sounds, making apt comparisons between London and the urban landscapes and architecture of Ethiopia. However, Alem is about to have his world turned upside down. The next day, his father abandons him in the UK in a desperate attempt to keep him safe from the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. This means Alem is forced to navigate the asylum process and get used to living in the UK while trying desperately to hang onto the hope that his parents are still alive and that they might one day be reunited as a family.

By Benjamin Zephaniah,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Refugee Boy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

'Playful, obstinate and courageously humorous ... hilarious and later heartbreaking' Guardian 'Sweet, funny, highly inventive' Yorkshire Post The personal, funny and poignant tale of a young refugee, from acclaimed storyteller Benjamin Zephaniah Acclaimed performance poet and novelist Benjamin Zephaniah's honest, wry and poignant story of a young refugee left in London is of even more power and pertinence today than when it was first published. Life is not safe for Alem. His father is Ethopian, his mother Eritrean. Their countries are at war, and Alem is welcome in neither place. So Alem is excited to spend a holiday in London…