Blogger Nicole Martin

Child Soldier and the Refugee Experience

I just finished the great graphic novel Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys and would encourage everyone reading this to pick it up. The story recounts how 5 year old Michel was kidnapped near his school by rebel militiamen in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He eventually escapes, but not after being forced to commit violent acts which haunt him. The book does cover very difficult territory, but does a good job of explaining the history of the conflict and not exhibiting images too disturbing or violent for it’s intended audience. This is an important story to tell and equally important to get into the hands of tween and teen readers. The book begins with Michel arriving in North America, and ends with more details about his journey to safety. He was first a refugee in Uganda, then years later in Canada, and touches upon what it was like to feel as if people here didn’t care about the issues in other countries.

Image from http://www.kidscanpress.com/products/child-soldier.
Image from http://www.kidscanpress.com/products/child-soldier.

This graphic novel sparked me to contemplate what role we can serve and what titles we can provide for children who come to the library looking for something that relates to the refugee experience. These books may not only be sought out by children who identify with such experiences, but may also be of interest to curious readers who want to better understand what it may mean to be a refugee. With the current Syrian refugee crisis making news headlines worldwide, young people may be itching for answers. Libraries are safe, inviting places to ask about what it means to be a refugee.

The UN Refugee Agency has a downloadable children’s booklist full of great titles covering the topic.  Below are some of my favorite recent titles for children that discuss the refugee experience.

  • I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers;  2014.
  • The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 2014.
  • Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; 2013.
  • Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Michel Chikwanine and Jessica Dee Humphreys. Kids Can Press; 2015.
  • Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago. Illustrated by Rafael Yockteng. Groundwood Books; 2015.

Here at the ALSC blog I’ve been excited to see two posts from fellow librarian bloggers just this week that touch on this discussion of the refugee experience and libraries. We learned about a great new bilingual flier from REFORMA inviting Spanish-speaking immigrants and refugees to visit the library. You can see the flier here. It was created as part of their Children in Crisis project, which is a truly wonderful initiative that aims to help the thousands of Spanish speaking children who are crossing the southern border into the United States. Read more about it on their website if you are unfamiliar with the project, it is inspiring! We also learned about the IBBY Silent Books exhibit, another amazing project.

What are some of your favorite books that help discuss this difficult topic with young readers? Are you currently serving any refugee families at your library? Please share in the comments!

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