Inspiring readers: Refugee stories

Content Team
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In the fourth in our series on using books with Lyfta, we explore how books about the refugee experience can be enhanced through Lyfta’s storyworlds.
Trailer to Journey to a New Home Storyworld
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"Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale."

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The world is currently in the midst of a refugee crisis that is greater than any we've seen since World War II. It is not only conflict that displaces people; the UN Refugee Agency also cites Covid 19, poverty, food insecurity and climate emergency as other factors which have forcibly removed people from their homes.
With research indicating that hearing the live experience of others, through fiction and films can help make us more empathetic, resources about the refugee crisis form a crucial part of educating young people about this topic.
Below, you'll find a range of books which can be used from key stage one to key stage four.
All of these books can be enhanced by Lyfta's storyworld Journey to a New Home. The storyworld tells the story of Adhanom, an Eritrean refugee who's forced to flee to live in Sweden.
Educators may also want to explore the Village Square storyworld which documents Etagegn's internal displacement within Ethiopia and sees her welcomed by the community in Awra Amba.

Key stage one

Kate Milner's short story, My Name is not Refugee, is suitable for children aged four to six. It is a beautifully illustrated story of a mother and child who have to leave their homes. The story culminates in reminding both the child in the story and the child reader that their name is not refugee: a powerful message that whilst this displacement will shape much of their life, it does not determine who they are and that there is a person behind the label 'refugee'.
Another wonderful aspect of this story is that it features questions on most pages, inviting children to consider what they might do in that situation: for example, when the mother tells the child that he must pack his bag, the book asks the reader the question 'What would you take'? This would be complemented effectively by Etagegn's description of what she took on her journey to Awra Amba in Lyfta's documentary film Compassion.

Key stage two

There's a real range of children's literature about the refugee experience for students in key stage two. The two we've selected to highlight are Shaun Tan's The Arrival and Elizabeth Laird's Welcome to Nowhere.
The Arrival is a wordless graphic novel suitable for students aged eight and above. Not only does the book depict the experience of a man who leaves his family to search for a new home, it also encourages students to engage with their visual literacy skills; a skill that's sometimes overlooked in the literacy curriculum.
Laird's Welcome to Nowhere, however, would make a great class reader. Telling the story of twelve year old Omar and his family, it depicts the family's flight from Syria when war breaks out. Forced into a refugee camp, this story sensitively deals with the hardships faced by those displaced from their homes.
Both books show students the way that, despite leaving behind their homes, refugees embark on a new life and thrive in new communities. Both Etagegn's story, Compassion, and Adhanom's story, in Don't Give Up Part Two, exemplify this idea of new beginnings.

Key stage three

Benjamin Zephania's Refugee Boy is perfect for students at key stage three and what's more, it can be read as a novel or as a play. It follows the story of Alem, a 14 year old refugee from Eritrea and Ethiopia. When Alem's father brings him to the UK on holiday, he believes he's there to celebrate his fourteenth birthday. However, Alem soon discovers that his father has returned home to help fight for peace. Left alone in England, Alem must now navigate the systems and society he finds himself in. This moving story helps students to empathise with the refugee experience from a young person's point of view whilst also highlighting the way the media can sometimes play a role in establishing misconceptions about refugees.
This book can be complemented by the resources within the Journey to a New Home storyworld. Teachers can empower students to use the language of migration through this rich media article and students can also learn how to critically consume media through the article Media Literacy.

Key stage four

With GCSE set texts at key stage four prescribed for teachers, we opted to suggest a non-fiction book that could be used to support the exploration of non-fiction texts in English Language. We Are Displaced is a collection of stories, including author Malala Yousafzai's, which depict the experiences of young women displaced from their homes. Described as 'part memoir, part communal storytelling', the variety of stories give young people an insight into the people behind the statistics of displacement.
Excerpts from this book could be used for a wide variety of purposes within the English Language classroom but could also be used alongside our lessons Welcoming Strangers Part One and Part two which draw on Adhanom and Etagegn's stories and ask students to identify and compare perspectives.
[1]Please note that the first film within this storyworld: Don't Give Up Part One, is suitable for students in key stage three and above.
Read other blogs in this series:
Character & Values
Cultural Capital
Global Learning
Human Stories
Inspiring Readers
Social Emotional Learning
Diversity Equity Inclusion
Personal Development