5 More Books to Help Your Students Empathize with a Newcomer’s Journey


How could anyone have imagined that the Syrian refugee crisis would continue unabated for so many years? How is it that so much time has passed that we now have books about those Syrian families embarking on desperate journeys to ensure safety and futures for their children and themselves? What was a ‘current event’ has now become a human migration chapter in world history, dragging on with no resolution in sight. Thames Valley District School Board has embraced many newcomers over these past 24 months, not only from Syria, but indeed from other conflict zones. As an advocate of sharing stories with students that can act as mirrors, windows and maps, I want to bring  your attention to 5 more books to support your literacy program (In an earlier post, I shared some ideas and texts to support students in learning more about the refugee crisis).  These stories will not only build background knowledge, but will also build empathy…the true path to understanding and welcoming newcomers to our schools and our hearts.

Stepping Stones is a beautifully crafted picture book with artwork created from stones by a Syrian artist. The introduction tells of how the author, Margriet Ruurs, sought to find this artist to illustrate her story. These stone creations form images that mirror the photographs we find across newspapers and online. Stunning. The story is shared in both English and Arabic and follows a family’s journey, ‘a river of strangers… a river of people in search of peace.’

where will i live

Where Will I Live? is the newest photo essay from Rosemary McCarney. She uses vibrant moving photographs of families from all over the world who are forced to flee and find new homes.  The surroundings are gripping… pavement, railways, refugee camps, yet also cheerful as you scan the children’s faces, eyes, games.


stormy seas

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees invites us to consider the historical context of refugees who flee by boat, from Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan and the Ivory Coast. Each of the 5 stories is told through a mixture of illustrations, photographs, maps, timelines, thought bubbles of quotes from the person fleeing, details of what happened and how their story turned out. Colourful layouts create visual appeal. The similarities and differences between these refugees’ journeys will facilitate connections for students and provoke a great conversation.

making canada home

Making Canada Home: How Immigrants Shaped this Country is a terrific collection of photographs, images, posters, timelines and stories of the incredible impact immigrants have had on this country.  The book begins with the First Nations as the first immigrants to the land and traces the myriad groups that have made Canada their home over the centuries. Shared stories of challenge, resilience and success all come together to support the message of inclusivity and diversity that is the changing face of Canada. A must have for social studies explorations.


Syria to Canada: A Boy’s Story closes the loop on learning about the refugee journey. Imagine that a boy who has recently arrived in Canada and is attending school here in Thames Valley has now published his story, along with illustrations by another Syrian newcomer! The story, in English and Arabic, follows this young boy’s life from hiding inside his home in Aleppo, through to selling items on the street in Jordan, and finally being invited to come to Canada. He shares his memories but also his dreams for the future. Black and white sketches enhance the story and will no doubt capture young artists’ attention. [These boys were part of TVDSB’s GENTLE program that offered reception services to newcomers in London, Ontario.  If you would like a copy of this book, please email Jenn.Shields@tvdsb.on.ca.]

This text set provides insight into the unimaginable hardships faced by refugees, but also reveals the unflinching spirit of hopefulness they bring. We all benefit from hearing their stories and welcoming them.


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