The Shelter of Each Other

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The Shelter of Each Other

Picture Book Stories of Resilience and Hope Amidst Displacement

War, climate change, persecution and economic hardship are forcing many children and families worldwide from their homes to seek refuge elsewhere. Leaving behind a home and country, often never to return nor knowing where the journey will lead, can be traumatic. These picture book stories about displacement, all of which are true stories or based on true events, will resonate with children who have had similar experiences. They also introduce children without such experiences to the plight of refugees, in a way that fosters understanding and empathy. These stories of resilience in dire times show how the enduring bonds of family, friends, and caring strangers sustain a spirit of love and hope.

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes, illustrated by Sue Cornelison
When Sura and her five children are forced to leave their home in Iraq in 2015 when it becomes too dangerous, they can only bring what they can carry. They can't bear to part with their beloved cat Kunkush and discretely carry him hundreds of miles, through forests, across mountains, borders and the Aegean Sea. When their boat lands in Greece, Kunkush gets lost. After searching for hours with no luck, the heartbroken family gives up and continues on their journey without him. Later some volunteers find the hungry cat and want to reunite him with his family, but don't know where they now live. Eventually, with help gained from worldwide attention, Kunkush is miraculously reunited with his family, now living in Norway. Vibrant paintings, along with additional information, a map, and photographs about Kunkush's journey, enhance this heartwarming true story. Children will easily relate to a family's love for a pet, all the while being introduced in a gentle and hopeful way to the plight of refugees. Recommended for ages 3 to adult.

The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco
In this companion book to The Keeping QuiltPatricia Polacco shares the legacy of a tea set as she tells the story of her great-grandmother Anna and her family who flee the Russian pogroms in the 1900s. When soldiers burn their temple and the czar orders all Jews to leave Russia, Anna and her family are forced to leave their shtetl. Only able to bring a few items they can carry or drag in carts, they take their vibrantly painted china tea set, Anna's parents' wedding gift that had been given with a note: "This tea set is magic. Anyone who drinks from it has a blessing from God. They will never know a day of hunger. Their lives will always have flavor. They will know love and joy...and they will never be poor!" After they journey with the tea set across Russia and recuperate with a kindhearted doctor, the one cup they bring to America is passed on through generations and still in her family today. The tea cup symbolizes the blessings of family and richness of each other's company, throughout travel, sickness, material deprivation, and other hardships. Exquisite drawings in gray pencil, with splashes of vibrant color highlighting the tea set and Anna's babushka, enrich this powerful story. Recommended for ages 4 to adult.

La Frontera: El viaje con papá = My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva, illustrated by Claudia Navarro
In this bilingual Spanish-English book, Alfredo tells his family's immigration story. After facing hardship and hunger in their small Mexican village, he and his father leave their home to embark on a difficult journey across the U.S.-Mexico border in search of amnesty and a new life in the U.S. They cross rivers, mountains, climb over fences, sleep atop freight trains and in old buses. Alfredo then struggles to adjust to a new school and the English language. Four years later, the rest of their family crosses the border too and are reunited with Alfredo and his father. Although Alfredo's journey occurred in the 1980s, his story resembles the struggles of many migrants today. Vibrantly illustrated by a Mexican artist, this heartwarming story introduces children to immigration and Mexican culture in a relatable way. End notes include details about Alfredo's journey to Texas, family photographs, a map and information about borders and immigration. Recommended for ages 4-10.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey by Margriet Ruurs, translated by Falah Raheem, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr
With simple and poetic language, Magriet Ruurs tells the story of young Rama and her family who are forced to leave their once-peaceful Syrian village when hunger and violence become too prevalent. Bringing only what they can carry on their backs, Rama, her parents, grandfather and brother Sami join many others fleeing the civil war, journeying over land and across sea to a freer and more peaceful future in Europe. Evocative images, created with stones the Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr gathers on the seashore near the ancient port city Ugarit, depict the love, anguish, sorrow, joy, perseverance and hope of refugees. Each page includes Arabic translations of English text. Recommended for ages 4 to adult.

Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Eight-year old Garang is herding cattle when his village in southern Sudan is attacked. He returns to find his family gone, houses burned and everything destroyed. Garang wanders away, soon joining many other boys also orphaned by the civil war. These thousands of boys walk only at night and sleep during the day to avoid soldiers and intense heat. As they journey hundreds of miles to a safer life first in Ethiopia and later in Kenya, they deal with scarcity of food and water, exhaustion, sickness and other hardships. But they quickly learn to take care of one another. Garang adopts five-year-old Chuti Bol, comforting and carrying him at times. Enhanced by bold earth-toned acrylic paintings that capture emotional depth, this Coretta Scott King Honor Award book ultimately tells a story of courage and hope amidst severe crisis. An afterward includes more information about the true events on which this fictional story is based. Recommended for ages 7 to adult.

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz
In this autobiographical tale, young Uri is forced to flee his home when war devastates Warsaw in 1939. Having lost everything, he and his family travel to the city of Turkestan in the former Soviet Union. In this strange new land, his family lives in poverty. He sleeps on a dirt floor, has no toys or books and food is scarce. Instead of buying bread one day, his father comes back from the bazaar with a large, colorful world map and hangs it on the wall. Initially Uri is angry about having to skip dinner, but his spirits soon rise as he becomes fascinated with the map. He looks at it for hours, draws it on scraps of paper and makes rhymes out of geographical names. Without leaving the room, he transports himself to exotic deserts, beaches, snowy mountains, temples, fruit groves and large cities. The map nourishes his imagination and soul in a way bread cannot, offering hope and an escape from misery and hunger. This 2009 Caldecott Honor Book also includes his only surviving childhood photo, two drawings sketched as a child, and a description of his family's experience as refugees. Recommended for ages 4-8.

My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Searching for a way to explain the Syrian civil war to her own children, Suzanne Del Rizzo created this lyrical story, inspired by an article she read about a boy who found solace in a connection with wild birds at Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp. When Sami walks over sand dunes with his family and neighbors to escape the bombs that destroyed their homes in Syria, he worries about his pet pigeons. Will they escape too? Eventually, Sami and others arrive safely at a refugee camp. Everyone else soon settles into the new life, but he finds no joy in his father's garden, his mother's home-cooked food, school, nor in games with other children. When he is given paints at school, he tries to paint his birds, but all he can paint is black. He tears up his painting; his heart feels as if it's been torn to pieces too. One day a canary, a dove, a rose finch, and pigeon fly into the camp. Sami's connection with these birds help him heal from trauma and find new hope. Intricate, textured illustrations using polymer clay and acrylic paint fit well with the theme of the power of art to express children's inward struggles. Recommended for ages 4-10.

The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
As with many of her other books, Patricia Polacco tells a true tale from her own family history. Her aunt Monique, whose mother Marcelle is involved with the French resistance, lives in a Nazi-occupied village outside of Paris. One night she encounters what she thinks is a little ghost at the end of her bed, who quickly disappears. This ghost turns out to be a Jewish girl named Sevrine who has been hiding with her parents from Nazis in Monique's cellar. Monique and Sevrine become friends, playing together in the dark. To cheer her up, Monique brings gifts from outside such as rich soil, a flower, and a butterfly. Then one night Sevrine is discovered by someone outside the house. To ensure their safety, Sevrine and her parents must leave Monique's home during nighttime and travel to the next refuge. Exquisitely detailed illustrations capture both the darkness of the Nazi occupation and the brightness of friendship, courage and hope. This heartfelt story of friendship introduces children to the Holocaust without being too explicit in depiction of its horrors. Recommended for ages 6-10.

Nora's Ark by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Torrents of rain fall for hours with no sign of letting up. The river waters are rising fast, threatening most homes in the Vermont farm community where Wren and her grandparents live. Leaving lower ground, they take refuge in Grandma's newly built house high on a hill. Shortly many friends and neighbors, their own houses and farms soon to be submerged by floodwaters, join them. Some also bring their chickens, pigs, ducks, horses, cats and even a cow inside to safety. Huddling together for warmth under Grandma's quilts, they share food, sing, tell stories, and keep a positive spirit, despite knowing they are likely losing most of what they own. But where is Grandpa, who had gone out to push heifers to higher ground? Based on the real event of the Flood of 1927, this story celebrates family, caring for others and hope amidst disaster. Recommended for ages 3-9.

A Song for Cambodia by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Shino Arihara
In this remarkable true tale, young Arn Chorn-Pond lives in a peaceful Cambodian village in a home filled with sounds of music and laughter, until Khmer Rouge soldiers invade his village in 1975. Separating him from his family, soldiers take him to a children's work camp where he is forced to work long, grueling hours in rice fields, with very little to eat. When guards provide an opportunity to learn to play a khim, a traditional wooden string instrument, he volunteers. Playing music helps him survive and envision a world away from pain and suffering. Later sent to fight the Vietnamese, he escapes to the jungle, ends up in a Thai refugee camp, nearly drowns in a flood, then is rescued and later adopted by an American volunteer. In the U.S., he finds traditional Cambodian instruments to play again, helping him heal from trauma and inspiring a dream to return to help his homeland. A foreword provides historical context for the story, while an afterword shares more information about Arn and his work helping rebuild his homeland and revive traditional Cambodian music. Despite the terror and tragedies he experiences, Arn's story is hopeful. Recommended for ages 7-11.
— Rachel W.