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Exile, Friendship, Apple Cake, and Baklava

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The subject of migration, refugees and exile is all around us. In numerous countries across the globe, children are either having to adapt to new schools in cultures and languages that are not their own, or they see the arrival of new children in their classrooms who have had to flee their country of origin. Literature for children (and adults!) of all ages is vital in order to provide an understanding of what it means to leave one's home and start afresh in a new one. Ahead of World Refugee Day, a book for middle schoolers, Apple Cake and Baklava, by Kathrin Rohmann, translated from the German by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, is just out. It's a lovely story about Max, a boy in a village in Germany, and Leila, a recently arrived refugee from Syria. She has fled her country with her mother and two brothers, leaving behind her father, a baker, and his mother; Leila's beloved grandmother behind. The book alternates chapters between Max's story and Leila's, allowing young readers to follow what's going in the minds of both children. Rohmann deftly sets up the tenets for a budding friendship by giving Max and Leila particularly close relationships with their grandmothers. Their friendship is cemented when Leila looses a treasured walnut she has brought with her from a tree in her grandmother's garden, and Max offers to help her find it. Loss, friendship, and the acceptance that a new life is possible, are at the heart of the book, peppered with stories of bakingalways a reassuring subjectwhether it's apple cake, gingerbread or baklava, and even a few recipes at the end of the book.

While the violence in Syria remains in the headlines, the displacement of so many families is an important subject to talk about whether in Germany or elsewhere and it's never too young to learn empathy. 

For a few more recommendations for great books for children on the subject please see below:

The Journey

With haunting echoes of the current refugee crisis this beautifully illustrated book explores the unimaginable decisions made as a family leave their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war. 

"The Journey is actually a story about many journeys, and it began with the story of two girls I met in a refugee center in Italy. After meeting them I realized that behind their journey lay something very powerful. So I began collecting more stories of migration and interviewing many people from many different countries. A few months later, in September 2014, when I started studying a Master of Arts in Illustration at the Academy of Lucerne, I knew I wanted to create a book about these true stories. Almost every day on the news we hear the terms "migrants" and "refugees" but we rarely ever speak to or hear the personal journeys that they have had to take. This book is a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them."

Francesca Sanna 

Stepping Stones

This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. The author was immediately impressed by the strong narrative quality of Mr. Badr’s work, and, using many of Mr. Badr’s already-created pieces, she set out to create a story about the Syrian refugee crisis. Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning stone images illustrate the story. This is an English/Arabic edition.

Kunkush

Kunkush is the true story of a cat who was reunited with his family of Iraqi refugees after being separated from them when they reached the shore of the Greek island Lesbos. Ventura’s narrative follows Kunkush and the amazing network of people who worked to bring him back to his owners. 

Teacup

Readers of all ages will find much to connect with in this simple and lovely tale of a boy who must leave his home and find another. He sets off alone in a rowboat, with only a book, a blanket, and some earth from his homeland in a teacup. Young’s story doesn’t shy away from the loneliness and uncertainty the boy experiences, but the story ends on a hopeful note when he finds land and a much-needed friend.

The Red Pencil

Life in Amira's peaceful Sudanese village is shattered when Janjaweed attackers arrive, unleashing unspeakable horrors. After losing nearly everything, Amira needs to find the strength to make the long journey on foot to safety at a refugee camp. She begins to lose hope, until the gift of a simple red pencil opens her mind -- and all kinds of possibilities.

Banner photo by Jasmin Waheed/Unsplash

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Jacqueline is a journalist primarily, but not only, interested in fiction and non-fiction with equal passion.