Five YA Novels to Understand Refugees

About Katie Sluiter

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school, high school, and community college and has her Masters Degree in Teaching English. Her writing has been featured on BonBon Break, BlogHer, Today Moms, and The Washington Post. She has also been published in numerous anthologies, most recently Mothering Through The Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience. She is a member of and has presented at both NCTE and MCTE. She is a National Writing Project participant and has been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan multiple times.

Staying informed by watching and discussing current events is one way for students to know what is going on in the world outside their immediate universe. Sometimes those events seem so far away–even when they are happening in our own country. Research has proven repeatedly that reading builds empathy. Whether the latest current events about how the government has chosen to treat refugees from Syria directly affect our students or not, it’s up to use to put books in their hands that will help them personalize and connect with people (and characters) that have had similar experiences.

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Here are five books you should add to your classroom library today to help your students empathize with the plight of the refugee.

YA Books

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

McCormick spent a great deal of time with Cambodian refugee Arn Chorn-Pond before putting his story to paper. Arn’s Cambodian village is invaded and taken over by the Khmer Rouge who then enslave the children at their death camps. Later, forcing many to become child soldiers.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inspired by her own refugee story, Lai writes this novel in verse about young Ha who has grown up in Saigon with her mom and brothers. Her father is missing in action during the Vietnam War. When Saigon falls, Ha’s family is forced to flee to the United States.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Dual narrators–one real and one fictional–tell two stories of survival in the Sudan. Nya, a fictional 11-year old, walks two hours to and then two hours from a pond twice a day to fetch water for her family to survive. Salva, a real 11-year old boy, is in school when his village is overtaken in the civil war causing him to flee. He becomes one of the Sudan’s “Lost Boys.” His is a story of survival via refugee camps.

La Linea by Ann Jaramillo

Inspired by her students’ stories of immigrating to the United States via the Mexican border, Jaramillo chronicles the dangerous journey Miguel and his sister Elena endure to reunite with their mother and father who live in the United States.

A Step from Heaven by An Na

Young Ju is only four years old when her family leaves Korea for Mi Gook–America. She has heard it is like heaven, but life is more than difficult with an abusive father. It is not Heaven as she was promised.

By putting books like these into the hands of your students, you are opening up the possibility for understanding and empathy–something our country needs a large dose of lately.

YA Novels to Understand Refugees

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About the Author:

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school, high school, and community college and has her Masters Degree in Teaching English. Her writing has been featured on BonBon Break, BlogHer, Today Moms, and The Washington Post. She has also been published in numerous anthologies, most recently Mothering Through The Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience. She is a member of and has presented at both NCTE and MCTE. She is a National Writing Project participant and has been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan multiple times.

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