Refugee Week takes place every June, and aims to both celebrate the contribution refugees make to the UK and to promote better understanding of refugee experiences. Here, picture book author and illustrator Chris Naylor-Ballesteros has chosen eight picture books on these themes.
My picture book The Suitcase came out of trying and then struggling to write a fun story on the theme of home or shelter. My previous books were humorous, light-hearted and surreal animal tales - the first about food and the next about love so the concept of 'home' seemed to be a logical continuation based on another fundamental, universal human need. But something happened. I found that the ‘funny’ ideas weren’t really working very well and meanwhile the media reports and discussion of migration and refugees, of walls, camps and border patrols around the world were constant. So my story of ‘home’ evolved into something more emotional and hopefully more fitting to the theme it addressed. I’m not really qualified to write a book about migration, about the danger, fear and uncertainty that causes it and that must accompany the travellers along the way. But I could write about the people that they confront at journey’s end, our varying reactions to those who arrive and ask for our help. I could try to express the different feelings that are provoked and how we might, despite our differences and even our mistakes, try to do the right thing. So that’s what the story became. Picture books are a wonderful, expansive medium for communicating ideas of all shapes, colours and sizes, both for children and grown-ups. I’ve tried to suggest a few (including The Suitcase) that, in very different ways, explore everything from difficult themes like conflict, upheaval and migration in moving and at times heart-rending ways (the first four titles in the list), to books that take a lighter and more fun approach to ideas like helping a stranger or our differences and similarities (the last four titles). They all provide an opportunity to think and talk about kindness and empathy.
The Day War Came by Nicola Davies (text) & Rebecca Cobb (illustrations)
The experience of fleeing war told from the viewpoint of a young girl. The everyday observations of normal home and school life foreshadow the sudden arrival of conflict and even though she finds safety from physical harm, the war has followed the girl in other ways, in the closed doors and the classroom she isn’t allowed in. But the children of the class offer a welcome, and a place to sit and learn.
There's more on The Day the War Came on our blog.
Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini (text) & Dan Williams (illustrations)
An evocative and heartbreaking piece of prose matched to stunning watercolour illustrations. The transformation of place and way of life from everyday idyll to war zone and then the fear and danger of taking flight to find refuge is recounted with great feeling, warmth and empathy.
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
The enormity of the decision to take flight and the fear that makes it inevitable are expressed in the wonderful illustrations and the story's narration by a young child. The journey of the child's fleeing family is fraught with gargantuan figures in night-time forests and terrifying sea-monsters beneath their crowded boat but the hope of safe haven and refuge is ever-present.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
A dense and surreal wordless picture book about an immigrant's arrival in a strange and dream-like version of a mid-century New York, where everything is uncannily familiar yet incomprehensible and bizarre. We learn about the past lives and fears of other migrants through Sean Tan's incredible pictures and storytelling skill.
Amos & Boris by William Steig
A favourite of mine since childhood, a would-be seafaring mouse falls overboard on his maiden voyage and when all seems truly lost, help comes from a curious and friendly whale. They quickly become firm friends even though they know they'll probably never meet again. They do of course, and in similarly dramatic circumstances.
The Same But Different Too by Karl Newson (text) & Kate Hindley (illustrations)
A joyous rhyming celebration of all the little differences that make us unique, illustrated with great wit, energy and lots of colour. As it ends, everyone is united in the love of listening to a story and a good night's sleep.
Under The Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup
Using the animal world as a soothing reminder that despite our differences there are lots of universal feelings and activities that are common to all of us, wherever we may be. The text and illustrations are beautiful and it ingeniously uses cut-outs in the pages to repeat certain lines of text.
The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
A weary, dusty stranger pulling a big suitcase approaches a group of animals. They have no idea where he came from or what he's carrying in his case and some are more trusting than others when it comes to believing the newcomer. They decide there's only one way to find out the truth and get a glimpse of the stranger's past.
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is a childrens' picture book writer and illustrator. His books include I Love You, Stick Insect and I'm Going to Eat This Ant.
Find more out about Refugee Week on the official Refugee Week website.