10 Books About Refugees To Inspire Empathy & Action

by Melissa Ragsdale

June 20th is World Refugee Day, a day to commemorate the "strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees" worldwide and show support for people who have been displaced. In observance of this important day, the global non-profit Room to Read recommended a list of books for young readers that will help spark and inform conversations about the refugee experience.

According to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), in the year 2017 "68.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations." Every single one of those people has their own story. The books on this list all address the refugee experience in an important way, ranging from memoirs to historical fictions.

Room to Read "seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education." They work all over the world, including conflict-affected areas like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Jordan. You can get involved with Room to Read by volunteering, making a donation, and more.

So, take this opportunity to read a book that puts you in the shoes of a refugee or shows you a new perspective on the current refugee crisis. After all, the more informed you are, the better prepared you can be to help. Here are 10 books to read for World Refugee Day, as recommended by the Room To Read's global publishing expert, Alisha Berger:

'How Dare the Sun Rise' by Sandra Uwiringiyimana and Abigail Pesta

When Sandra Uwiringiyimana was 10 years old and living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, rebels killed her mother and six-year-old sister. In this profound memoir, Uwiringiyimana recounts how she escaped and fought for her survival, eventually moving to America through a UN refugee program.

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'A Land of Permanent Goodbyes' by Atia Abawi

After bombs strike Tareq's home in Syria, he and his family flee the country. Facing danger at every turn, the family travels as refugees through Turkey to Greece in a tragedy and resilience that will certainly move you to action.

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'The Good Braider' by Terry Farish

Written in free verse, this novel tells the story of Viola, whose family journeys from war-torn Sudan to Cairo to Portland, Maine. As she navigates the strange world of America, Viola struggles "to braid together the strands of a displaced life."

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'Salt to the Sea' by Ruta Sepetys

This historical fiction takes you into the world of refugees fleeing East Prussia at the end of World War II. Joana, Emilia, and Florian's paths converge as they make their way to to a ship that promises salvation. But just when it feels like freedom is in their grasp, tragedy strikes.

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'City of Saints & Thieves' by Natalie C. Anderson

After fleeing the Congo, Tina and her mother migrated to Kenya looking to build a new life. But when her mother is murdered, Tina is forced onto the streets.

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'Of Beetles and Angels: A Boy’s Remarkable Journey from a Refugee Camp to Harvard' by Mawi Asgedom

This unforgettable memoir recounts Mawi Asgedom's life as a refugee. From fleeing civil war in east Africa as a young boy, to living in a refugee camp in Sudan, to growing up on welfare in an affluent American suburb, to finally attending Harvard on a full-ride, Asgedom's story will move you in profound ways.

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'Never Fall Down' By Patricia McCormick

A National Book Award finalist, this novel tells the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who survived the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 and the labor camps of the Khmer Rouge. Told from Corn-Pond's point-of-view, this book will give you a heart-stopping look into his experience.

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'A Long Way Gone: Memories of a Boy Soldier' by Ishmael Beah

When he was 12-years-old, Ishmael Beah fled attacking rebels as violence ravaged Sierra Leone. At the age of thirteen, he had been picked up by the government army and made a soldier. In this heart-wrenching memoir, Beah recounts the devastating reality of life as a child soldier.

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'Little Bee' by Chris Cleave

This emotional historical fiction tells the stories of Little Bee, a 16-year-old refugee from Nigeria, and Sarah, a young widow in England. After their lives collide on a beach in Nigeria, they form a deep and unexpected connection.

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'City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp' by Ben Rawlence

Located in the desert of northern Kenya, Dadaab is a massive refugee camp—a city made of mud, sticks, and plastics. In this harrowing book, Rawlence interweaves the stories of nine people in Dadaab to create a portrait of what life is like in the camp.

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