Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.
Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller
Almost half the world’s refugees are children. Every year, tens of thousands of child refugees arrive in Canada, many of them unaccompanied by an adult. These children soon become members of our community and students in our classrooms. How can we help these students feel seen, welcome, and included? One thing we can do is to include the stories of refugee children in our classrooms.
Including these stories is also important for building empathy towards the refugee experience. We can build empathy by guiding discussions that help readers build connections with the characters in the story.
Help readers identify emotions by asking:
• How do you think the character is feeling right now?
• Why are they feeling this way?
Help readers understand actions by asking:
• Why do you think the characters did what they did?
• How did their actions affect the people around them?
Help readers recognize resilience by asking:
• What do you think inspires the character?
• What impresses you about the character?
While it’s true that refugees face many challenges, we want to be mindful never to position anyone’s identity or experiences as pitiable. As Danny Ramadan, a Syrian Canadian author and activist, explains, his goal is “to build empathy and engagement, where [readers] don’t see refugees as lesser than. I want [readers] to have an understanding of the immigration experience as difficult and challenging but also magnificent.”
Here are 6 brand new books that tell magnificent stories of coming to Canada, perfect for sharing in your classroom.
Dounia And The Magic Seeds (ages 4-7) is a picture book adaptation of the animated series Dounia. Like the series, this fable-like story follows Dounia as she and her family flee their home in Syria. The young girl brings four magic seeds to help her family on their difficult journey. Dounia takes an active part in her destiny using her magic seeds to protect her family.
In Class: Episodes of the animated series are 8 minutes long — perfect bite-sized viewing for in the classroom.
If You See A Bluebird (ages 5-8) reflects the experiences of former refugees as they build and embrace a new “home.” In the story, young Ali finds himself homesick for Afghanistan. He wishes he could go home. With the help of his Nana and a bluebird, Ali comes to learn that home is the love his family has for each other.
In Class: In this story Ali comes to discover what home means to him. Invite your students to express what home means to them in a poem or a drawing.
The Most Beautiful Thing I Have Ever Seen (ages 6-8) starts with a family forced to leave their home because of a war and ends with the family celebrating after their citizenship ceremony in their new country. In between there are many new experiences, like snowflakes and fireworks, as the story illustrates how children and families heal from trauma.
In Class: Ask your students what the little girl means when she says her family’s happy tears are “the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.” Invite your students to share the story of the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen.
Salma Writes a Book (ages 6-9) continues Salma’s adventures adjusting to her new home in Vancouver. In this book, Salma receives the news she is going to be a big sister and sets to write the ultimate guidebook to siblinghood. There’s also an affirming message of LGBTQ+ acceptance as readers are introduced to Salma’s uncle for the first time.
In Class: Students can learn plenty from creating guidebooks of their own. Invite them to pick a topic they can apply to themselves. What does it take to be a good student? Soccer player? Friend?
Alone: The Journeys of Three Young Refugees (ages 8-16) tells the very real stories of three child refugees and their journeys to arrive in Canada. The experiences of Afshin, Alain, and Patricia are heartfelt and moving, revealing the realities that many child refugees face arriving in Canada alone.
In Class: Alone is an adaptation of the documentary of the same name by filmmaker Paul Tom. Watch the film trailer to hear Afshin, Alain and Patricia introduce their stories.
The Cricket War (ages 9-12) is the gripping story of a boy's escape from Communist Vietnam by boat, based on the childhood friends and co-authors’ own experiences. The story’s depictions of pirate attacks, hunger, and loneliness show the serious obstacles refugees must overcome on their journeys. The book also teaches important elements of Vietnamese history.
In Class: This book could be studied together with the upcoming animated short Boat People from Kjell Boersma, Thao Lam and the NFB. Watch the trailer and keep an eye out for the film to become available.
Spencer Miller is a teacher, writer, reader, and fan of the Toronto Raptors. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at the University of Calgary (Treaty 7). You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.