Nightingales, Rabbits and Stepping Stones

Beth Staff Image

With stories and images of the refugee crisis permeating the news cycle, it’s important to remember that children may have questions, anxiety or fears about what they see and overhear. Picture books can help children navigate these complex issues, spark curiosity in other cultures, and even inspire understanding—and hopefully compassion—toward people in desperate circumstances. Using colorful images, simple storylines, and relatable characters, picture books can be great tools to reassure and guide children through difficult topics.

Mama's Nightingale

“When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice,” says Saya, whose mother has been detained for being undocumented. Saya obsessively listens to her mother’s voice the only way she can: the outgoing message on the answering machine. Danticat’s book is full of small but powerful details like this, her story complimented by Staub’s childlike illustrations, including Saya’s ever-present stuffed monkey. Their collaboration effectively shares a child’s perspective of family separation, and the powerlessness, distress, as well as perseverance Saya feels in its wake.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journal

This extraordinary book uses bilingual text and illustrations made of stones to convey a family flight from Syria. Ruurs style is lyrical and eloquent, chronicling Rama and her family through happy times, then war, then their hazardous journey to a new home. Nizar Ali Badr’s illustrations are the real highlight of the book. His deliberate layout of rocks and pebbles give life to the pictures, in essence turning stones into humans. Combined with Rama’s story, the artwork can help children identify and explore human emotions and reactions.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote

Young Pancho Rabbit sets out to find his missing father, who left to find work in El Norte. He meets a sinister Coyote who promises a shortcut in exchange for Pancho’s supply of food, and eventually his life. Tonatiuh’s beautiful illustrations depict real feelings and recall indigenous artwork, and like any good fable, his story is full of subtext. Children will recognize the basic tale of a dangerous journey, which can lead to a discussion of the real-life elements that inspired the book.