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Honoring Refugee Stories with Maya from MaiStoryBook

June 20, 2023 is World Refugee Day. In recognition of the tremendous strength, bravery, and sacrifice that refugees must have and endure to ensure the safety of their loved ones and themselves, I've curated a collection of children's books featuring the refugee stories. My goal is to create a discourse that portrays refugees not as passive victims, but as survivors creating community, joy, and new life even amidst a backdrop of war.

Within these pages, you will find stories of resilience, courage, hope, and love in the face of loss, sacrifice and ultimately new beginnings. This collection of books is all about honoring refugee stories.

To the Other Side by Erika Meza // An emotionally rich story of border walls and two refugee children: A young boy and his older sister embark on a game where they need to travel through vast and challenging lands to reach the finish line. Along the way, they both imagine different possibilities of what they’ll find on the other side of the border: a spotted dog, ice cream, or a new school. However, the journey becomes tougher than expected, and they face real monsters that are scarier than they anticipated. Despite the challenges, the two siblings must find the strength to continue moving forward.

Dounia and the Magic Seeds by Marya Zarif // In a tale set in war-torn Aleppo, Syria, a young girl named Dounia and her grandparents are forced to leave their beloved home to escape the violence. With only a bird sculpture and four baraké seeds, Dounia faces treacherous obstacles, including dangerous waters, a guarded camp, and unfriendly soldiers. Drawing strength from the seeds, believed to ward off evil, she overcomes each challenge on their arduous journey. Guided by a neighbor's prophecy of a blue house, Dounia's resilience and active participation in shaping her destiny shine through, beautifully depicted in captivating artwork.

The Carpet: An Afghan Family Story by Dezh Azaad // Follow an Afghan refugee child through a single day in their life and witness the profound significance of love, family, and a special carpet that symbolizes their connection to home. The carpet serves as the focal point of their family life, fostering moments of togetherness through shared meals, stories, laughter, and cherished memories.

Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine by Hannah Moushabeck // Through their father's vivid memories, three young girls learn about their distant homeland of Palestine. Through his stories, the Old City of Jerusalem springs to life, with the enchanting sounds of juice vendors rhythmically tapping brass cups, the enticing scent of argileh wafting through open windows, and the sight of doves gracefully soaring towards their nests. These daughters of the diaspora develop a deep affection for a place they have never personally experienced, a home they cannot physically visit. However, they find solace in knowing that through their father's cherished recollections, they will always be able to return to their ancestral roots.

Finding Papa by Angela Pham Krans // No one brings laughter to Mai's heart like her beloved Papa. They share a special game, the crocodile chomp chomp, that fills their days with joy. However, when Papa embarks on a journey to America in search of a better life for their family, Mai feels a profound sense of longing for him. Eventually, Mama and Mai courageously leave behind their familiar home in Vietnam, carrying only a small bag, bidding farewell to everything Mai has ever known.

The Cambodian Dancer by Daryn Reicherter // This is the inspiring true story of a Cambodian refugee who survived the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge's Killing Fields and went on to build a new life in the United States. Despite the hardships she faced, she found solace in her passion for dance and teaching. As she established herself in her new home, she became a counselor for fellow Cambodian refugees and established a dance school for children.

From the Tops of the Trees by Kao Kalia Yang // In the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, as part of the Hmong families who sought refuge after the little-known Secret War in Laos during the Vietnam War. young Kalia and her cousins lead a life confined within its fences. Despite the challenges they face, Kalia and her cousins find joy in playful activities like racing chickens and bonding with their pet dog. At the age of four, Kalia's curiosity about the world beyond the camp grows, and though her father initially has no answers, he guides her to the tallest tree. From there, embraced by her father, Kalia witnesses the vastness of a world that extends beyond the camp's boundaries, offering a glimmer of hope and new possibilities.

Idriss and His Marble by Rene Gouichoux // This story explores the perilous path refugees often walk to find a new home and the hope it takes to get them there. Idriss and his mother must flee when war comes and threatens their home. Idriss clutches his lucky charm, his marble, as they walk over dangerous terrain, crawl under barbed wire, and take sail on a rickety boat. Will the marble's luck help them survive?

The Journey by Francesca Sanna // This story explores one family’s escape from the dangers of their own homeland, and the journey and perils they endure together as they search for safety. From hiding in the backs of fruit trucks and carts, escaping from guards, smuggling across the border, and crossing waters on tipping ferries, this family leaves more and more behind the farther they travel. However, they still have each other, and as they search for their new home, *each other* is what gives them the hope and courage to journey on

A Different Pond by Bao Phi // In a story of memories, family, and home, a young boy and his father, an immigrant from Vietnam, awaken in the early hours of the day~ while the skies are still dark and the sun is still sleeping. Tip-toeing softly and packing quietly so as not to wake up Mama, son and father prepare their fishing poles and equipment for a trip to the pond~ hoping to catch fish for tonight’s dinner. While fishing, the young boy imagines what life must have been like at the other pond where his father used to live~ in Vietnam. Their are subtle subtexts throughout the story about the father's haunting memories of the Vietnam War.

A Different Pond Resources

I partnered with the Immigrant History Initiative to create read-aloud lesson plans for K-5 students that center Asian American voices and stories. We created this historical resource for “A Different Pond.” This resource is designed for use alongside Capstone Publishing's "A Different Pond Reader's Guide" (available here). The Reader's Guide provides discussion questions and activity ideas. This historical summary fills in the gaps to Bao Phi's A Different Pond, providing historical context for many of the clues left in the book's beautiful narrative. It provides a brief introduction of the Vietnam War and the lasting effects of the war on refugee families.

I also created this book-craft to pair with “A Different Pond.” This is a story about family, memories and home. Use this craft template to encourage students to create their own Fishing Buckets of Family Memories.

Interactive Read Aloud Video

Read along with MaiStoryBook YouTube for an interactive, shared-reading read aloud adventure where I ask questions throughout the story, point out main themes and ideas, and introduce vocabulary to keep little learners engaged and participating throughout the story.

Subscribe to MaiStoryBook YouTube for more Diverse Interactive Read Aloud Videos.


I hope you found some reading recommendations to add to your own shelves and share with your littles. Please comment below and share any other Refugee Experience Titles to add to this themed collection.

*~Also, I’d love to see and hear about your own reading adventures you are having with your little learners, so please share your story times below in the comments ~ Or Tag me on Instagram @MaiStoryBookLibrary , FaceBook , find me on TikTok, or contact me via email . I’d love to hear from you!~*


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