I watched an inspiring TED Talk by Ann Morgan, who read one book from every country in the world. She did it because she wanted to expand her understanding of the world. It made me think of all the books and films I’ve read over the years for very similar reasons.
Since I started teaching people seeking refuge back in 2007, I’ve always looked for books and films that teach me about their countries, culture, stories and history. I’m not the kind of person who can read fact-heavy history books to relax so I need mine in easy-reading or graphic novel.
So here are some that anyone with an interest in other cultures or refugee matters might be interested in:
His House is about a couple seeking refuge who move to the UK and have to navigate the UK asylum system. It is a psychological thriller in which the couple are haunted by past traumas. This film really struck a chord with me as so many of my learners have mental health problems such as PTSD, depression and insomnia. When teaching daily routine, many have intimated anxiety towards bedtime, as that’s when the bad dreams come.
This film makes me proud to be Glaswegian. It’s the true story of a group of schoolchildren who campaigned to stop dawn raids and the detention of asylum seeking minors in Scottish detention centres. These girls are an inspiration.
Have your passport ready is an online video story commissioned by Knaive theatre. It follows two Syrian brothers who travel to the UK for safety. Viewers watch short video clips and make choices on how to navigate the UK asylum system, or leave their decisions to dice rolls. I got deported within two moves, see if you can make it to getting leave to remain!
Meet the Somalis is a collection of 14 illustrated stories sharing the lives of first, second and third generation Somali families in different European cities. The stories are each unique and include themes such as fleeing warzones, refugee camps, family life, making friends, work and settling in a new city. You should know by now that I love visual communication and these illustrations are stunning.
Set in the infamous ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, this story follows Mico, an ‘unaccompanied minor’ and the people he meets in the camp. It makes you consider the impact of the refugee crises on the local area as well as displaced people themselves.
I’ll be honest with you. I stayed in bed ALL DAY one day reading this book. I literally could not put it down. My husband came in to check on me because he thought I was ill! The story follows Nuri, a Syrian refugee, and his wife on their journey from their life in Syria tending bees to resettling in the UK. The journey tracks from warzone, to people smuggling, to refugee camp, to homeless hostel accommodation in the UK. The characters are so vivid and it really touched me as so many of my students have shared similar stories with me.
Asne Seierstand is a Norwegian writer who has written many books about her experiences of living in war zones. It’s been a while since I read these, so my memory is a bit hazy, but they each opened my eyes to life in those countries at that particular point in time. Her books include: Book seller of Kabul (Afghanistan), With their backs to the world (Serbia) and 101 days (Iraq).
Human rights activist, YeonMi Park, shares her experience of growing up in North Korea, being sold into a slave marriage then arriving and resettling in South Korea. A remarkable story and an informative read. If you don’t have time to read her book, I recommend her TED Talk.
No list of books about refugees would be complete without Malala, the youngest ever Nobel Peace prize laureate. In her book, Malala recounts the story of being shot by the Taliban for attending school to becoming a reknowned activist for female education.
I bought this for my nephew’s birthday, but was so intrigued that I had to read it myself. It’s a story of a boy called Ahmet who is a Syrian refugee. Ahmet is the new boy in class and this book tells the story of settling into a new life and making friends in an unfamiliar country.
I was searching online for the graphic novel, Sapiens, when Amazon recommended this to me. It was a moment when I was thankful that computers stalk my buying behaviour. It shares the story of one boy’s journey from Africa, across the mediterranean to the refuge of the UK. The illustrations are fantastic and the storyline is realistic.
This graphic novel follows a Syrian family who move to the USA to claim asylum. My knowledge of the asylum system is very much based on the UK. It was eye-opening to me to discover how different it is in the USA.
When the Mardini sisters were forced to leave their home in Syria, they couldn’t have predicted that swimming would save their lives, nor those of others! When their small, overcrowded, boat from Turkiye to Greece started taking in water, they both leapt into the water and towed the boat to shore. This film tells their incredible story and shares many of the challenges faced by migrants seeking safety in Europe.
This is a Disney Pixar animation which cleverly covers the topic of diversity through metaphor. The elements of earth, wind, fire and water live together in a city. The story shares how each of the elements came to live there, their life challenges and how they ultimately overcome cultural misunderstandings. It’s a wonderful example of intercultural dynamics.
Have you read any good books or seen any good films about displaced people or people seeking refuge? Please share them as I’d love more ideas… or perhaps for one day to say I’ve read a book from every country in the world!
If you want to know more about teaching people from refugee backgrounds, there’s some amazing videos and free resources on the National Geographic Learning Teaching through Crisis site: https://www.ngl-emea.com/teaching-through-crisis