Every year on June 20th, the world celebrates World Refugee Day in honour of people who have had to leave their homes and countries by force. Eva Wong Nava, Features Editor of Representation takes a look at what this international day is, and celebrates it with books. 


This international day was set aside by the UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency to champion the rights of refugess to find safety, build a community and gain support for economic and social inclusion, and to advocate for solutions to help them with their plight (source)


Originally known as Africa Refugee Day, and changed to World Refugee Day, it was held globally for the first time on June 20th, 2001. This was done to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The day is marked with an annual theme, and the theme for World Refugee Day 2023 is “hope away from home.”


What is a refugee?


The UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency tells us that, “[a] refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.” (source)



I take a look at some books for children that highlights the plight of refugees, starting with this powerful graphic novel, The Power of Welcome (Scholastic, 2023) filled with true stories from Bosnia, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. The people of the countries listed have been displaced due to war, and have, as a result, become refugees around the world.



The stories were contributed by Ada Jusic (Author, Illustrator), Marie Bamyani (Author), Ramzee (Author), Sonya Zhurenko (Author), Nadine Kaadan (Author), and it shows us graphically, through Jusic’s artwork, how an ordinary day in a child’s life can change forever at the drop of a bomb, a shot from a sniper and your parents announcing, “The war has begun.”


This graphic novel is a great way to introduce children to nonfiction. The information of each country is 
provided and written by Bali Rai.


My heart tugged after reading Tomorrow, by Nadine Kaadan (Lantana Publishing, 2019). A picture book that deals with a challenging topic such as war is a challenge to write, and Kaadan has successfully dealt with it through words and pictures.


Nadine Kaadan is from Syria, and she tells us that she “hasn’t stopped writing and illustrating children’s books” since the age of eight. Since that young age, “she simply knew that it was her calling in life.”


The story begins with these lines: “Yazan no longer goes to the park to play, and he no longer sees his friend who lives next door. Everything around him is changing.” The illustrations are eye-catching, cheerfully dark, I would even say, and they serve the text well. We see and hear Yazan longing for a better tomorrow. It is an uplifting story, one that ends in hope. Every child needs to know that there is a better tomorrow, no matter what.


Maya and Her Friends, by Larysa Denysenko, illustrated by Masha Foya (Studio Press, 2022) is for the older end of the age range (7 to 11). This illustrated book centres nine-year old Maya, who introduces readers to her sixteen classmates. We meet Petro and his Roma family clan. Sofia, whose missing her father as he had disappeared in the battles against Russia. There’s Aksana who lives with her dad because her mum has tragically died. Beautifully illustrated, this book is a great way to introduce middle-grade readers to the many faces of Ukraine, and what war does to children and their families.


You Don’t Know What War Is, The Diary of a young girl from Ukraine, by Yeva Skalietska (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022) was published in association with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse, wrote the forward. He said, “Yeva speaks a truth all of us must listen to.”


Yeva Skalietska was only twelve years old when her country was devastated by war. This is a memoir of the twelve days that followed the morning. Yeva was awakened by the roar of bombs exploding, that will change her life forever. Her diary became this book for children aged 11 plus.


“Is Putin really starting a war with Ukraine?” Yeva’s granny asked, incredulous, as she looked out the window toward the border between Ukraine and Russia.


This was exactly what my Ukrainian friend, Marina, had said too when I asked about her family, who was living in the eastern part of Ukraine, bordering Russia. Like Yeva’s granny, she and her family had not expected Putin to start a war with Ukraine.


Yeva has dedicated her book to her granny. The book documents the events that happened as the grandmother and granddaughter pair fled Kharkiv for Dublin. This book gives an insight through the eyes of a pre-teen about what conflict does to children and their loved ones. It is an absolutely heartbreaking and heartfelt book, and a must read.


Last but not least, I want to talk about a new book, Fablehouse by E.L. Norry (Bloomsbury, 2023). This middle-grade isn’t strictly about refugees. Instead, it is about a girl named Heather, who is in foster care, and her adventures and discoveries. Using the typical tropes familiar in Arthurian legends, we have magic, adventure and boarding school life. But, Fablehouse centres a Brown girl and her friends in the foster care system, who live in a mysterious mansion surrounded by a magical woodland, where they meet Pal, a knight from King Arthur’s court. And thus, their adventure begins.

Foster children are refugees, in my view, who are taken into care because of conflict, and sometimes, violence in their homes of origin, and they must seek safety, support, and “hope away from home.”



                                                                             *Header image: in-house collaboration by Ell Rose & Tita Berredo


Eva Wong Nava is a children’s book author. She writes to help children find hope in stories. Stories made her feel safe when she was a child, who had to move from home to home for nearly a decade because of economic crisis, forcing her and her family to seek refuge in other people's homes. Today, she calls London home, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Find Eva on Twitter and Instagram @evawongnava. Email her at W&


Ell Rose (formerly Shannon Ell) is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Find their work at Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Contact them at

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. She has a Master's degree in Children's Literature and Illustration from Goldsmiths UOL and a background in marketing and publicity.   

Follow her on Instagram and Twitter


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