Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Refuge by Sandra le Guen, illustrated by Stéphane Nicolet, translated from the French by Daniel Hahn

Understanding the reasons why people flee their homes during a war and the hardships they face in places where they are often unwanted is difficult for kids to understand, leaving them unsure of what to do when a young refugee moves into the neighborhood and is put into their class. Here is a book, told from the perspective of a girl who has a new classmate and who is a refugee.
The Refuge by Sandra le Guen, illustrated by Stéphane Nicolet,
translated from the French by Daniel Hahn
Amazon Crossing Kids, 2020, 36 pages

When Jeannette tells her mother that there is a new girl at school who keeps looking up at the sky, she encourages her daughter to see if the new girl would like to play together. Little by little, using gestures and chalk drawings, the new girl, Iliana, tells Jeannette that there was a war in her homeland and her parents decided it was best to leave:
Soon, the two girls are friends, spending recess together, and even waving to each other in class, plus they have a common interest - the sky and all its wonders. In the crowded boat that Iliana's family had taken to escape, her mother suggested her to look at the night sky that she loved so much and watch the changes in the moon, stars and even the clouds.

As Iliana tells Jeannette more and more about her family's harrowing escape from her home, Jeannette relays it all to her parents:
An invitation to Iliana and her family to come over for tea is gladly accepted. During the visit, Iliana's parents tell Jeannette's parents about their trip and finally arriving at a place where they are granted asylum:

But it is Jeannette's tree house that really excites Iliana, who calls it a "cool refuge" and soon the two girls are having a nighttime adventure looking at the sky. I kept thinking the name of this book should have been The Refugee, but it isn't, it's The Refuge and what is a refuge other than a safe place to be. As Iliana explains to Jeannette: the sky is a refuge for everybody. No barriers, no borders." What a lovely metaphor for freedom and safety. Would that it were like that here on earth, but as Jeannette shows readers, it can begin with one person.

I thought it was interesting that Iliana's story is told by Jeannette. Her friendliness and empathy as she gets to know her new friend is a wonderful example for young readers to see. They don't often get to see the perspective of an outsider like Jeannette when it comes to refugee stories. And if the sky is a figurative refuge, the friendship between the two girls and a between the two families is a literal refuge.

The Refuge is such a lovely story and the illustrations really capture what Iliana's family went through in very easy to comprehend stylized digital illustrations. Nicolet has captured the war in the the chalk drawings in the first illustration above, followed by the barbed wire and the dangerous journey across a rough sea in the clothing of Jeannette's parents as she tells them about her friend's escape and they 'take it in.' The next illustration shows the family leaving their war-torn country, walking away from the exploding gunshots, stepping over the barbed wire that separated them from danger and safety, and arriving at a safe place - what a powerful illustration!

I can't recommend this book highly enough and I can't wait to see my young readers and share it with them. I think I will pair it with Dreamers by Yuyi Morales and The Day War Came by Nicola Davis, two books we've already read and loved.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was gratefully received from Barbara at Blue Slip Media


  1. This sounds like a powerful book. I have read Dreamers, but will need to look for The Refuge and The Day War Came. The Refuge intrigues me- especially the fact that it is told from Jeannette's point of view. Thanks for sharing. :) ~Jess

  2. Sounds like this book took a difficult subject and made it welcoming for young readers. My husband was a refugee but he came when he was 17 . I remember when he first came to our high school, he looked so different than all of us because of his clothing, book bag (which Americans did not have in the 1960's) and his hair.


Imagination Designs