Jewish Children's Books That Help Kids Understand The Refugee Experience

When a stranger arrives, communities don’t always roll out the red carpet, but the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) says: “Love the stranger as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34). The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote that it can be easy to love our neighbors because they’re like us, but we’re taught to love strangers because they are different. “This is why the Torah commands us only once to love our neighbor,” Sacks said, “but on 36 occasions commands us to love the stranger.”

Throughout our history, the Jewish experience and the refugee experience have been closely knitted together. From the story of the Exodus we tell at Passover, to WWII immigration, to modern day rescue missions like Operation Solomon, refugees are a deep part of the Jewish story.

If you're looking for ways to talk with your children about the events they might be seeing on the news or hearing about at school, start with these picture and middle-grade books about the refugee experience.

Related: How to Talk to Kids About Immigration⁠⁠.

Picture Books

The Castle on Hester Street

The Castle on Hester Street
by Linda Heller

Recommended for ages 5 to 6

In this immigration story, a young girl’s grandmother contradicts her husband’s recollections of what it was like coming to America from Russia. Was he really pulled to New York by a flying goat? Is there truly a castle on Hester Street?

Lilah Tov Good Night 
by Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G)

Recommended for ages 2 to 3

This family is leaving home on a long trip under cover of night. We don't know why they're leaving or where they're going, but we do know on their journey, they take comfort in the natural world around them, and repeat "lilah tov" (good night) to the creatures they meet along the way..

The Suitcase 
by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Recommended for ages 4 to 6

When a new stranger arrives in town with single suitcase, he doesn’t receive a warm welcome. Bird, Rabbit, and Fox wonder what’s inside the stranger’s suitcase, and they’re not sure they believe his answers. Soon they’ll learn a lesson about just how much we carry with us -- and how much a warm welcome can mean.

Yosef's Dream
by Sylvia Rouss

Recommended for ages 8 and up

When Yosef was a child in Ethiopia, he had a strange dream, one that didn’t make sense until later when he -- along with thousands of others in his community -- was flown to Israel as part of Operation Solomon. Sometimes our dreams tell us more than we know.

Yuvi’s Candy Tree
by Lesley Simpson

Recommended for ages 8 and up

Based on a true story, this book tells of Yuvi’s extraordinary journey from Ethiopia to Israel.

Middle Grade Books

Maurce and His Dictionary book cover

Maurice and His Dictionary  
by Cary Fagan

Recommended for ages 9 and up

Fourteen-year-old Maurice longs to study law one day, but when the Nazis invade Belgium, his family must flee to the only place willing to take them in. Now he’s halfway across the world, living in a Jamaican refugee camp. How will he ever follow his dream?

Now book cover

by Morris Gleitzman 

Recommended for ages 11 and up

Eleven-year-old Zelda is living in Australia with her grandfather, Felix, a physician and a survivor of the Holocaust, while her doctor parents volunteer at a clinic in Darfur. Zelda experiences rough hazing as the new kid at school; at the same time, Felix suffers from traumatic childhood memories. But Zelda and Felix have a beautiful relationship and they take care of each other with love and affection. When a bushfire rages through their town, Zelda and Felix find the courage and strength they need from each other to overcome their personal challenges and survive..

Room For One More book cover

Room For One More 
by Monique Polak⁠⁠

Recommended for ages 10 and up

Twelve-year-old Rosetta and her sisters get a ready-made brother when her family welcomes teenaged refugee Isaac Guttman into their Montreal home. Rosetta and Esther are less than thrilled to share a bedroom, but soon talkative Rosetta and reticent Isaac form a strong bond.

Saving Hanno book cover

Saving Hanno 
by Miriam Halahmy

Recommended for ages 9 and up

German-Jewish refugee Rudi can’t wait for his dog, Hanno, to join him in his foster home in England. But with food scarce and the country preparing for war, the animals’ lives are in danger! Can Rudi find a way to save Hanno?


Teaching About Refugees via The UN Refugee Agency
PJ Library's Resource Round-up: Talking About Refugees With Kids