If I can only recommend one life-changing, necessary book this year, let it be Refugee by Alan Gratz. This is a middle-grade novel that I would recommend for sixth grade (or a well-read fifth grader who’s ready for a strong book like this) and up, including adults. It’s a powerful story that I buddy-read with my 10-year-old, and it’s on both of our top ten favorite books lists of this year.
Refugee tells the story of 3 children: Josef, a Jewish boy living in 1930s Germany; Isbael, a girl living in Cuba in 1994; and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy in 2015. All three are attempting to escape impossible situations with their families. It would be unbelievable if it hadn’t all actually happened in some form to real children throughout history, and still today. All three kids go through nerve-wracking ordeals to find some semblance of freedom, and their stories tie together in both heartbreaking and heartwarming ways in the end.
I don’t want to tell you a lot about the plot because I think it’s better going in just knowing that these kids are in obviously difficult situations. Gratz’s research is impeccable, and the humanity he brings to these characters is almost unparalleled. Refugee is, without a doubt, going in my top 10 books of 2019. It is heartbreaking, but a necessary book that I think should be required reading for sixth graders. It is historical fiction for middle graders (and adults, to be honest) that is the best I’ve ever read outside of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. (My review of Echo is HERE, and if you haven’t read that, why not??)
Refugee is truly an amazing, page-turner of a book that will teach you and your kids about what it feels like to be on the run as a child and not understand why people won’t or can’t help. It’s impossible not to gain insight into the refugee crisis after reading this, and to become a bit more compassionate to our fellow humans.
If your child is younger (around 10) I would recommend buddy-reading this. There are some difficult scenes that would be good to discuss. There aren’t any graphically violent scenes, but people do die in sudden and sad ways, and my son had one nightmare and did cry at the end of the book. He still loved it and wanted to buy it so he would always have a copy, so we did!
Don’t skip the long author’s note at the end! Gratz gives some great details about the true stories that inspired this book.