Usually I just write a little blurb in the book box for the books that I read but this book could possibly be the most important book I have read considering the impact it could have.
We live in a time where the unrest around the world is at an all time high. We have refugees in many places around the world trying to escape one horror or another and bring their families to safety. This is not the first time in history as Mr.Gratz so perfectly displays in his book but I do feel there is so much going on in the world we are facing a humanitarian crisis on multiple fronts and unfortunately empathy seems to be at a dangerously low level.
2 years ago, give or take, Canada like other nations were faced with the question of how to help the refugees of Syria. A people that are facing atrocities that we as Canadians and yes our friends to the south can not even imagine. There in is where the problem lies. When I asked my students a simple question, “How can we help the people of Syria?” I was horrified at the initial answers, “I don’t want to help them they are dangerous” or “I don’t want them coming here, my family could get blown up” these are the answers of 11 year olds that until this point I thought were critical thinkers. We debated many topics and I was always impressed with the critical thinking that followed when the topics revolved around their lives. This position that most of my students took on the Syrian refugees shocked me. But as we dug deeper it became clear they had no empathy because they had no real background knowledge. There was no source material beyond news articles, no “student friendly” sources that addressed people being starved to death to force surrender, no access to medical assistance, pictures of babies drowned on ocean shores. This book will serve as that bridge in the conversation until students are ready for the “heavier” material.
In “Refugee” the concept of remaining invisible is reoccurring. Either a characters choice to be invisible to avoid harm or being treated as invisible so others do not have to address the injustices they are facing. As teachers, books like this, help us to remove that cloak of invisibility, help us to show our students life with a different lens.
Kylene Beers and Bob Probst write in Disrupting Thinking that reading should involve changing their understanding of the world and themselves…wanting them to be open to the possibility that a text might be disruptive, and that it is that disruption that gives them the opportunity to learn and grow. Reading should be disruptive.
I would like to add that people need stories to change them, to touch their hearts, to help them grow. Refugee does it all, you just must be open to it. As teachers we need to take every chance we can to help our students develop empathy to make those unlike them visible. So that as Alan Gratz so beautifully illustrates in Refugee perhaps these events will not repeat as they have so often in the past.
Go buy this book and read it…to anyone that will listen.