Books CORL (Check Off your Reading List) Challenge 2014 GB Challenges Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes War, Poetry, Refuge, Peace

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Where is Home? Refugees’ Stories in “One day we had to run!” compiled by Sybella Wilkes

Myra here.


We are excited to join Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. From July-August, our reading theme is about “Scarred Souls and Bloodstained Memories: Tales of War & Poetry, Refuge & Peace.” Last Monday, I did a fairly lengthy feature on Places of Refuge, Songs of Homeso I thought that it is fitting to now listen to refugees’ voices about what home means to them.


This book highlights the stories of three children coming from Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia (said to form the Horn of Africa). The first few sections of the book provides a comprehensive context of the chronology of events that happened from 1956-1993 which caused upheavals, famine, mass migration (forced relocation, displacement, or traveling across borders for survival), and destruction in Africa. People tend to get desensitized by huge amounts of numbers, nameless and faceless statistics that mean very little to most people in their sheltered little bubbles. What this book tries to do is humanize the experiences that children go through under these conditions – with paintings that they have created themselves, their translated narratives, the heartbreaking photographs taken around various refugee camps.


Sybella Wilkes explained that while she was compiling these paintings and the children’s narratives, she encountered a great deal of resistance as the children did not care very much about her questions and were reluctant to relive their harrowing experiences with a stranger. She soon discovered that they could communicate better through colours, paints, and brushstrokes. There was a particular breakthrough when she shared her intentions behind this book:

Having spent several awkward hours with a group of Somali children who were telling me how they had reached Kenya, one of them said to me, “Why are you asking so many questions?” When I replied that I wanted to tell their stories to other children in the world, they brightened up enormously.


“Do you think they would like to hear the story about the lion that was larger than a camel and faster than a horse?” asked one of them.

Children who had previously been bored and shy came to life.

In between the stories of 14 year old Chol Paul Guet from Sudan (“Something like an accident“), 15 year old Shukri Jania Ebrahim from Somalia (“I am the first-born“), and 14 year old Nebiyou Assefia from Ethiopia (“Who cares anyway?“)…


…there are a lot of photographs from the country where they are from, the refugee camps where they are currently staying, as well as the many paintings done by other refugee children.


This book was published in 1994, twenty years ago. At the time, there was a small postcript about Rwanda in 1994 as well as a description of the pivotal roles that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children Fund (SCF) play to provide much-needed assistance to women, children, and various families whose lives have forever been changed because of war, famine, disaster. I wonder how much has changed in twenty years. It takes a lifetime to rebuild such devastation – both the geography of the physical land and the human spirit. If you do know of any updated books that share this, do let us know in the comments section.

For teachers who wish to make use of this book in the classroom, click here to be taken to the UNHCR website that contains a Unit Plan for ages 9-11 in Civic Education, complete with downloadable resources and video clips.

Here is Sybella Wilkes talking about another one of her books, Out of Iraq: Refugees’ Stories in Words, Painting, and Music.

For a thorough list of refugee stories about and for young people, click here to be taken to Marjorie Coughlan’s (former Editor of Paper Tigers) amazingly-detailed post complete with book covers and short reviews.

One Day We Had To Run! Refugee children tell their stories in words and paintings. Edited by Sybella Wilkes with a foreword by Anna Ford. Published by Evans Brothers Ltd in association with UNHCR and Save the Children. Book borrowed from the public library (interlibrary loan), 1994. Book photos taken by me.



Reading Challenge Update: 137 (25)


Nonfiction PictureBook Challenge: 15 of 25

4 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Where is Home? Refugees’ Stories in “One day we had to run!” compiled by Sybella Wilkes

  1. Wow Myra. What a book. I am going to see if my library has it. Reading Brothers in Hope recently and then Golden Boy (novel by Tara Sullivan) I have been thinking a lot about children being persecuted or needing to escape terrifying circumstances.


  2. How timely the stories of these children are given what is happening at the border of the US right now. The Central American children are fleeing their homes to get away from a different kind of war, but a war nonetheless. One Day We Had to Run looks like a book everyone should read. Thanks for sharing it.


  3. What a meaningful post!


  4. another great find. i hope other people find this useful.


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