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[IYL Finds | Saturday Reads] International Non-English Picturebooks that Deal with Migration and the Refugee Experience

Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

While I was serving as an International Research Fellow this year at the International Youth Library in Munich, I discovered quite a number of amazing non-English picturebook titles that deal with im/migration and the refugee experience. Two of these titles are written in Spanish, while the other title is in French. As per usual, the Photo Translate app that I shared a few months ago helped me out a great deal, not to mention the ever-reliable (although not always very accurate, but I take what I can get) Google Translate.


Written and Illustrated By: Pere Ginard
Published by: A Buen Paso, 2009
ISBN13: 9788493721114. Language: Spanish Borrowed from International Youth Library Munich. Book photos taken by me.

This is a book about the hope that the word América inspires in the narrator – a word, that for too long, has been equated with notions of freedom and equality, the land of honey and gold, built on the backs of immigrants.

The Book Depository summary is in Spanish which I have translated here through Google Translate:

Each gorgeous page has a very small caption that captures that desire for beauty, belonging, enchantment.

While on the one hand, the narrative may be perceived at face value, taken for what it is; on the other hand, it may also be unpacked further in light of what America represents now, the rising hate crimes against immigrants, the growing xenophobia, and the alarming White supremacist sentiments about what America being great again truly means.

Juxtaposed with this book’s message, I wonder what the word “America” signifies now.

Caja De Cartón (Cardboard Box)

Written By: Txabi Arnal Illustrated by: Hassan Amekan Language: Spanish
Published by: Oqo Editora, 2010
ISBN: 8498712157 (ISBN13: 9788498712155)Borrowed from International Youth Library, Munich. Book photos taken by me.

This book lived inside my heart, tore it into small shreds, and then patched the fragments back together with brown packing tape. This book tells a profoundly moving story about a mother who has spent all of the family’s savings to purchase a ticket “for a boat that was to take us to a land where the girls do not sleep in boxes nor do the mums cry.”

The story goes on to show how mother and child found some measure of happiness eventually, despite their squalid surroundings and their seemingly-hopeless circumstances:

While the author of this story, Txabi Arnal is from Spain, the illustrator Hassan Amekan is from Iran. The lyrical text was paired wonderfully with this heartbreaking earth-toned art that gnaws at one’s insides.

This profoundly moving story made me feel so grateful that I live in a world where something as beautiful as this book exists, but it also made me despair at the fact that there are too many narratives like these that happen to children in the world. This is a book to find and cherish for all the emotions it evokes in the reader.

Little Man

Written and Illustrated By: Antoine Guillope
Published by:  Gautier Languereau, 2014
ISBN: 2010010183 (ISBN13: 9782010010187)Language: French. Borrowed from International Youth Library Munich. Book photos taken by me.

Quite similar to Pere Ginard’s América, this picturebook is predicated on the American Dream. It depicts this young boy named Cassius who is dreaming of being free in what is ostensibly (and arguably) the Land of the Free, New York City.

The first four pages of the book suggest that Cassius is dreaming that he is walking freely in the streets of New York, and that the adults who are actually chasing him, are simply playing hide-and-seek with him.

It has the same vibe as the Academy Award Winning Italian film Life is Beautiful, in that, it transforms the unforgiving and harsh reality of the present – to one that is magical, beautiful, and ultimately hopeful.

The story also alludes to Cassius’ old home, and the war that “forced him to cross the ocean” to this new place, that the images suggest, has actually put him behind bars, despite his beautiful fantasies and dreams.

The ending shows this White figure who is telling Cassius that soon they would cross that bridge to freedom. This is another picturebook that made my jaw drop. The cut-out artwork is … exquisite, and powerful enough to portray such distilled, sparse text that conveyed the whole world encompassing Cassius’ innermost desires. Find this book and experience it for yourself.

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1 comment on “[IYL Finds | Saturday Reads] International Non-English Picturebooks that Deal with Migration and the Refugee Experience

  1. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] My 2017 in Books, Reading Stats, and Best Books Read in 2017 Across Genres – Gathering Books

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