3 Canadian Picture Books in English for Refugee Kids and Their Parents

Canada is welcoming Syrian refugee families this year, and they’ll have varying ages and levels of English. For readers who have a grasp of English sentences, here are three Canadian picture books at three easy reading levels.

From Far Away
Text by Robert Munsch and Saoussan Askar
Art by Michael Martchenko

“From Far Away” is Saoussan Askar’s story of leaving war in Lebanon in 1991, and coming to Canada at the age of five. As a seven-year-old writer, Saoussan describes the shock of travelling a long way and the embarrassment at not knowing English in school. She even conveys post-traumatic stress disorder and recovery without using those particular words.

The language and sentences comprise simple paragraphs for confident beginners. To keep the reading easy, the text is short and focuses on the main points. But Michael Martchenko’s art tells a deeper story that Munsch would not have fit into the text. If you read this book, read the body and facial expressions, symbols, and colours in the illustrations, whose depth makes this easy read as complex as a novel.

“From Far Away” is relateable to anyone who has lived through war, but it also helps established Canadians understand what it feels like to be a refugee.

(PS: Robert, Saoussan and Michael are all immigrants!)

A Ticket Around the World
Text by Natalia Diaz and Melissa Owens
Art by Kim Smith

“A Ticket Around the World” has something for everyone. Dynamic visual design makes different elements work seamlessly. Confident readers and beginners will enjoy reading this book together.

Look inside to see varied content. Every two-page spread focuses on one country. Floating illustrations and connected text make this print book interactive, as readers can freely choose which section to examine next. Though the design is fluid, each section is easy to distinguish with lines, coloured areas and enough space between them. Big country names, maps and animals give early readers something to participate with. Older readers will glean more detail from the text, which includes paragraphs in smaller type.

“A Ticket Around the World” paints travelling and learning about new cultures in a positive light, and could help kids feel optimistic about discovering a new country.

Discovering Canada’s Government
Text by Daniel Francis
Edited by J. Bradley Cruxton
With photos from several newspaper and media archives

“Discovering Canada’s Government” outlines how Canadian government works in simple terms. Among the many sections of this 80-page book is a summary of the most beloved points of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In my edition, it’s on Page 34, in the chapter called, “The Constitution.” (The full Charter is online for advanced readers.)

While all the books in this article are educational, “Discovering Canada’s Government” is designed to feel like a teaching tool. The page layouts are like a newspaper with columns of paragraphs. Every page has at least one prominent photo to keep the text manageable.

The paragraphs are short enough for some readers, but there is a lot of text so it might appear overwhelming to beginners. Adults and older kids may try reading one section at a time to younger kids. There are vocabulary words in bold type to look up in the glossary. “Something to Do” sections are designed for students but the questions give casual readers interesting topics to discuss.

This isn’t a government-published book like the ones Canada provides for new immigrants to study, but this one is easier to read with larger type and simpler language.

Visit the Library

Refugees who want to improve their English and read with their kids will find that Canadian libraries have brilliant children’s sections. A Canadian picture book is more than the sum of its parts, bringing together wise writers with innovative designers and stylish illustrators. When easy books are well-made, even experienced readers enjoy them. Picture books are for everybody!

Thank you for reading…

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