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Why a children's book on the refugee crisis is what society needs right now


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Having recently attended a talk given by Nicola Davis on her latest children's book addressing the refugee crisis, I feel the time is right to stop hiding the next generation from issues they will eventually have to face.

On the 25th of April 2016, Parliament voted to reject 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees on the UK’s behalf and that was the moment that children’s author Nicola Davies decided she had had enough.

Child Refugees

She described herself as “furious” at the decision, having decided that the Government had truly lost its way.

Around the same time, she discovered a story about a refugee child who had walked into a school near their camp and was turned away because all the chairs were full.

The next day the same child returned, this time with a broken chair, and asked again inspiring Davies to write the poem 3,000 Chairs.

This poem went on to inspire the Twitter campaign #3000chairs, in which users were encouraged to paint, draw or make a chair and send it in.

The essential aim of the project was to send a message of “welcome” and the response was incredible. 

When writing this poem, which has now been released as a picture book, Davies focused on the idea of childhood innocence and how we as a society try to shield children from bad news.

Speaking at a recent talk, the author explained her frustration at this ideology, saying that it is impossible in the age of screens, images, social media to keep what is going on in the world a secret from our children.

In response to some adult's declaring her work was  “too upsetting” for children, the author branded such claims as “nonsense” and further showed her frustration by noting that “it’s because adults do not want to have to talk about it and explain about the s**t in the world”.

“Of course we must talk about it with sensitivity but it is essential that we do have these conversations and open ourselves up to these questions [that children will ask].”

The illustrator, Rebecca Cobbs, added that the reason adults do not like talking about this issue is that they are “embarrassed” they are allowing it to happen.

At the end of the day, children are the next generation and will, eventually, have to deal with this issue.

One of the speakers was an education and humanitarian worker from Syria who had been a refugee herself.

She talked about her work in Lebanon with children and how she had come across one 5 year old girl who did not want to live anymore because the situation around her had become so dire.

Why should we try and pretend to our children that the world is “pink and fluffy”, as Davies put it, when it so clearly isn't?

Children are generally empathetic and have a natural sense of right and wrong.

When asked about children’s responses to the reading of the book in schools, Davies was excited.

She gushed that she loved the conversations it opened up and how it “enables me to ask the question 'what do you think that would be like? To lose your home, your family, everything that your life once was'”.

I also asked Davies if she felt limited at any point in writing the book, and whether she had to tone her work down at all.

She admits that she has, but only once, replacing the line  The line “a beach where babies lay face down in the sand” with the slightly less distressing  “a beach where shoes lay empty in the sand”.

With this being said, Davies made it clear that this was the only part that she felt she should alter.

Of course, when conveying such a sensitive issue to children through a book, authors have to be careful that the text will pass the ‘censorship’ of the adults promoting the book.

However, I think that Davies has produced something rather special, in not allowing herself to have these restrictions imposed upon her.

 The Day the War Came is a hard-hitting read.

Its raw honesty does what so many news stories have failed to do; It connects not just with children, but with the older generations.

It shows the reader that these people were once just like us as one minute this child is learning about volcanoes in school and then, in a split second, everything they knew and loved had been snatched from them.

There may be many people who react negatively to this message of aid.

Indeed, many believe that the government is doing its best to help refugees and are simply limited by resources and space.

However, I would argue that for such a large crisis, affecting such a large proportion of the world’s population, not nearly enough conversation is continuing on this issue.

I hope, as does Nicola Davies, that this book will stop the refugee crisis from being buried under other news and that the questions it inspires in our children will prevent these people from being forgotten in order to continue trying to resolve the refugee crisis.

Lead Image: Lydia Liu

Image: ResoluteSupportMedia


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