Picture book project is first of its kind to explore experiences of refugee children

Picture book project is first of its kind to explore experiences of refugee children
Research news / Alumni news

Tuesday 04 December 2018

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Children living as or among refugees have created their own picture-books to tell their stories and help others see that they are not alone as part of a pioneering research project across Canada and Coventry.

The Picture Book project is the first of its kind to explore both the experiences and the creativity of displaced young people through picture book making, and has led to creation of a collection of stories which can now be borrowed from libraries in both countries.

The work brings together researchers from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Canada; Coventry University; and 40 young people living in both cities as refugees or in families who have experience of being refugees.

The storytellers, all aged between eight and 19, worked with local artists to either retell tales from their cultures, share their own experiences, or write about things they loved to help them to connect with their new communities - and show other children in similar circumstances that they are not alone.

Launching in Coventry Central Library on Wednesday, December 5, the project illustrates the challenges and opportunities that shape the lives of displaced young people in both countries, while helping make sure cultural and linguistic connections to their home countries are not lost.

More crucially, it will add to strategies that enable positive visibility of refugee children and their communities, and contribute to discussions on how to build social connections and solidarity across international borders.

The books are now available for borrowing from Coventry library, and as e-books in both regions.

The project has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) with partners including the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, Coventry Libraries, Coventry City Council and Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

Senior research fellow at Coventry University

This has been a fantastic opportunity for young people with refugee experiences to learn skills in art and storytelling and create their own books, often for the first time.
These young people, especially those who have recently arrived in Coventry, have often dreamed of writing their own stories or drawing their own pictures but have not had the opportunity so this is a very interesting way of looking at a whole range of experiences through their eyes.

For others it was a way to finally have their stories recognised, or to tackle stereotypes about their past, including that as refugees they would be arrived in the UK by boat.
They have been able to share their stories as a way to build understanding and give recognition to their skills and potential, and we hope it will help build a better understanding of their circumstances."

Dr EJ Milne

Assistant professor and director of art education, NSCAD University

This research partnership explores how art and creative production can enable us to see beyond ourselves; to reject concepts of difference that divide and exclude. We aim to embrace and highlight the perspectives and the visualisation of young people’s lives that are too often erased or ignored.

We already know the benefits of reading picture books to the development of language skills, empathy, and critical thinking. But our project is the first of its kind to examine the role that the creation of these artistic and literacy materials by refugee children themselves plays in the culture of tolerance and acceptance.

There is so little research examining the experiences and creative capacities of refugee children, information which is urgently needed for understanding their social integration and supporting their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

For us as adults, this research is about learning how to become allies of young people in ways that provide a witnessing space for their knowledge and experiences."

Dr April Mandrona

From the libraries and information services at Coventry City Council

There is something very different about these books and it is wonderful to see something that is so emotive and which so closely reflects the lives and experiences of children. These stories are very special and what the project has done in sharing them and helping other people understand a different way of life is amazing."

Sorrelle Clements

Another illustration from the picture book project

Image: from A Tale of Two Girls, by Reyhaneh Gholami and Yeganeh Gholami