REFUGEE Final Front Cover

by Alan Gratz

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Related Activities & Resources:

Informational Resources:

Author Information:

Alan Gratz website:

Author bio:

A tour of Alan Gratz’ office (4:45):

Activities & Resources:


Refugee discussion guide:

Immigration and Emigration:

Children living in refugee camps talk about what they have lost (3:05):

Meet Young Immigrants:

World War II:

World War II:



Germany Facts:!/register

German Foods for Kids:


Jewish History:

Jewish Foods:


Cuban Foods:


Syrian Facts:

Syrian Foods:

Aleppo History:


Sunnis and Shiites:


Central America and Caribbean Map:

European Map:

Middle East Map:

North America Map:

MakerSpace Activities:

Estimate the distances traveled by Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud. Calculate how long and how much these journeys would have taken today using the fastest and easiest traveling methods available. How do they compare to how the characters in the book were able to travel? Create a print or computer-designed travel brochure for one of the places described in the book.

Create your own miniature raft, using materials you find around your home or at school. Have a contest to see which combinations of materials float the longest. Create a short video of contest participants sharing what they learned in the process.

Use the makerspace to make an applesauce cake, a dessert Josef may have enjoyed. Use the recipe found here:

Create a 3-D map of one of the countries mentioned in Refugee. Use this site for instructions, including a salt dough recipe: Map outlines can be found here:

Discussion Questions:

Have you ever been unexpectedly awakened in the middle of the night? Were you panicked or scared? Explain how this experience affected you.

Josef is excitedly counting down the days until he becomes a man at age 13. When do you feel like you will really feel like an adult? Are you excited for that day to come, or would you rather stay young for longer? Explain the reason for your choice.

Josef does not want to leave his country, but his family must do so. How would you feel if you had to leave the only place you had ever lived? Describe the preparations you would make for this departure.

How did you feel when Josef entered the compartment on the train where Jewish people were not welcome? Describe your prediction for how the journey would end at that point in the story.

Should Josef have enjoyed his childhood more and played on the boat like the other kids did, or was it better that he watched out for others and behaved more mature than they did? Explain the reasons that helped you make your choice.

Would you have been willing to give up your freedom and possibly your life for a younger sibling as Josef did?  What reasons led you to make this choice?

Isabel has very little food but is willing to share it with a kitten. Would you do the same thing if you were hungry but saw another person or an animal who was in need? Why or why not?

Isabel sold her most prized possession to help buy gas for the raft. How did the fact that she sold her favorite thing make you feel about Isabel? What would you be willing to sell in order to help your family escape a bad situation? Share how you reached your decision and how selling this possession would be a sacrifice.

What would be your biggest fear about getting onto a rickety raft to escape to freedom as Isabel, her family, and their friends did? Describe your experience of stepping onto the boat for the first time.

How did you feel when Isabel’s raft went off course? How would your feelings affect your behavior if you were in a similar situation?

At the beginning of their journey, did you think that Isabel and everyone on the raft would make their way to Florida? What reason and information supported your decision?

What clues in the book help to explain why Isabel’s grandfather sacrificed himself so that everyone else on the raft could reach land?

Is there something about you that others have used as an excuse to treat you differently? If so,describe your experience of being treated differently from others in the group.

If you had to leave your house immediately, which items would you most want to take with you? What would you be willing to leave behind? Explain.

When Mahmoud’s apartment is destroyed, his mother takes time to gather a few things before she leaves. What would you take if you had to leave your home in an emergency? How would your choices be different if you had to carry everything for a long distance?

How did you feel when Mahmoud’s family was robbed? Describe your response to people who would take advantage of a family in that situation.

Imagine that you were homeless in a place where you didn’t know anyone besides your family. Share some actions you would take to try to survive in that situation.

Which part of Mahmoud’s story did you find the most stressful? Explain why you chose this particular section of the character’s story.

Did you think that everyone would leave the detainment area? Would you have led, followed, or stayed behind in a similar situation? Explain your decision.

With which character in Refugee did you most identify? Describe why you selected this particular character.

In each of the three stories, someone was lost during the trip. Which character’s absence did you find the most distressing? Why?

Were you surprised by the way all of the stories were linked together? Why or why not?

Book Talk Teasers:

Have the students act out the Readers Theater. Afterwards, discuss what each of the characters have in common.

Visit, a web site featuring information about Refugee. Read the book description or have the students watch the book trailer on that page.

Read Alikes:

Immigration and Emigration

Gale, Emily. The other side of Summer. Summer’s father moves their family to Australia after the sudden death of her brother Floyd, and the only thing that keeps her grounded is Floyd’s guitar, which was miraculously unharmed in the bombing that killed him. (NoveList)

Gunderson, Jessica. Emma’s new beginning. In 1910 eleven-year-old Emma and her ethnically German family immigrate to America from Russia to escape poverty and tyranny, but on her journey she encounters hardships on the overcrowded ship, inspection at Ellis Island, and the struggle to reunite with her father and brother in North Dakota. (NoveList)

Paterson, Katherine. The day of the pelican. In 1998 when the Kosovo hostilities escalate, thirteen-year-old Meli’s life as an ethnic Albanian, changes forever after her brother escapes his Serbian captors and the entire family flees from one refugee camp to another until they are able to immigrate to America. (NoveList)

Parallel Narratives

Cooper, Susan. Victory. Alternating chapters follow the mysterious connection between a homesick English girl living in present-day America and an eleven-year-old boy serving in the British Royal Navy in 1803, aboard the H.M.S. Victory, commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson. (NoveList)

Creech, Sharon. The great unexpected. Traces the parallel stories of estranged Irish sisters Sybil and Nula and American orphans Naomi and Lizzie, whose respective explorations into their identities and struggles with misfortune are told in rotating voices. (NoveList)

Smy, Pam. Thornhill. Parallel, interwoven stories set in different times—one told through intimate diary entries and the other through bold, striking art—converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned building next door. Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, breathtakingly illustrated and masterfully told. (NoveList)


Fajardo, Alexis E. Kid Beowulf: the song of Roland. Banished from their homeland, the brothers, Beowulf and Grendel, seek refuge with their Uncle Holger in far-off France, but by the time they arrive, the kingdom is in shambles. (NoveList)

Pinkney, Andrea Davis. The red pencil. After her tribal village is attacked by militants, Amira, a young Sudanese girl, must flee to safety at a refugee camp, where she finds hope and the chance to pursue an education in the form of a single red pencil and the friendship and encouragement of a wise elder. (NoveList)

Senzai, N. H. Shooting Kabul. Escaping from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in the summer of 2001, eleven-year-old Fadi and his family immigrate to the San Francisco Bay Area, where Fadi schemes to return to the Pakistani refugee camp where his little sister was accidentally left behind. (NoveList)


Kelly, Erin Entrada. Hello, universe. Lives of four misfits are intertwined when a bully’s prank lands shy Virgil at the bottom of a well and Valencia, Kaori, and Gen band together in an epic quest to find and rescue him. (NoveList)

Patron, Susan. The higher power of Lucky. Fearing that her legal guardian plans to abandon her to return to France, ten-year-old aspiring scientist Lucky Trimble determines to run away while also continuing to seek the Higher Power that will bring stability to her life. (NoveList)

Rundell, Katherine. Cartwheeling in thunderstorms. Will must find her way after she’s plucked out of a wonderful life in Zimbabwe and forced to go to boarding school in England. (NoveList)


Refugee  by Alan Gratz

Intermediate, Middle School Scholastic 343 pp. 7/17 978-0-545-88083-1 $16.99  e-book ed.  978-0-545-88087-9 $10.99
Gratz’s stirring novel humanizes the plight of refugees worldwide. Told in alternating chapters, the book follows fictional child refugees from three different eras whose stories ultimately, and surprisingly, converge. In 1939 Josef and his family, who are Jewish, hope to escape Nazi Germany on the notorious MS St. Louis bound for Cuba. Fifty-plus years later, Isabel’s family and their neighbors sail a homemade boat toward Miami away from riots and starvation in Havana. And in 2015 Mahmoud and his family flee war-torn Aleppo by foot, car, and raft to build a new life in Germany. Gratz doesn’t downplay the trials that refugees endure, as discrimination, betrayal, death, and the elements themselves bar the way. The narrative keeps readers on edge throughout these perilous, wrenching journeys but allows for suitably poetic turns during quieter moments of reflection: “This trip, this odyssey, was pulling his family apart, stripping them away like leaves from the trees in the fall.” An appended author’s note details the true circumstances that inspired Gratz’s story and includes organizations that help refugees today, reinforcing the novel’s timely reminder of humanity’s common ground and the need for kindness and charitable actions toward displaced persons. RUSSELL PERRY
From the November/December 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Reprinted fromThe Horn Book Magazine by permission of The Horn Book, Inc.,

Gratz, Allan.  Refugee.  Scholastic Press, 2017. School Library Journal (July 1, 2017)
Gr 5-7-Gratz presents three interrelated stories about surviving. The tales center on children and their families who are driven from their homes by war, violence, and unrest. Josef must leave Nazi-controlled Germany with his mother, his sister, and his mentally broken father (just returned to them from Auschwitz). He sails across the Atlantic Ocean on the ill-fated St. Louis only to be turned away from Cuba and returned to Europe. Isabel and her family live in Cuba and escape on a makeshift raft during the exodus in the 1990s. They flee the repression and poverty of Fidel Castro’s rule. Mahmoud, a Syrian boy, and his family seek refuge from the ongoing war and violence in their home city of Aleppo. They board a dinghy in order to cross the Aegean sea from Turkey to Greece. All the entries share elements of hardship, fear, and trauma and stress the power of love, family, and incredible sacrifice. Gratz, who is known for well-written and well-researched historical fiction, doesn’t disappoint. His latest is timely and moving. VERDICT This compelling novel will help young people make sense of today’s refugee crisis. Meant to be read, discussed, and shared widely. A first purchase.-Patricia Feriano, -Montgomery County Public Schools, MD © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.  Reprinted with permission from School Library Journal , 2017