In light of recent events, I felt this post was an important one to write. This is definitely a tricky topic that I’m going to tackle here, but I think it is essential to help students understand current events happening in their world. Of course, if you know me, you know I LOVE using a mentor text to integrate across content as much as possible!
Your students have most likely heard the word, “refugee,” in the news a lot lately. It would be a good idea to help them understand the difference between a refugee and an immigrant- especially those of you that teach about immigration in social studies. You can download this definition sheet as a pre-reading activity:
The official definition is, “someone who flees persecution and conflict.” The vocabulary used in the definition is pretty high-level, so use the activity above to help students define flee, persecution, and conflict. You might have students even write synonyms or real-world examples of the words. (I have included some in the download, too, to help you!) It would be a good idea to have students put that definition in their own words to help them understand the meaning of REFUGEE. Although similar to some immigrants who move to a new country seeking a new life, refugees are different from immigrants because they are forced to leave their home for survival.
Once they understand the word, read them the book, Gleam and Glow, by Eve Bunting. I adore all of Eve Bunting’s books because she tackles deep issues in ways that students can understand, and aren’t too scary or overwhelming for them.
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I appreciate School Library Journal’s description of this book, and couldn’t really say it better myself, so I am going to share their review below:
With her noted skill in presenting difficult topics with clarity and sensitivity, Bunting has written an inspiring story based on the true experience of a Bosnian family forced to flee their country during the recent civil war. Eight-year-old Viktor watches as his father walks away to join the Liberation Army, and knows that soon he, his mother, and younger sister, Marina, will be forced to leave their home, just one step ahead of the approaching enemy forces. Already, strangers pass through Viktor’s town on their way to the border. One man leaves his two golden fish with the family, explaining that, “An extra day or two of life is as important to a fish as it is to us.” But just a few days later, as they ready themselves to depart, Viktor releases the fish into their pond. After days of walking and weeks of living in a refugee camp, the boy and his mother and sister share a glorious reunion with Papa and eventually return home. The land is ravaged by war and their home is destroyed but the fish have survived, even thrived-they and their offspring fill the pond. The simple, elegant language is at once moving and eloquent when juxtaposed with Sylvada’s expressive oil paintings. The artist’s palette of rich earth tones and striking brushwork reflect the strong emotional tenor of the story. Focusing on the fearsome impact of war upon families and children, and on those things that allow people to retain their humanity, this book deserves to be introduced and discussed.
The oil paintings in Gleam and Glow are beautiful, and as always, so is Eve Bunting’s language. The theme of hope and strength is evident throughout the story.
Because this book is based on the true experience of a refugee family, you can help students understand what is occuring in other countries by stopping and discussing while you read.
Important Times to Stop and Discuss
At the beginning, after Papa leaves to help fight the enemy, Mama says they would have to leave soon because it was getting too dangerous to stay. Explain that there is conflict (war) that will force the family to flee.
The family must walk to the border. Discuss that the country where they lived (Bosnia) was involved in a war, but a neighboring country was not. They would be safe if they left their country- crossing the border. It is a very far walk. This is how it is for present-day refugees that must walk, too. Talk about how people who would walk for many miles to escape their country would only do this to survive and be safe.
Mama, Viktor, and Marina must leave everything behind except for a few essential items that they carry in their bundles. Have students imagine leaving their home and all of their possessions behind, except for a few things that they could carry.
The evidence of humanity is strong in this book. You can point out instances when strangers helped each other many times throughout the book.
Once the family crosses the border, they stay in a refugee camp. This is also the case for present-day refugees. Discuss the difficulty of living in a tent for a very long time, cooking food on a fire. Have students imagine again how different it would be from living in their home- having to make all new friends, too.
Papa is reunited with his family in the camp. This happens sometimes, but often, families must live without each other for a very long time.
Walking home, and arriving home, they see that nothing is left. This family chose to return home and try to rebuild once it was safe, but for many refugees today, wars go on for years and years. Refugees must make the decision to start over in a new country, or live in the refugee camp, which do not have good conditions.
Integrating With Reading and Writing
Reading: Use this book for summarizing, character traits, theme, providing evidence, and more! Like all of Eve Bunting’s books, the rich and deep content is wonderful for upper grades students to practice comprehension skills.
Writing: There is vivid language (and figurative language) in this book that you can use as examples of mentor sentences. This book is also a good one to use for reflections – have them think of what they would take with them if they had to leave their home like Viktor and Marina did.