Children’s literature in critical contexts of displacement

Published: 15 December 2021

Researchers are working to meet the needs of displaced and/or marginalised children who have experienced trauma and violence, through story and arts-based approaches.

Over half of the nearly 25.4 million refugees worldwide are under the age of 18. While governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attempt to address the physical needs of displaced minors, there remains a lack of resource and strategy to meet their needs in terms of social and cultural integration.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow ‘Safe Spaces’ Network are working with low-and-middle-income countries to identify and develop solutions that meet the needs of displaced and/or marginalised children who have experienced trauma and violence, through story and arts-based approaches that can prepare them to engage in potential transitions to peace.

Collaboration to understand the challenges

The initial project, led by Dr Evelyn Arizpe from the School of Education, brought together academics and third sector partners with expertise in children’s literature, migration and education to create a network that builds on common expertise and best practice in using children’s literature and the arts to help negotiate the current challenges stemming from multi-ethnic contexts of flux and precarious resources.

Funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund has enabled the research team to expand their work with academic partners in Egypt, Guatemala and Mexico, as well as NGOs, governmental agencies and volunteer initiatives to focus on the areas of concern affecting the cognitive and emotional welfare of displaced children.

When children and young adults have had little or no formal education because of forced migration and contexts of violence or economic precarity, they need an approach to learning which is mediated, comfortable and enjoyable.

The original research showed that when picturebooks, with their unique combination of words and images, are used to encourage creative response, they can construct a hospitable space for minors to share their experiences and learn about the experiences of others, even when they speak different languages, come from different cultures and have different levels of education.

Supported by the findings of these studies, resources and practices have been developed for the training of teachers and mediators on how to best use picturebooks with minors in fragile contexts. It is important that appropriate books are used, so that children feel comfortable and engaged and can recognise circumstances that they relate to.

Success within this area of learning can be simple actions such as children seeking books or talking among themselves about experiences—these are often very significant steps within this context.

Empowering others

In Mexico, volunteers working with children and young adults who have experienced migration or forced displacement, have undergone the training within the new Programme for Migrants and are changing their regular reading promotion activities in order to work more effectively with this population. So far, training has been given to 264 mediators working in ten states who work with readers in refuges for migrants or community spaces such as refectories, centres for social re-adaptation and agricultural workers communities.

Evelyn Arizpe      The delicate work of supporting vulnerable children requires appropriate tools and expertise. In contexts of displacement and poverty, the resources to support vulnerable children are often limited. An international team led by Dr Evelyn Arizpe at the University of Glasgow has developed toolkits to support people who work directly with children experiencing vulnerability in its

The research group are also working with third-sector organisations in Cairo and have delivered training and outreach activities, attended by 40 people. A toolkit has been developed to support partner organisations and their staff to use children’s literature in locally identified safe spaces, evaluate its effectiveness, and report and share the outcomes with identified partners, while protecting the children, young people and families involved.    

A website has been developed to house resources and act as an ongoing generative space for new initiatives. The website: was launched in May 2019 and will serve as a hub for network members to share ideas on how to support their communities.  

Children's literature in critical contexts of displacement

Children's literature in critical contexts of displacement

First published: 15 December 2021