'A Well-Founded fear’: Children’s literature about refugees and its role in the primary classroom

Hope, Julia. 2015. 'A Well-Founded fear’: Children’s literature about refugees and its role in the primary classroom. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This study begins by identifying a new genre in writing for young people which has developed rapidly since the millennium, namely that of children’s literature about refugees. It questions whether these books have a role to play in understanding and validating the circumstances of refugees in the primary classroom. Taking as my starting point the UNHCR definition of a refugee as one who has a “well-founded fear” of persecution (1951), I consider the consequences of this position for children and its depiction in two commonly used books in primary schools: Mary Hoffman’s The Colour of Home (2002) and Beverley Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth (2000). Making a vertical case study of each book, through an author/ teacher/ child trajectory, I trace the motivations and aims of the two writers, how the books are mediated by teachers in the primary classroom, and how refugee and non-refugee children read, understand and respond to them.

Using a variety of qualitative methods, I present data suggesting that pupils in five classes gained valuable insight into a complicated and controversial issue. However viewing children through a refugee/non-refugee binary was reductive, not recognising the multi-layered nuances of meaning which were constructed at all ages. Furthermore, while the primary curriculum in England does not promote reading for socio-political understanding, but focuses on literacy rather than literature goals, teachers played a powerful role in mediating the texts when sharing them in the classroom, and devised a selection of stimulating resources to aid with planning for reader response and some “critical literacy”. I also conclude that, as the genre becomes ever more popular with authors, writers need to engage in robust research, give “voice to the voiceless”, and have a responsibility to their readers to present positive images of refugees’ resilience.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Children’s Literature, refugees, critical literacy, critical pedagogy, reader response, controversial issues, primary school, reading in the primary curriculum, literacy in the primary years

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies


31 July 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

06 Aug 2015 10:24

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:33



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