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Saturday 23 April 2022

Personal narratives of children’s lived experience – in books

An interesting extension on previous work from Victoria Ryle, informed by her doctoral studies, that explores the importance of providing migrant and refugee children with opportunities to share their stories.

A recent article considers personal narratives of forced migration and refugee experience in children’s literature (Tomsic & Zbaracki, 2022). The authors argue for greater understanding of what is added by the children’s voices beyond the stories recounted by adult authors:

Publishing a child’s story validates their voice as well as refuting the more dominant and sometimes stereotypical refugee stories that circulate. […] [A]ll children deserve to share their stories and have their experiences validated and respected. While commercially published children’s literature can provide exposure to some of these issues, children’s actual stories are a distinct and direct means for children to see themselves in stories, as well as to understand what others may have experienced. And this is what children’s literature should embrace as a part of its genre; stories about children, written by children, to share with children. (Tomsic & Zbaracki, 2022, p. 15) 

© Image: Kids' Own Publishing

My doctoral research asks how educators purposefully publish books with, by, and for children. Here, I reflect more broadly on the role of publishing books to address directly important issues that affect children’s lives. Examples from my archive, for example, include children’s experience of homelessness in Ireland; identifying as a member of the Traveller community in Ireland; and the experience of starting school through the eyes of kindergarten and prep children. Sometimes this approach to publishing books tackles big topics from the ground up, such as gender equality by exploring friendship with pre-schoolers to counter future family violence. 

Valuing authentic insights of children, as shared with both child and adult audiences through publishing books has taken central stage in a number of recent projects here in Tasmania. My last blog in this space focussed on lockdown publishing while living in a pandemic. In 2021, the Tasmanian Commissioner for Children consulted with 156 children from across the State working with artists and arts-led approaches, to discover what was most important to children’s wellbeing. This consultation process informed the development of  When I Wake Up I Smile, a picture book guiding Tasmania’s child wellbeing policy and proving an effective communication tool to reach a broader audience attracted to this child’s-eye perspective.

A book in development in Ireland is giving voice to children’s experience of the care system in Ireland, through a book to be published shortly. Now I am involved in a similar publishing project in Tasmania that aims to highlight systemic issues faced by children in out-of-home care and increase understanding of their lives. Who better to understand their needs and priorities than a child with direct experience of out-of-home care? Young participants engage in an editorial process to raise valuable questions: whose book is it? How might space be shared with adults who have valuable oversight of facts and knowledge? Most crucially, who do the young people envisage will read their book and what are the messages this audience needs to hear? 

The point of publishing books with children in such a way is not to have all the answers, not to publish something perfect, but to engage in a genuine process of collective collaboration with groups of children and young people, to take creative risks and present the best book we can within constraints of time and budget.


Tomsic, M., & Zbaracki, M., D. (2022). It’s all about the story: Personal narratives in children’s literature about refugees. British educational research journal. 

Children’s books referred to in this article – by children:

Syrian and Palestinian children living in County Mayo. (2018). A strong heart: A book of stories and dreams for the future by Syrian and Palestinian children living in County Mayo. Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership.
Boe, W., Tu Tu, P., Chol, B., Qurbani, H., & Deng, D. (2018). Our world of colour. Kids’ Own Publishing.
From the children of CAN Carlton Homework Club Family Learning Programme. (2014). Our African family stories. Kids’ Own Publishing.
South Sudanese Refugee Children Living in Australia. (2012). Donkeys can’t fly on planes: Stories of survival from South Sudanese refugee children living in Australia. Kids’ Own Publishing.

Stories, memories, jokes and travel tips by Melbourne children. (2004). Kidsown journeys. Kids’ Own Publishing.

Related picture books – by adults:

Del Rizzo, S. (2017). My beautiful birds. Pyjama Press.

Kobald, I., & Blackwood, F. (2014). My two blankets. Little Hare.

Leatherdale, M. B., & Shakespeare, E. (2017). Stormy seas: Stories of young boat refugees. 

Annick Press.

Phi, B., & Bui, T. (2017). A different pond. Picture Window Books.

UNHCR. (2019). Forced to flee: Refugee children drawing on their experiences. Franklin Watts. 

Vass, C., & Huynh, C. (2020). Grandma’s treasured shoes. National Library of Australia. 

Victoria Ryle

Victoria Ryle is a PhD candidate researching co-publishing books with children at the University of Tasmania https://www.publishingbookswithchildren.com/

She is also the co-founder of Kids’ Own Publishing https://kidsownpublishing.com/about/ 

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