Wednesday, June 20, 2018

I Never Dreamed We Would Be Here - By Barbara DiLorenzo

At the end of the school year, I hardly notice anything on my calendar that isn't essential. But looking over our paper calendar, I noticed "World Refugee Day" printed under the number 20. One year ago, on June 20, my debut picture book, RENATO AND THE LION, arrived in bookstores. I celebrated the release with friends at  SCBWI Eastern PA (thank you, Virginia Law Manning!) but was still in a fog due to a new baby in the house. I didn't notice that the publishers had picked June 20, World Refugee Day, as the book's release date.

To be honest, when I wrote the story, I was crafting something that felt connected to a different time. I didn't think that the story of a boy fleeing from Europe in WWII would be relevant to children today. I wasn't sure a story about WWII would be appropriate or interest young readers. The editor, in her wisdom, assured me that children across the globe still dealt with war and the effects of violence– and that this story was relevant. But in my naivete, I imagined my audience more connected to happier stories with brighter colors.

I never imagined we would be here.

I never, in my wildest thoughts, could have anticipated a school visit like the one I had today, where I felt bold in stating to the audience: "Here is an illustration of refugees fleeing a country at war to come to the United States–because President Roosevelt wanted these men, women, and children to be safe." I said this sentence out loud, wondering if I had crossed a line, made the presentation uncomfortably political. This sentence! A sentence which in a prior administration, would have been yawningly boring. I could imagine a younger me in an audience in the 1980's hearing that, and thinking, "Yes, yes, we welcome people. We are the United States of America. That's our thing. Not really news."

But today, news of children, of refugees at our border, being used as a political pawn in a game where our current administration wants to deter more folks from entering our country–this sentence felt like a small protest. I wanted the children in the audience to know that despite what all the adults think today, 74 years ago adults did something different. As a country, we've gotten so much wrong in terms of human rights. But for one moment, our president did the right thing in bringing people here, away from war. Once they arrived, unfortunately, they were carted up to Oswego, NY, where they lived in an encampment. But the children were allowed to go to school in town, and families were kept together. At the end of the war, the refugees were allowed to become citizens. Some returned to Europe, but most stayed. One became a restauranteur–Doris Schechter (see illustration outlining Easter Eggs in the book–like her portrait–below). I recommend her restaurant, My Most Favorite Food–on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It's delicious!

Although I wrote the story, and write about the current political crisis here, on a blog, I feel so powerless. All I can think of is that when I wrote this book–I wondered over and over how people could allow their leaders to work in such dark ways. I wondered how much the average citizens knew. I wondered how deep the racism and anti-semitism ran throughout the countries in Europe. I wondered about everything.

Sadly, I feel like I don't have to wonder anymore.

But along with fellow writers, I feel an obligation to bring hope to younger readers–even when I feel a little scared myself. Dark days have been a part of our history before. But as the Reverand Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

But the kids involved in today's refugee crisis don't have time to see this arc play out. To get involved, please visit:

Thank you. 

Written by Barbara DiLorenzo | |

Thoughts expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the group. No one has said otherwise, but I would not presume to speak for everyone. 


  1. The Kid Lit community has come together and set something up. Read the PW article, Kid Lit says No Kids in Cages Here:
    Sign the Pledge:
    Donate Here:
    Spread the word.

  2. Beautiful post, Barbara. Thank you.

  3. This is beautiful, Barbara, and just as I have every time I think, see, read or hear about what's happened to these children---I cried. The reality of this horror due to Trump is unthinkable yet---he thought it, and even worse---he's done it. It's beyond unforgivable :(