The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees Book Poster Image
Compassionate graphic novel account of refugees' struggle.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Timely exploration of Syrian refugee crisis, exposing realities of living in and trying to escape a war zone.

Positive Messages

Displaced people often display great courage and resilience. Even in the most grim situations, people are able to muster hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Unwanted has no particular protagonist, but it shows people of all ages and all walks of life dealing with chaos of war. Some behave admirably, others indulge worst impulses. 


Older children beat up younger ones. Civilians are subjected to gunfire, bombings, tear gas, water cannons, beheadings. Small children drown when their rafts and ships sink.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Unwanted is a nonfiction graphic novel written and illustrated by Don Brown (The Great American Dustbowl). It portrays the hardships endured by Syrian refugees as they flee their home country and attempt to rebuild their lives in Europe. The level of violence is understandably high -- gunfights, bombings, drownings, beheadings, and much more -- but presented with subtlety and a lack of bloodshed on the page.

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What's the story?

Beginning in 2011, THE UNWANTED shows how the simple act of spray-painting "Down with the regime!" helped spark a revolution to overthrow the tyrannical rule of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Fleeing torture, imprisonment, and outright massacres, masses of Syrian families make their way to neighboring countries not capable of accommodating them. By 2017, the war goes on, and many countries want to close their borders and turn their backs on the refugees.

Is it any good?

The issues surrounding the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis are numerous and complex, and this insightful and compassionate graphic novel does an excellent job of presenting them for a young audience. Without picking one main character, Brown focuses on the survivors, depicting their deadly struggles and their small successes. The dialogue and captions are spare, the evocative watercolor illustrations doing most of the narrative heavy-lifting.

The Unwanted is a record of a traumatic time in history and a rousing call to action. It may spur readers to learn more about the crisis and find ways of supporting refugee children.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the conditions that force people to leave their homes and flee to another country described in The Unwanted. Why do so many Syrians feel the need to leave?

  • Why is this information presented as a graphic novel? What kinds of effects can be achieved in the combination of art and language that are more difficult in prose alone?

  • Why do governments put restrictions on immigration? Why do people get upset about undocumented immigrants?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love graphic novels and history

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