Empathy as the Emotion, Children’s among the Literatures, Migration as the Incident

This text is not written by the author as a literature researcher but as a volunteer in the field who conducts civil society initiatives.

This text is not written by the author as a literature researcher but as a volunteer in the field who conducts civil society initiatives. Civil war in Syria and the vast migration movement caused the main scope of field studies to move towards refugees. Many areas lacking improvement work popped up; even though physiological needs and safety are pointed as the basic needs, other needs of an individual such as belonging, love, value are also remarkable. Children are lacking friends to understand their trauma in the process of leaving the war behind and struggle to make a good life for themselves starting from the strach. The acts of understanding and expressing are best performed by art and literature. The most efficient means for expressing is children’s literature in order to understand and prevent peer bullying. There are outstanding books on migration and war withouth compromising the aesthetic concern pulling us into the story through real anectodes. War is a disease we got, these books are the herbs to heal us. Then let us take a glance at the books waiting for us in the healing cabinet.

On the first shelf of the cabinet we are welcomed by Shaun Tan’s picture book Arrival which is about an migrant father, Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s book The Unforgotten Coat which serves as healing to differences and multiculturalism through the children of a family migrated from Mongolia to England, Jean-Claude Grumberg’s book Çabuksığınlar[1] about a homeless musician family, Judith Kerr’s book When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit about a Jewish family trying to flee from Nazi persecution.

On another shelf there is Barroux’s Welcome; a story about three poor polar bears’ search for a new home since they are on a floe due the global warming but every time they seek assylum on a new island they were being despised due to the their “differences”. There are also Anja Tuckermann’s Everyone’s Here, this book tells us a fleeing story from Syria to Germany realistically and Constance Qrbeck-Nilssen’s Why Am I Here? Which is a thought-provoking book that demonstrates empathy through making the readers ask themselves “Why am I here? What would happen if I were in a place torn by war?” and lets the readers feel their “selves as home”.

There are a considerable number of books regarding migration and war. Comments on these books are various. A group of people criticises by stating “war, death, bombs” shall not be in children’s literature since it is not appropriate in terms of pedagogy. Another group proposes that instead of defining violence as a vexed question, children can learn how to deal with violence by getting know the emotions in stories since they are not isolated from violence in their daily life. How to touch children’s life has been a question in inteelctual history since Platon, literature’s reason for being has been questioned and it is stated that literature has healing-like nature for difficult times along with its aesthetic accomplishment and bearing witness to history.

I am going to explain its building the characteristic of “improvement movement” based on Einfühlung theory[2]. Einfühlung is translated into our language as empathy, meaning putting yourself in others’ shoes. It claims that subject comprehends and experiences the objects within themselves by developing empathy with them. Art work or literary works also regarded as an object in the eyes of the subject. And the subject sympathyses with the object, being actively situated against it (Anar, 61). After one sympathyses with the work, aesthetic transformation and change takes place. By means of comprehending through empathy, readers’ taking place of the character by putting himself into the character’s position, feeling as if he is the chracter, literature realises more than just being a witness.

Now let us turn back to the books we mentioned and try to analyse the Einfühlung’s in them with migrants. What is important in a book is the emotion it makes us feel therough the chracter we sympathise. We may name friendship, nostalgia, exclusion, mourning, not feeling belonged, hope, flashback as the common emotions books on migration make us feel. By emphasizing that these could happen to anyone, the similarity between the reader and the war weary is pointed. Another common characteristic of the books is chracter’s immediate flashback[3] to good old days or the moment violence took place via an object or action. Besides, stating that war does not affect only humanbeings but also goods and animals is also another topic taken into consideration by the authors. These emotions are transferred to the reader through some symbols.


Juju Beni Unutma (Juju Do Not Forget Me) by Çiğdem Sezer

A first-person narrative of an eleven years old girl’s struggle to maintain their upended life due to the war in Syria, in Turkey. We share Juju’s pain and be her partner in her questioning, through this book. Since we sympathise with Juju, we remember with her the bomb hit her friend Fatma’s house, deaths of her grandmother and classmates. We think as “They say, it is just a child, it ain’t understand. I do not understand why people wage war but i do know what happens when there is a war. We weren’t starved but there were many others suffering. Maybe they still are starved.” (Sezer, 18)

Mourning emotion dominates the novel and Juju questions being aware of what goes on and to care about them frequently:

A bomb hit Fatıma’s house. My granny was also there. Both of them passed away. Does it make Fatıma live when i do not watch the news on TV? Or my granny? I saw the ones who dropped bombs. I saw that it hit Fatıma’s house. I witnessed everything when they were taking place. I wish there were a button so that by pressing it i could shut down the Earth. I wish Fatıma hadn’t passed away, i wish that bomb hadn’t exploded. But unfortunately there is no button on the Earth, of course there isn’t, is it the TV? No! (Sezer, 10)

We feel so deeply how desperate we are against war with Juju’s words:

A bomb had exploded in the marketplace near our school. Five of my classmates died in there. They cannot kill us here, i know, but still i am afraid when it is dark. I am always on alert that maybe they are going to drop bombs. There is an older boy with motorcycle, he comes late at night. When I hear his motorcycle approaching, i wake up with a start. I think as soon as the doorbell rings, gunmen are going to come in. (Sezer, 12)

Even though “the Marketplace near our school”, “my classmates” are statements we use frequently in our daily lives, in narration they refer to the war world, somewhere far away from us. By this means closeness between war and the daily life is reminded. Bombing sound and the memories and what they remind Juju affects her as a trauma and that is why when she hears a similar sound she gets afraid and goes through a flashback. [4]

Please, I don’t want anyone to die! I want to go back to our home. But, there is not Fatima anymore! Or my grany! My classmates Muhammed, Heva, Abdullah and Aylan… Even our teacher is attending the war. Then, why on earth we go back to home? (Sezer, 13)

With the question “Then, why on earth we go back home?” Juju replies the mentality claiming that “They should go back to their homes!”, does not she? On Juju, the reader sees what does fleeing from death means and that life outweights agains death.

The object enabling Juju to go back good old days was bicycle. Its name is Şervan. Şervan is not only a bicycle, it also means the life before the war and good old days, to be able to pretend as if war “has never waged.”

The book reminds us friendship through the characters Juju, Fatıma and Azer. We see the children excluding Juju and her friends in the neighbourhood. But the protagonist empathises them by saying “Buğra, Evrim, Evin; if they’d known the war, would they treat me like this?” (Sezer, 25) If the children had known what Juju has experienced, they would not treat her bad. That is why they should know.

The book enables the reader to feel inside the emotions mourning, loss, nostalgia, mercy, joy of living, pride, humiliation through the character of Juju and what she experienced.


Fish by Laura S. Matthews

The characteristic of the book Fish is that it does not take place in a certain time and venue. We do not know where they go from and where to or which war it is. We just witness the common bitterness of war. The character, also known as “Tiger”, comes from an unknown country to a country in toruble with his aid volunteer parents and starts to live in here. When he tells us about this village he mentions some children as “lost ones” These cihldren live in the village as they used to but their parents are lost. We sympathise this being lost situation, the emotion we are pulled in is a severe fright causing trauma and vanishing of the fundemantal ties in one’s life.

When i asked my mom, what was wrong with them she replied me either they experienced something terrifying or they witnessed it. Just as a nightmare, she said, you know, when you wake up from a nightmare, it is hard to fall asleep immediately. They are stuck in this emotion. Upon this, i treated a bit more persistent and patient compared to my friends, some of them joined us and played with us as long as we were around them. I used to call the ones who never jonin us “lost ones” and when i looked at these children who fix their eyes on a vacant manner or hover as they sit while we play and witnessing their losing weight day by day, i felt as if there were a black huge stone on my chest. (Matthews, 12)

The village in which Tiger lives also gets to have more difficulties, hunger and war damages this village’s safe profile. Tiger and his family also has nothing else to do but migrate. A little while before their journey, our child character goes near the water, pokes plants with boredom, and then suddenly he sees and springs to attention on a big fish in the muddy water. Tiger, having learned that when waterbed dries the fish will die, catches the fish and takes it with them on their journey, putting him in a jar. The journey of Tiger and the fish, change and questioning throughout this journey makes reader sympathise with the profiles “the ones who are migrating” and “the ones questioning the war”. The reader put thmeselves sometimes on Tiger’s shoes and sometimes the fish’s, but in all probability, they are on this journey from now on. And throughout this journey they will think about war, state, soldiers, hunger and life.

Fish, a strong symbol in the story, sometimes get bigger, sometimes gets smaller and it even changes colours sometimes. The change the fish goes through may represent the change a voyager goes through on a journey. The strength of the symbol chosen by the author takes us into the journey and makes us feel the change and transformation one goes through on a journey, involuntarly.


Kuş Olsam Evime Uçsam (I Wish I Flied My Home) by Güzin Öztürk

In this book, we find ourselves smypathising with Beşir and his family’s migration from Syria to Turkey and what they have experienced afterwards. Öztürk neither avoids words such as war, bomb, camp nor tries to cover up the present attitude to refugees regarding them as beggars. Beşir’s story replies the discourse “They flee from war and they live in our country.” which is a unit of “hate speech”. Beşir feels deeply the longing to go back his own lands and his own house and cannot feel belonged to the place they migrated.

Before he hits the road, Beşir takes a handful of soil with him in order to “save it from the war”. And this piece of land becomes a shelter, a safe place for Beşir. Land means home and home means life before the war. Moreover, the linden seed talks to Beşir. It may be the linden tree in his grandmother’s garden. This seed is named as Tarsus and it reminds the reader that trees also want to flee from war, that war damages everything but still we need to be hopeful for life.[5]


Kömür Karası Çocuk (Coal Black Child) by Müge İplikçi

The name of our coal black friend is Salif, a child who escapes from the internal disorder in Mali and takes shelter with his mother in Turkey. On one hand, he tries to hear from his father, on the other hand he meets the healing power of the music. Our character’s -whose father is a musician- holding on music can be read as “holding on his father.” In this book, we feel the emotions of exclusion, worry, solidarity, hope, and holding on to life.


Umut Sokağı Çocukları (Children of Hope Street) by Gülsevin Kıral

Many different stories, many different fightings come together in one street. Every character tells their own story from own-word-of-mouth, so it enables us to see the “realities” from several aspects. Syrians, Kurds, foreign journalist, unemployment, hate speech, and also without forgetting the hungry dogs because of the war, all bitter realities are shown from the standpoints of people going through this misery. Thus, the reader becomes familiar with the new individualities, shows empathy towards both the Syrians coming from the war and the Turkish workers becoming unemployed because of the Syrians. The picture drawn by Kıral is the picture of our street where we live, so could we look from every window? Could we put ourselves in Aunt Ayşe’s shoes, if a war breaks out and we are not able to hear from our sister, do we think what will happen? The ones who read this book think these. Sophisticated thinking from various aspects by dealing all parts of one picture is the vision of this narration. And narrating each window from the mouth of the person looking from that window is the method of her.   


Martı ve Savaş (Seagull and War) by Güldem Şahan

This time we meet the friendship of Seagull Hür and the child of war, Abbas. “It was just a little bird, who, how could tell him people fight for what, why they kill each other… Only his inner voice tells that bad things happen where he is.” (Şahan, 9-10) The story makes us feel that the battlefield is not in the other planets, but is one of the places by the side of us, and the war can darken our place like it made the others. We witness the Abbas’s favour to bird and his friendship with bird, and the bird’s risky chocolate stealing for children in the sense of loyalty.


The Fly that Ended the War by Bryndis Björgvinsdottir

Bryndis Björgvinsdottir, we know her from her campaign calling people to open up their houses to refugees, she reminds war does not effect only the humans, flies and humans share the same world. By comparing the situation before and after the war, the war seems how meaningless, she tells it by questioning of the flies on the abondened empthy bus.

There is no seat in this bus. Do people use the seats during war? ‘’Listen’’ said Hermann Sukker. “I will tell only one thing. If you ask me, I believe that humans’ brains work so weirdly. It is not surprising that the people invented the electrical fly, find a way to hurt both themselves and the others by using the bus seats. In some way, they are able make it.” “So why do people behave like this?” The Fly asked in astonishment. “We will never go to war. Or will we? We will never start to kill each other. What do you think about it? The Fly looked his friends one by one. “One day if the houseflies start to fight with each other, to bomb the houses that they live in, how shocked people become, right?” (Björgvinsdottir, 46)


Cure in itself: Tarik and White Crow

The writers of this book published as the joint work of UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Association for Solidarity with Migrants are ten refugee children who come together under “The Pole Star Collective” Reader faces the sorrowful story of Tarik and his family who had to leave their beloved island because the black clouds wreathed and a White Crown guiding them.

In the first page, our writers say, “They do not need anyone.” While narrating their life in the island. They move on as[6] “Hoewever, one morning as soon as a very round sun appears, and then a very dark cloud replaces it as if dropping an anchor over the island. Rain continues day after day.’’[7] People of island try eveything to get rid of this bad situation. When they do not obtain any result, they become obliged to find another place as a last ditch.[8]

Tarik, leaving his family behind and taking road to find a new island with his father, has to leave his beloved flute. In every voyage, we feel certainly leaving some beloved things behind. White Crow becomes included in story by settling on the vessel and guiding Tarik and his father. They arrive an island in the guidance of White Crow. Although the residents of this island are good people welcoming nicely Tarik and his father, they are the people who never smile and who have headache.

In this island, we feel the sense of isolation and exclusion by means of Tarik and White Crow due to its color’s being different from other crows’ color. The flute made by his father adds spice and zest to friendship of Tarik and White Crow. Tarik and White Crow starts to make music by flute. The people hearing that sound gather around them and start to enjoy. Tarik concludes that reason of people’s headache in this island is the lack of music. Tarik feels good as a person who is of help to island, makes people smile and from that day on he makes many friends in the island. Even if they are happy in their new island, our writers do not forget to emphasize that for sure they will turn back their old island one day. In this story built by refugee children, a bond between old and new living is established by music.


The Voyage by Francesca Sanna

The Voyage starts by giving the feeling that war can change the lives forever. A story that leaving war behind and the road taken for immigration is told. Active reader finds themselves telling tales in a state of fear and worry: “Throuhout the journey we tell tales each other. But these are not the tales with fairies or princesses… There are scary and dangerous monsters hiding under the sea and waiting for eating us when our vessel capsizes in these tales.” This citation is an indictation that the children’s literature handling these issues is an ordinary result. Expecting to ignore today’s realities from the literature is injustice against both literature and readers.


The Child on the Boat (The Child in the Boat) by Maya Mizuno- Vonne Hemels

One of the successful works fulfilling Einfühling teory is The Child on the Boat. One day, Ahmet-having an ordinary life like everybody does- boards on a boat by taking his doll, and seeks a new place to live in. With tearful eyes, broken heart but full of hope, he comes ashores of eight countries, in every country he becomes friend of a different child; the differences between them are not an obstacle to get on well. On the other hand, whenever Ahmet asks if he can stay in this country or not, the laws and behaviours of that country become obstacle. As being unable to find a place for himself, at a night time he falls asleep in his boat in the middle of sea. The other children worry about Ahmet. When the ‘’Mother Fullmoon’’ sees they worry, she arises in the sky and calls children to beside of herself. The children looking at the world above the fullmoon become astonished at what they see: “There is no border, all world belongs to all of us!” The individuality that this story provides us asks this question: “So, who drew these borders, why do people become bulge in other places out of their own country?” Our other character Juju answers: “People have shared the world and we name the places fell to our share as country.” (Mizuno, 6) In this story, the child who puts himself into Ahmet’s shoes, feels that it is a wrongdoing against Ahmet, he is not guilty about what happened to his house, being homeless in alone is very hard, dangerous and heartbreaking. Even going further, they open a place in their room.



There are many more works in the healing cabinet. There is an emotion that every successfully narrated story makes us feel. But do we have the energy to grow up this feeling in our sufficiently-destroyed world? Some books prefer to choose one side in the battle and empose their heroism to children instead of giving “the destructiveness of war,” thus they present like that sorrow belongs to just one side, and reinforce the warrior mentality born by heroism. There are several examples to this kind of books.

We have introduced some of our curable books on our shelf. So how to use these cures for being a salve to wound? In this point, it will be beneficial that literature take advantage of power of creative drama and telling tale.

Because without pulling down the walls of prejudice, we cannot be free of being ourselves to meet the other against neither we read nor we listen. Best way to break down prejudices is the state of play, for that reason we should tell the story after turning the child back to state of play with drama. For this reason, it should be provided to start the story, and to empathise by narrating like this; “Once upon a time, there was an Ahmet living between the date gardens” instead of narrating in a didactic way as “A Syrian child goes through these and these.” Because it is easier to empathise with Ahmet and go on the journey for a child letting themselves go into the magicial reality of the pluperfect world. At the end of journey they will become a child who understands Ahmet and wants to find a place for him. Free from the learned prejudices, just a child… Therefore, fortunately there are sensitive books for hard times.



Anar, Turgay. “Edebiyat Eserini anlamak ve Yorumlamak İçin Farklı Bir Yöntem: Einfühlung Teorisi.” Türk Dili ve

Edebiyatı Dergisi, Cilt/Sayı: XLVIII.

Anar, Turgay.Einfühlung Teorisi Açısından Ziya Osman Saba’nın Şiirlerinin İncelenmesi.” FSM İlmi Araştırmalar

İnsan ve Toplum Bilimleri Dergisi, Sayı: 3.

Björgvinsdottir, Bryndis. Savaşı Bitiren Sinek. Çev. Mahir Ünsal Eriş. İstanbul: Can Çocuk, 2017.

Grumberg, Jean-Claude. Çabuksığınlar. Çev. Simla Ongan. İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2016.

İplikçi, Müge. Kömür Karası Çocuk. İstanbul: Günışığı Kitaplığı, 2015.

Kıral, Gülsevin. Umut Sokağı Çocukları. İstanbul: Günışığı Kitaplığı, 2015.

Kutup Yıldızı Kolektifi, Tarık ve Beyaz Karga. Sarıgaga Yayınları, 2012.

Matthews, Laura. Balık. Çev. Mine Kazmaoğlu, İstanbul: Günışığı Kitaplığı, 2016.

Mizuno, Maya ve Vonne Hemels. Kayıktaki Çocuk, Çev. Sevde Tuba Okçu. İstanbul: Timaş Çocuk, 2017.

Öztürk, Güzin. Kuş Olsam Evime Uçsam. Ankara: Tudem Yayınları, 2016.

Sanna, Francesca. Yolculuk. Çev. Zeynep Sevde Paksu. İstanbul: Taze Kitap, 2016.

Savur, Sevda Bahar. Kömür Karası üzerine:

Sezer, Çiğdem. Juju Beni Unutma. İstanbul: Bilgi Yayınevi, 2015.

Şahan, Güldem. Martı ve Savaş. Ankara: Tudem Yayınları, 2016.

[1] Translator’s Note: Literally means “seek-assylum-quickly family”

[2] In order to understand this theory, which emerges in Germany in the second half of 19th century, Turgay Anar’s article named “Edebiyat Eserini Anlamak ve Yorumlamak İçin Farklı Bir Yöntem: Einfühlung Teorisi” (A Different Method to Understand and Read Literary Texts: Einfühlüng Theory) is quite informative.

[3] Just as Proust’s memoire inolontaire with the madlen cookie, some chracters in these books goes through flashbakcs by means of a buckle, soil or a bicylce and remember the days or emotions before the war or the moment of bombing in loud circles. Objects or actions cause flashbacks.

[4] What we have experienced in our refugee children works are supporting this situation; getting scared when airplane passes above or flash used is the consequence of injured memory.

[5] These stories are inspired by real anecdotes; we also witnessed many similar stories during the study “Benim Göç Hikayem (My Migration Story)’’ that we carried out with refugee children. Children’s drawing “apple tree” whatever they draw about which specific topic, everytime reminds this book. For many children apple tree refers to Syria before the war, in other words “dispossession of their lives suddenly.”


[6] Writer children may want to express their discomfort against the behaviour that considering refugees as needy, and being in this situatiın is beyond their power.

[7] Writer children’s symbolisation of war as wreathing of black clouds harmonises with their calling war as erathquake or picturazing as a rainy and stormy dark day that we encounter often in our projects with refugee children.

[8] Writer children may want to reply the statement of ‘’they escaped immediately’’ within the hate speech.