Children’s Books about the Immigrant Experience
that Encourage Kindness and Empathy
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
This lovely book tells the story of Farah, a recent Muslim immigrant who doesn’t speak English and worries that she will not fit in with her new classmates. A field trip to an apple picking orchard teaches her that children from different countries and cultures are really very much alike. The gorgeous watercolor illustrations illustrate Farah’s feelings of isolation, and later her feelings of hope.
Madlenka by Peter Sis
Madlenka’s tooth is loose! Follow her around the block where she lives in New York City, as she shares her big news with her neighborhood friends, including a French baker, Indian news seller, Latin American grocer, Egyptian playmate, elderly German woman and others. Her journey around the block is like a trip around the world, Waldo-style, shown in delightful illustrations.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon
On Christmas Eve, 1938, which is also the seventh day of Hanukkah, a Jewish boy named Oskar arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he’s never met. As he walks the length of Manhattan, he receives small acts of kindness from ordinary people, each illustrating what his parents told him before sending him to safety in America, “Even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.”
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.
Migrant by Maxine Trottier
Anna has a background we don’t often see in books: she’s part of an immigrant family of farmers from Mexico, but she is also part of a group of low-German speaking Mennonites who moved from Canada to Mexico in the 1920’s. Anna’s story captures what it’s like to feel like a stranger in a strange land, from a child’s perspective.
My Diary from Here to There by Amada Irma Perez
Grades K-5. Written by bilingual teacher and advocate of programs encouraging multicultural understanding, this book is written in both English and Spanish. It is based on the author’s own family’s journey from Mexico to the United States. Amada records their travels in her diary, including their stay with relatives in Mexicali and their eventual journey to Los Angeles, and along the way she also reveals her fears and hopes. Told consistently through the eyes and feelings of a child, the narrative shows the strength required of immigrant children.
Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams
Appropriate for Grades 1-5. Eight-year-old Garang is tending cattle far from his family’s home in southern Sudan when war comes to his village. Frightened but unharmed, he returns to find everything has been destroyed. Soon Garang meets up with other boys whose villages have been attacked. Before long, they become a moving band of thousands, walking hundreds of miles seeking safety—first in Ethiopia and then in Kenya. Along the way, the boys faced hardships and dangers but their faith and mutual support help keep the hope of finding a new home alive in their hearts. This story is based on real-life experiences of a band of approximately 30,000 southern Sudanese boys, between the ages of 8 and 15, who walked nearly 1000 miles searching for a safe refuge. Many Sudanese Lost Boys eventually were resettled in South Dakota and Nebraska.
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed
When relief workers bring used clothing to the refugee camp, everyone scrambles to grab whatever they can. Ten-year-old Lina finds one pretty sandal that fits perfectly, but another girl has the matching shoe. Together they solve the problem by taking turns wearing the sandals. As they wash clothes in the river and wait in long lines for water, they build a friendship that is more important than the sandals are to them. A story about the strength and hope of refugees whose daily lives are marked by uncertainty.
A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
A chapter book for grades 4-7. Bilal’s world is turned upside down when his father disappears for three days from their home in Karachi, Pakistan. After his father returns just as unexpectedly, Bilal, his mother, and his two siblings leave almost immediately for America to live with his uncle’s family. Bilal slowly learns that his father has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit and must clear his name before he can join them. Although Bilal’s extended family in Virginia is welcoming, the 10-year-old longs for his father and life back home. It’s through baseball that Bilal befriends Jordan, a girl who also misses her father, a soldier in Afghanistan. Filled with details about Pakistani and Muslim life, the novel offers a sensitive look at the cultural merging that accompanies immigration. (Publishers Weekly)
Lost Boy, Lost Girl by John Bul Dau & Martha Arual Akech with Michael S. Sweeney & K.M. Kostyal
Grades 4-9. This is the true story of two children named John and Martha who were happy children, spending their days playing, learning and doing chores like children around the world, until war came to Southern Sudan. When their villages were attacked they had to run for their lives, and in the chaos they were separated from their families. This is the story of their struggle to survive the dangers of soldiers, wild animals, thirst and near starvation as they made their way to refugee camps and eventually to the United States. Today there is a significant Lost Boy population in South Dakota and Nebraska.