I am an immigrant. My transition from my home country of Canada to the US was not traumatic but it wasn’t a walk in the park either. There are differences, there are adjustments and there are the blank stares when I say something like ” She dropped her soother.” to another mom at the park and realize after the awkward silence that I should have said pacifier or binky. Times like that make you feel different from everyone else. I know that as far as immigrating goes I have had it easy. That makes me even more passionate about opening children up to stories about immigration and adjusting to life in a new country. These picture books are all wonderful. Most are specifically about immigration while others are about children who are trying to balance the two often conflicting cultures in their life.
Our book lists contain affiliate links.
How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Storyby Eve Bunting made my heart beat fast and stomach tie in knots. I was so worried for the young family that was fleeing their homeland in a small fishing boat. The book doesn’t tell you exactly where the family is from although it seems like they are from somewhere in the Caribbean. What it does do is provide readers with a sense of the urgency, sadness, and the trials along the way when you are a refugee.
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting is a treat. Sometimes learning about the world means learning about people next door to us. The book is not about apples really at all, instead it’s about Farrah a little Muslim girl who has come to the United States from an unnamed country and her first day at school. The day is spent on a field trip to an orchard, where the children picked apples and made apple cider.The melting pot analogy is turned into an apple cider one as all the children throw their apples in and work together to press it into cider, even Farrah helps.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi is such a lovely book. The main character is Unhei a little girl who has just immigrated from Korea. She is trying to decide on an easy to pronounce American name and her new class helps by offering up suggestions and places them in a name jar. As she gets used to her new surroundings and develops friendships she realizes she doesn’t need an American name after all. I really loved this book because there are so many great lessons about being yourself, about being supportive of friends and about being brave in new situations.
Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley is a fantastic book! The book follows a sister who is looking for her brother in their San Francisco neighborhood. As she goes from door to door each neighbor invites her in to eat some of their supper. Everybody is having some sort of rice dish even though they are all from different countries. My 6 year old really enjoyed this book and understood the message well , my 3 year old sat through it no problem too. There are so many future lessons about geography, nutrition, and travel packed in this one little book! Awesome find.
The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco made me cry. This book is the story of the author’s great grandmother and her family fleeing Russia as a child during the progroms. There are scary bits when the Czar’s soldiers are attacking the synagog but they are imperative to read. If you decide to read this story with your children you can’t leave them out. The brutality isn’t graphic but it’s important for children to understand why the family had to leave Russia. The goodness they encounter on their way to America will take your breath away and the tea cup that comes to represent this will make you look at your mom’s fine china in a different light. This book is long but appropriately so, I would share it with children in kindergarten or older who can have thoughtful conversations about such a thoughtful book.
My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits is a book about a little girl from Korea who is adjusting to her new life in America. When her father shows her how to spell her name in English she doesn’t like how it looks. It’s different, just like she is in her new country. At school she doesn’t write her name even though she is able, instead she experiments with other words wondering how her teacher will react when she does. Her teacher is patient and Yoon eventually decides that while her name may look different it is still her name and still has the same meaning. The illustrations have an amazing dreamlike perspective to them and balance out the big emotions in the text.
Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki has been on my shelf for years. I really really like this book, the message is fantastic! Suki loves her Kimono, she doesn’t care that her sisters think it’s not cool to wear traditional clothes to school, her grandma gave it to her and she likes it. I love that she is depicted as confident but not 100% sure of herself, it allows readers to really connect, recognizing those times when we are putting up a brave face even if inside we aren’t so sure. Being yourself is hard and the author connects to that while still creating a strong lovely heroine.
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say is a lovely book that combines simple text with breathtaking illustrations to immerse readers into its story. The story is about a young man in Japan who goes off to see the world. He sees many things, meets many people, and decides to settle in California. Eventually, his heart brings him and his family back home to Japan and the war changes their lives yet again. His stories of California inspire his own grandson to travel and after he does he understands his grandfather’s longing for both places. I think this is such an important point. Immigrants don’t lose the love of their homeland just because they have made another country their home. It’s a complex experience but this book nailed it.
Angel Child, Dragon Child by Michele Maria Surat is a heart wrenching and honest look at the struggles of a young girl from Vietnam as she goes to school in America. The story talks about her mother being far away and as a reader you think that maybe it’s because she is back visiting family in Vietnam. After being put in detention for fighting with a bully it comes out that they didn’t have enough money for all the children and mom to join their father. The bully turned friend helps raise money to bring her mom to America so the family can be reunited. It’s a great lesson for children about being empathetic and realizing that others may be facing struggles much greater than they let on.
Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet S. Wong is an awesome book. I am always awed by authors who can tackle complicated “adult” issues in the pages of a children’s book successfully. In this case, the issue is first generation identity and immigration, at least that’s my take. The little girl in this book is sulking around her parents’ store on the 4th of July. They are busy making Chinese food for customers she is sure won’t come, she wonders who would want Chinese food on such an American holiday? Of course, there are layers about her connection to her ancestral culture and her own national pride. As a proud owner of a green card and a Canadian passport, I relate to this story and think there are many children who will as well.
All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino is a wonderful story about immigration and family tradition. My kids both liked the story of the Yaccariono family and how they came to settle in America from Italy. Throughout the story, there is one little shovel that gets used for all different things generation after generation. It’s a great symbol for how family roots can stay strong even if how we express them changes. I liked being able to compare it to my own immigration to the United States and how different it was for me in 2003 vs the author’s great grandfather over a hundred years earlier. A good book to talk about how people came to the United States and why people move from country to country.
Sarah@ RufflesandRainBoots.com says
We LOVE Suki’s Kimono in this house! Thanks for putting together this list – we’ll be adding some to our next library visit.
I know people must say this all the time to you, but I want to sincerely thank you for putting together such an amazing resource for parents and educators.
And I am in awe of how you get such wonderful pictures! I live in the PNW (Seattle) and it seems like you get many more sunny days than we do! 🙂
Allison McDonald says
You are so welcome! If you look way way back in my archives you will see that my photos have been evolving… my only tricks are big windows, light paint colors, natural light and no flash. A little editing using picmonkey never hurts either! Now i am off to check out your blog. I love finding local blogs.
What a great list. I would love to add a few more from a list of Undocumented Workers in Children’s Literature:
My list includes chapter books and YA as well as picture books so ignore the older books if your readers only want picture books.
Elizabeth Sanchez says
After reading this, I purchased The Name Jar and can safely say my children have never sat more still for a book, ever. They were jumping all over the place when I pulled it out and when I started reading, I looked over and they were transfixed. Thank you for sharing these books. I will probably be purchasing a few more, as well as looking for some about Mexican-American immigration (which they will be able to relate to a little bit more closely) as well.
Allison McDonald says
Oh this is so wonderful!!
I will be looking for more – this book includes Mexican migrant workers but doesn’t speak specifically of immigration. Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora and here is my review : https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2013/08/books-about-reading.html
Alison Armstrong says
Oh, you simply have to add Shaun Tan’s book ‘The Arrival’ to this list. He does amazing wordless books. Here’s a description from his website (http://www.shauntan.net/books/the-arrival.html)… “The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of currency, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of gainful employment. He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.”
Claire T says
I just read this post and felt compelled to add Shaun Tan’s The Arrival to the list. I was pleased to see another reader bring this book to your attention. It is an amazing depiction of the immigrant experience.
Molly’s Pilgrim would be a good addition to this list.
Two of my other favorites are A Picnic in October and Marianthe’s Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories. These are two that I use to teach about immigration each year, and I’m glad to have more to add to my list!