In Book Lists

In response to the news coverage of the current administration’s policies on immigration, we wanted to provide some books that can help you educate a child you know about this topic. These books address situations from being in a new school in a new country to hiding from the Border Patrol. At Little Feminist we believe that stories teach empathy, and by teaching our kids empathy towards immigrants we can raise a generation of humans that ensures this treatment of immigrants and refugees will not repeat.

We have provided the following fourteen books towards this aim.

If you would like to know our top five picks and our tips for discussing the current status of refugees and immigrants with kids you know, check out our latest blog post: How to Teach Kids Empathy Towards Immigrants: 5 Books and Discussion Guide. For more recommended reading, pop over to our Best Books about Refugees blog post. 

From now through June 30th, 100% of proceeds from our book club sales will go to organizations directly serving immigrants. If you would like to know more about the groups we are donating to, we have provided a list at the end of our How to Teach Kids Empathy Towards Immigrants article.

 

Stories of Immigration and the Difficulties of Assimilation

I’m New Here

  • Written and Illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
  • Published in 2015
  • For readers ages 4-8

Three immigrant children face the challenges of attending a new school. Jin is from South Korea, Maria is from Guatemala, and Fatimah is from Somalia. Each child comes from a different place, but they all share the experience of having to learn English. With the support of their classmates and teachers, each child slowly grows comfortable in their new environment.

What we love: There is a lovely emphasis on sharing–sharing different languages, sports, and art.

Things to know: The text is specific only to each child’s experience in school. There is no background given on how they got to America or who their families are, just a focus on building community in their new home.

 

A Different Pond

  • Written by Bao Phi
  • Illustrations by Thi Bui
  • Published in 2017
  • For ages 4-8

A son shakes the sleep off as he joins his father to fish. His parents, immigrants from Vietnam, work multiple jobs, and yet they still sometimes need to fish for their dinner. Together they fish, from evening ‘til morning, while his father tells him stories of the war and the pond that he and his brother used to fish in.

What we love: Both the author and illustrator immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam. They wrote in the book’s notes that the experience of collaborating on this story was both emotional and expository.

Things to know: When the father talks of his experiences in the war and losing his brother, it is not a detailed description, perhaps in an effort to make the hardship easier for a young child to digest. However, it is important to the story, for as Bao Phi writes in the notes section at the end of the book, “I also want to acknowledge that they sometimes told me difficult stories about the war and where we came from, including death and violence. My parents shared these stories with me, not to scare or harm me, but because these traumas were a part of our lives, and the wanted me to understand. I pass along a version of our story with those same intentions.”

 

Chachaji’s cup

  • Written by Uma Krishnaswami
  • Illustrations by Soumya Sitaraman
  • Published in 2003
  • For readers ages 5-8

Neel’s great-uncle, Chachaji, always drinks tea from the same cup. It was his mother’s and she carried it with her to safety in 1947, when the Partition forced millions of people to move. Everyone laughed at her, Chachaji said, but she knew–if this teacup got to India without breaking, she would too. But when disaster strikes and the teacup breaks, what should Neel do?

What we love: At the end of the book, Uma Krishnaswami explains some of the history of the Partition, adding depth to the story.

Things to know: The setting and other specifics are vague, which adds some confusion in trying to place the story, but is not a big problem.

 

A Shelter in Our Car

  • Written by Monica Gunning
  • Illustrations by Elaine Pedlar
  • Published in 2004
  • For ages 5-8

Zettie misses how things used to be, when her papa was there, when they still lived in Jamaica, when they had a house with a big yard, when life was comfortable. Now, with papa gone, she and her mother have had to move to America. No more Jamaica, no more house, no more yard. Instead, they live in their car.

What we love: Zettie’s mama is incredibly supportive of everything Zettie feels around living in their car, even as she searches for work, housing, and attends college. Together, they handle their living situation with grace while acknowledging the hardships along the way. Many immigrants come to America hoping for a better situation than what they had before. Often times the reality does not match those hopes, but as Monica Gunning shows in this story, that hope perseveres even in the hardest of times.

Things to know: While Zettie and her mother used to live in Jamaica and now live in the U.S., the story does not delve much into their move or their reasons for immigrating. Instead, the focus of this story is how Zettie and her mother deal with the daily struggles of living from their car while trying to build a new life in America.

 

Lailah’s Lunchbox

  • Written by Reem Faruqi
  • Illustrations by Lea Lyon
  • Published in 2015
  • For readers ages 5-8

Recent immigrant Lailah doesn’t know how to explain Ramadan to her classmates, but with the help of her school librarian, she finally figures out what to say.

What we love: This is a great story about the struggle to explain things that are important to you and one way to overcome that. Lailah finds a great support system in her teacher and librarian.

Things to know: Lailah has already been living in the U.S. for some time and the story does not go into her immigration process. If you are looking for stories more about the immigration process or struggles specifically around the process of assimilation know that the conflict-resolution this book revolves around is not as obviously connected to those things. Lailah’s obstacle she overcomes could be relevant for anyone who has to explain something important to them to an authority figure, and is not necessarily tied to her identity as an immigrant.

 

Tea With Milk

  • Written and Illustrated by Allen Say
  • Published in 1999
  • For readers ages 5-9

When May’s family moves from San Francisco back to her parents’ native Japan, she feels lost. She had a life in America, a future she planned. In Japan, she doesn’t speak Japanese very well and eventually is expected to marry. Instead, she decides her own direction.

What we love: This is based on Allen Say’s own parents story. May is his mother.  

Things to know: The story is also the only book on this list about moving from the United States to another country. We found this a wonderful reminder that immigration can be from the U.S. as well.

 

Calling the Doves

  • Written by Juan Felipe Herrera
  • Illustrations by Elly Simmons
  • Published in 1995
  • For readers ages 6-10

A vivid recounting of his childhood, poet Juan Felipe Herrera shares the stories of being on the road and the joy and love from his parents accompanied with vibrant illustrations.

What we love: The author dedicated this book to his parents, “who loved the open sky and the earth when it is tender. They taught me that inside every word there can be kindness”, Herrera wrote.

Things to know: This is the only book on the list that is about a migrant farm worker family. We find refugees and migrants can be grouped together, but their experience are quite different.

 

The Arrival

  • Written and Illustrated by Shaun Tan
  • Published in 2006
  • For readers ages 9-12+

A wordless rumination on the immigrant experience, Shaun Tan sketches a story of one man coming to a new land in the hopes of a better life for him and his family. As he looks for a job, so his family can eventually come live with him, Tan gives glimpses into the lives of people he meets along the way.

What we love: The illustrations are simply gorgeous and otherworldly. The characters are from places of Tan’s imagination, which allows his messages to be applied more generally to the immigrant experience, rather than Tan depicting real places and then tying the narrative to those people and locations.

Things to know: This is a much longer book than the others on this list, with over 100 pages. It is marked as ages 12 and up on Amazon, but we believe that children at age 9 will be able to understand the basics of the story, since it’s entirely composed of images, and can gain the nuances over time. It also is important to note the color symbolism.

 

Stories about Family Separation and Immigration

From North to South

  • Written by René Laínez  
  • Illustrations by Joe Cepeda
  • Published in 2013
  • For readers ages 5-8

Can’t the car go any faster? José and his Papá are on their way from San Diego to Tijuana where José’s Mamá was sent because she didn’t have the right papers. They finally get there, but they will have to leave soon. When will Mamá come home?

What we love: The bittersweet reunion between José and his Mamá show the difficulty of living apart, but his mother finds a compromise that until they can be together again, they will live in each others hearts.

Things to know: There is no closure in terms of learning if or when his Mamá will return. This is realistic, but also incredibly heartbreaking.

 

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

  • Written by Edwidge Danticat
  • Illustrations by Leslie Staub
  • Published in 2015
  • For readers ages 5-8

When her mother is sent to an immigration detention center, Saya starts sneaking out of bed to listen to her mother’s voice on their answering machine. But when she accidentally erases the voice message, Saya can no longer hear her mother’s warm voice. Soon, recordings start arriving in the mail — Saya’s mother is sending her bedtime stories! After weeks of waiting for her mother to be released, Saya decides to join her father in writing to newspaper reporters to tell their story.

What we love: Saya’s father writes to judges, their mayor, and congresswoman, newspaper and television reporters, advocating for Saya’s mothers release.

Things to know: Because of the publicity around her case, Saya’s mom is released from the center within a week of the story breaking. In the story, the judge says that she can go home with her family, and will receive her papers, but often this is not the case.

 

Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds

  • Written by Jorge Argueta
  • Illustrations by Alfonso Ruano
  • Published October 2016
  • For readers age 8-11

Over 100,000 children have left Central America to seek a new home in the U.S. This book of poetry helps us to understand why they and their families are making that choice, and what it might be like to walk in their footsteps.

What we love: Written by a refugee of the 12-year war following the US-sponsored military coup in El Salvador, this book represents the struggles of Central Americans—a group often forgotten in conversations regarding immigration or detention.

Things to know: This book is for more advanced readers than the others on this list. Some of the representations of encounters with border patrol have also been watered-down for the sake of the children’s narrative, but some reviews consider that a disservice to those who have faced harsher realities.

 

Stories that Show We Are All Immigrants

All the Way to America

  • Written and Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  • Published in 2011
  • For readers ages 4-7

Michele, from Sorrento, Italy, brought a little shovel with him when he emigrated to America. That little shovel is passed down from generation to generation, used first as a gardening tool, then in a bakery measuring out flour, later to pour rock salt, and finally as a gardening tool once again, this time by Dan’s children.

What we love: This is based on Dan’s family, and is filled with bright colors and sweet messages. Each time the shovel is passed down, it is accompanied by a message: “work hard, remember to enjoy life, and love your family.”

Things to know: This story does not go into detail about their lives and mostly follows the shovel as it travels through the years.

 

The Keeping Quilt

  • Written and Illustrated by Patricia Polacco
  • Published in 1988
  • For readers ages 4-8

Similar to All the Way to America, Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt is also about passing things down, and a true story about her family. When Anna arrives in America, she is wearing the same clothes she wore for farm work. One night, she gathers her family and pieces together a quilt from their old clothing and fabrics. This quilt has passed down from generation to generation, holding special meaning at weddings and family gatherings.

What we love: The quilt has become a central object in their family for important celebrations, and holds much joy.

Things to know: There is also not much about their personal lives besides from the celebrations.

 

Going Home, Coming Home

  • Written by Truong Tran
  • Illustrations by Ann Phong
  • Published in 2003
  • For ages 5-9

Before Ami Chi and her family step off the plane, she is prepared to dislike their destination, Vietnam. It is the place where both her parents came from, but it is not her home– not like America, where they have lived her whole life. It will take getting lost in the market for Ami Chi to learn what makes Vietnam a part of her home, too.

What we love: As Ami Chi learns to love where her parents came from, she learns that home is not where you are but a part of you. Both the author and illustrator immigrated to the U.S., and as Truong writes in the notes section, “It took me twenty-five years to return — to Vietnam and myself as a Vietnamese. In doing so, I discovered myself as an American. I am not one or the other but in fact both.” 

Things to know: This book also has text in both languages!

 

Stories that address documentation and immigration officers

The Memory Coat

  • Written by Elvira Woodruff
  • Illustrations by Michael C. Dooling
  • Published in 1998
  • For readers ages 4-8

Rachel and her cousin Grisha make up stories together as they travel from their shtetl in Russia all the way to America, but when they get to Ellis Island, their stories might come to an end when an inspector marks Grisha with chalk. Rachel cleverly comes up with an idea to help Grisha pass through and keep the family together.

What we love: According to the author’s note, this is based off a true story.

Things to know: Ellis Island is no longer an immigration station, but the story still holds as a historical narrative, a picture of a particular point in time.

 

Hannah is My Name

  • Written and Illustrated by Belle Yang
  • Published in 2004
  • For readers ages 5-8

Hannah and her family came from Taiwan to America, because, her father says, when we are Americans we will be free to say what we think. But until they get their green cards, Hannah and her family live in fear of being deported, like how her friend Janie’s family was. The days go by, and soon Hannah is in second grade. When will their green cards come?

What we love: Hannah is My Name encapsulates the fear and stress that waiting for green cards causes. It can take years for some applicants to receive their cards.

Things to know: This story is based off Belle Yang’s own experience of emigrating to America!

 

Friends From the Other Side/Amigos del Otro Lado

  • Written by Gloria E. Anzaldúa
  • Illustrations by Consuelo Méndez Castillo
  • Published in 1993
  • For readers ages 6-9

When Prietita befriends Joaquín, she notices his Spanish is a little different from hers. “Did you come from the other side?” she asks. “From Mexico?” Soon, Prietita will have to decide how to act when kids from her neighborhood start calling Joaquín slurs. And when the Border Patrol comes, what should she do then?

What we love: While written in 1993, this book addresses issues that are still very relevant today. When Prietita, a Mexican-American girl living in Southern Texas, decides to help Joaquín, she learns of the prejudice within her own community, but pushes against that. We love this book is bilingual, and that both Anzaldúa and Castillo grew up in Southern Texas. Anzaldúa is also a well-known scholar of cultural, feminist, and queer theories.

Things to know: There are some places where kids call Joaquín slurs that could be triggering or something that you might like to avoid. Reviews for this book are mixed. There are mostly positive reviews, but other reviewers had some issues with the book.

 

Now, we hope you can find more opportunities to talk these important topics over with your child. Here’s to building empathy through stories!

Want more? Sign up for the Little Feminist Book Club. We send new favorites to our members every month!

 

 

Featured photo courtesy of photographer Kisha Bari, Producer Becky Morrison, and Creative-Director Paola Mendoza.

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