It’s so important that we develop empathy, develop an understanding of the lives of other human beings. So when we look at immigration, be it undocumented or documented, we must see the perspectives of individuals who’ve experienced it. To build empathy, we read stories— picture books and chapter books. Stories allow us to walk a mile in the shoes of another, in this case someone who has lived immigration.
These are my favorite picture books and chapter books about the issues surrounding immigration including refugees, migration, migrant work, deportation, poverty, and culture. I hope this list is helpful.
Picture Books About Immigration (and Migration)
Where Will I Live by Rosemary McCarney
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers
I’m so impressed by Dave Eggers picture book, Her Right Foot, with gorgeous illustrations by Shawn Harris. As you might expect from Eggers, it’s FUNNY — I laughed out loud while reading. But, it’s more than that — it’s also interactive, informative, and insightful. In fact, this amazing book builds to a poignant and timely message about the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. Notice how her right foot is raised as if she’s stepping. Eggers wants us to notice that the Statue is moving. She is an immigrant, too. Her job of welcoming immigrants is active, never ending. Think about that for a moment. I think our country needs this book now more than ever.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
Step into the shoes of a young boy who wakes up early to go fishing with his dad. As they fish for their dinner that evening, Bao’s helps his dad build a fire and put the fish in a bucket. His dad mentions fishing in a pond in his home country of Vietnam. Then the two return home so his dad can go to work. The illustrations and prose helps us feel the stillness of the early morning hours and the strong bond between father and son. Later, the entire family will gather together to eat the morning’s catch. This moving autobiographical picture book of an immigrant family gives us much to appreciate and ponder. I’m highly recommending this book for all classrooms.
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
Evocative graphic art illustrate in metaphorical and literal images depict first a dark world with war. After the father is killed, the mother tells the kids they’re going on an adventure to someplace safe. Their journey is filled with obstacles and loss. All the while the mother keeps the kids safe. And one day, just like the migrating birds out the train window, the family hopes to find a new home.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, translated by Falah Raheem, art by Nizar Ali Badr
Rama and her family must flee their now dangerous Syrian village to escape the escalating civil war. Transformative stone art collages shows the family members walking with only what they can carry as they search for a safe place.
A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting
A young boy named Francisco accompanies his non-English speaking grandfather to look for day labor and gets him a job as a gardener, even though he knows nothing about it.
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
Farah struggles being new in a country where she doesn’t understand the language or culture. But a field trip to an apple orchard helps her find common ground with her new peers.
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Yoon loves writing her name in Korean but her father insists she must write her name in English. Yoon decides she isn’t sure about her name in English and wonders if another name would be better.
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
Grandfather loves both his countries, his old country and his new one. Winner of the 1994 Caldecott.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Unhei tells her new American classmates that they can pick out her name. But what name will she pick? Or will she find the importance in her own Korean name?
When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, illustrated by P.J. Lynch
With great sadness, a poor European village girl leaves her beloved grandmother for America.
The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood
MIGRATION / REFUGEE
Peter and his father flee their burning village carrying suitcases and a treasure box holding a precious book, the only one that wasn’t burned by the enemies. At the last village with mountains looming and his father gone, Peter buries the box. He returns later, when it’s safe, finding the box and the book which he takes to the city’s new library to share with others. Amazing artwork!
Chapter Books About Immigration
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan (ages 8 – 12)
When her father dies, Esperanza and her mother flee from Mexico to the United States where they must work as migrant farm workers. A well-written, beautiful story that will stay with you.
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez (ages 8 – 12)
When Mari’s parents are deported to Mexico, she and her sisters are stranded in the United States, desperately worried about what to do next. This is SUCH a powerful story!
Shooting Kabul by N.H. Sendai (ages 8 – 12)
Fadi and Mariam’s parents illegally flee their home of Afghanistan and emigrate to the United States but events happen that leave Mariam behind in Afghanistan while the rest of the family escapes.
Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes (ages 8 – 12)
Gaby’s mother is deported, her dad is distant, and Gaby longs for the love of someone; maybe a lost kitten will help her find her way. Sweet and very moving.
The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez (ages 8 – 12)
As Fidel Castro and his soldiers revolt, Lucia’s Cuban parents send she and her brother away to safety in Nebraska. (A similar story with male characters is 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis.)
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (ages 8 – 12)
Kek immigrates to America only to lose his mother and is sent to Minnesota to live without her in this powerful story about survival and finding home.
Star in the Forest by Laura Resau (ages 8 – 12)
Zitlally’s dad has been arrested and deported back to Mexico. As she waits anxiously for him to come back via an illegal “coyote”, she befriends a maltreated dog named Star.
A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord (ages 8 – 12)
Is it possible for the daughter of a migrant farm worker to be friends with a town girl? And what about entering the local blueberry queen contest?
Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs (ages 8 – 12)
15- year old Victor wants to help his family in Mexico by working in the United States. But first he must survive the dangerous journey there.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan (ages 13+)
This is a wordless, evocative graphic novel showing one man’s journey from his old country to a wonderful and strange new country.
The Good Braider by Terry Farish (ages 14+)
No longer in Sudan, Viola remembers her old world while trying to understand her new reality in the United States. Written in verse, this novel will help you understand the challenges of arriving and living in a different culture.
Children of the River by Linda Crew (ages 13+)
Sundara left the war in Cambodia four years ago and is finding it difficult to be both American and Cambodian.