Immigrants contribute to our society and community today just as much now as they have in the past.
Which, unless you’re Native American, you are like me, a descendant of an immigrant. My ancestors came from northern Europe.
Where did yours come from?
I find that knowing people who have immigrated to our country is so rich because it gives us a global perspective. And, it reminds us of how many immigrants are doing essential jobs that contribute to our community.
As a child, my family in a small Washington town hosted refugees fleeing their country. I remember families from Vietnam and El Salvador. These families left an impression on me. I learned that people have different languages, experiences, and food preferences. But that ultimately, all people want is safety and a chance at a better life.
As a teacher, I taught many immigrant children whose language, foods, and cultures added depth to our classroom. And, it was my honor, as a facilitator, to set up a respectful class culture so that other children who noticed differences could be curious and most importantly, kind to their immigrant classmates. Sometimes when children see differences, they can be unkind so we must model for them how to make space for their observations and have respectful, enlightening discussions about our differences.
My daughter’s kindergarten class felt like the United Nations — which, incidentally, made their Flat Stanley projects amazing. She knew immigrant kids from all sorts of other countries. For her, it was normal to hear other languages, accents, and names.
Do you know immigrants in your own life?
Do your kids have children from other countries in their classrooms?
Do your children know immigrants and what it means to immigrate from another country?
Whether or not you are in a community with immigrants at this precise moment, you can help your children learn about the challenges of moving to a new country and culture and the ways that immigrants contribute to our nation.
That’s one of the best ways to learn about immigrant experiences.
Immigrant stories build understanding and empathy.
Because we need to raise children who will understand that all people matter.
When we personalize big topics like immigration with stories, it reminds us that behind the big issue of immigration are people’s stories, individual stories, and they matter.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
A mom and child journey to a new place to live. When they arrive in the new country, they find that books help them develop both their language skills and also their voices. Exquisite artwork.
The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story by Aya Khalil, illustrated by Aaait Semirdzhyan
This wonderful story shows the value of being bilingual and sharing your language and culture with others! Kanzi’s new teacher values Kanzi’s culture and language. She helps Kanzi share her Egyptian culture and Arabic language with her classmates, building bridges, and friendships with her new classmates.
Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleishman, illustrated by Bagram Ibotoulline
A little girl’s Italian grandfather shares his immigration story with her by showing her objects stored in tiny matchboxes in a cigar box that spark his memories. Since he couldn’t read or write before he came to America, the objects are his way to remember his life.
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
Farah struggles with living in 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 classmates.
A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting
In a story about honesty and immigration, a young boy named Francisco accompanies his non-English speaking grandfather to look for a day labor job. Francisco lies to get his grandfather a job as a gardener, even though the grandfather knows nothing about it. The grandfather learns of the lie and the two of them tell the client and work to fix the client’s gardens.
I’m an Immigrant Too! by Mem Fox, illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh
This worthwhile book shares the immigration stories of people living in Australia who consider themselves Aussies but originally came from places like China, Somalia, England, and Italy. A beautiful celebration of immigration! “My auntie came from Athens with her brother and her niece. And now we live in Adelaide because it’s so like Greece.“
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers
Funny, interactive, informative, and insightful, this amazing book builds to a poignant and timely message about the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. Egger’s points out how the Statue’s right foot is raised as if she’s stepping. Eggers wants us to notice that the Statue is in motion. She is an immigrant, too. Her job of welcoming immigrants is active, never-ending.
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobold, illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Cartwheel is an immigrant who arrives in a new country. Since no one speaks her language, everything sounds and feels strange and lonely. She meets a friendly girl at the park and they play on the swings but she still doesn’t understand what the girl is saying. But, the girl helps her learn new words every time they play. Soon, Cartwheel begins to feel comfortable in her new home. Lovely.
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 immigration to America narrating a story of European immigration.
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? This sweet book helps show kids the value of each person’s heritage and name.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
A young boy wakes up early to go fishing with his dad. As they fish for their dinner, Bao helps his dad build a fire and put the fish in a bucket. While they’re together, Bao’s dad recalls fishing in his home country of Vietnam. The blue-black illustrations and precise prose help us feel the stillness of the early morning hours and the strong bond between father and son. Later that night, the entire family gathers together to eat the morning’s catch.
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
Grandfather loves both his countries, his old country, and the new one he’s immigrated to. Winner of the 1994 Caldecott.
The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gomez Redondo and Sonja Wimmer, illustrated Lawrence Schimel
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
Pie in the Sky is an insightful, funny, and poignant look at the struggles of immigrating to a new country (Australia) and the difficulties of learning English while growing up and grieving the loss of a father. Jingwen’s observations and wit make him a likable main character and the illustrations capture the depth and flavors of his experiences. Like Jingwen says about his new beginnings and sad losses, it’s a story that is both salty and sweet.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
When her father dies, Esperanza and her mother flee an abusive situation in Mexico for the United States where they get work as migrant farm workers. Well-written and memorable, this story shows the lives of undocumented immigrants and migrant workers and you’ll be inspired at the resiliency of Esperanza and her mom despite their circumstances.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
Written in evocative verse, follow a young girl from her home in Syria as she moves with her mother to the United States. Jude’s journey is one of growing up, being brave, and discovery. Kids will see how Jude navigates her new situation as she relates to other ESL students in their safe classroom space, finds new friends, and performs in the school play. Her insights on life in America will help readers understand the immigrant experience.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
This Newbery Honor book in verse shares the story of a girl named Hà who is fleeing Vietnam with her family and immigrating to the southern United States. Ultimately, her immigration transition is difficult yet sometimes funny. Based on the author’s childhood experiences.
A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
Is it possible for the daughter of a migrant farmworker to be friends with a town girl? And what about entering the local blueberry queen contest? Lord thoughtfully explores the topic of immigration and migrant workers.
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
Although it may sound like a heavy book, this is a funny, realistic story about growing up and living in a culture that is not your own. It’s the late 1970s and Zomorod (Cindy) and her family are back in the U.S. from Iran –again. Nevertheless, she’s desperate to fit in with the other kids despite facing both family pressures and anti-Iranian prejudice.
Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Kek immigrates to America where he’s separated from his mother. In his new home of Minnesota, he makes friends with a foster girl, an old woman, and a sad cow. This powerful chapter book shows the challenges of immigration, survival, and finding a new home.