21 Children’s Books About the Immigrant Experience

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SPONSORED: This post is sponsored by NILC and Resilience Force for #ImmigrantsAreEssential.

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.

How?

Read stories.

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.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS
  1. Picture Books
  2. Chapter Books

Picture Books About Immigrants

21 Children's Books About the Immigrant Experience
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.

21 Children's Books About the Immigrant Experience
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.

21 Children's Books About the Immigrant Experience
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.

21 Children's Books About the Immigrant Experience
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.

21 Children's Books About the Immigrant Experience
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.

Children's Books About Immigration
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.

children's books about immigration
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.

21 Children's Books About the Immigrant Experience
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.

Children's Books About 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.

books about immigrants
A Different Pond
by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
(graphic novel)
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.

Children's Books About Immigration
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 
Lyrical and descriptive, two girls, one who is an immigrant, develop a friendship based on kindness even though they don’t speak the same language. “With a finger, I drew a welcome for her, warm and soft, like long scarves and fluffy pillows.” When Saida arrived, the friends teach each other new words and build a friendship.

Chapter Books About Immigrants

middle grade chapter books about immigration
Front Desk
by Kelly Yang
After moving from China to the U.S., Mia and her parents eventually find a live-in job at a motel where they end up working around the clock for very little pay. Mia helps out by working at the front desk. She befriends the weekly tenants and uses her English skills to write letters advocating people in tough spots. Not only is this a memorable coming-of-age immigrant story but it also shows the determination and hard work of immigrants like Mia’s family. Based on the author’s childhood, I can’t recommend this book enough — it’s very well-written.
 

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.

21 Children's Books About the Immigrant Experience
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.

chapter books about immigration
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 good books about immigration
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.

After a happy, hardworking life in the U.S., Guerrero’s parents are deported to Columbia, leaving Diane behind just as she’s about to start high school. Diane survives by staying with different friends, moving when they don’t have space for her, trying to be invisible, and excelling in school. Her true story is an incredible journey of survival and strength that will profoundly affect readers.
 

Land of the Cranes
by Aida Salazar
Written in verse, this timely story of immigration and deportation follows 9-year-old Betita who lives in the United States but ends up in detention. When her Papi gets taken by ICE, Betita, her mom, and a neighbor make the mistake of trying to meet him at the border where they also get thrown into detention. Detention is traumatic for them, with horrible conditions and racist guards. There is no sugar coating it, it’s hard to read. Betita relies on her father’s story of cranes, using this overarching metaphor to talk about her clipped wings and her song. She draws and writes poetry to send to her Papi which she gives to a lawyer to pass along and tell her story. Then, her pregnant mom’s sickness forces her into the medical ward, leaving Betita alone in detention. Betita makes the best of it by teaching others how to write poetry and imagine their crane wings flying in the wild.  Ultimately, the family agrees to voluntary departure even though it’s not safe in Mexico because at least they’ll be together and not in prison. Powerful and important.
 
Home of the Brave Books that Teach Empathy: Immigration
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.
 
21 children's books about immigrants
 
 
 

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