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Experience the breadth of American culture through this collection of immigrant stories, which highlights the variety of races, nationalities, and religions seen in modern U.S. history.
Like it or not, the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. As the daughter of an immigrant myself, I am proud of the contributions that newcomers to this country have made, but I also recognize the struggle to fit in. Whether immigration is a part of their family’s story, a friend’s story, a neighbor or local business owner’s story, or their own story, readers deserve books that show the diverse spectrum of immigrant experience. Filled with famous names like Irving Berlin and Charlie Chaplin and highlighting, too, the lives of anonymous refugees and undocumented workers, these books represent just a few of the many immigrant stories that can serve as a window for some readers and a mirror for others.
A Different Pond. By Bao Phi. Illus. by Thi Bui. 2017. Capstone, $15.95 (9781623708030). K–Gr. 3.
A son and his father embark on an early morning fishing trip, evoking the father’s memories of fishing in a different pond in Vietnam before coming to America. This Caldecott Honor Book shows the ways in which family history has an impact on the immigration experience for many generations.
Dreamers / Soñadores. By Yuyi Morales. Illus. by the author. 2018. Holiday/Neal Porter, $18.99 (9780823440559). PreS–Gr. 2.
Morales’ colorful mixed-media collages create a wonderful, dreamlike effect in this powerful story of a mother and young son emigrating from Mexico to the U.S. in search of a new life. This beautifully illustrated book—be it the English Dreamers or the Spanish Soñadores—describes an immigrant’s experience learning to navigate a new country and discovering the public library.
Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing. By Nancy Churnin. Illus. by James Rey Sanchez. 2018. Creston, $17.99 (9781939547446). K–Gr. 2.
This is an inspiring rags-to-riches story of a Russian Jewish boy who came to the U.S. with nothing, lived in the New York City tenements, and went on to write many iconic songs, including “God Bless America.”
Lubna and Pebble. By Wendy Meddour. Illus. by Daniel Egnéus. 2019. Dial, $17.99 (9780525554165). K–Gr. 2.
Lubna’s best friend in the World of Tents is a pebble. But when a lost little boy arrives, Lubna realizes that he needs Pebble even more than she does. This beautifully poignant story reflects the emotional resilience of refugee children and the power of friendship.
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré. By Anika Aldamuy Denise. Illus. by Paola Escobar. 2019. Harper, $17.99 (9780062748683). K–Gr. 3.
Pura Belpré first came to Manhattan in 1921 to attend her sister’s wedding, and she stayed to become the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. Sprinkled with Spanish, this picture-book biography is a tribute to the woman who championed bilingual literature.
Saffron Ice Cream. By Rashin Kheiriyeh. Illus. by the author. 2018. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $17.99 (9781338150520). K–Gr. 3.
A young Iranian immigrant girl in New York remembers visiting the Caspian Sea with her family and eating saffron ice cream. Bright oil-and-acrylic paint on handmade paper gives texture and energy to the presentation, adding to the happy excitement of her first visit to an American beach.
Someone New. By Anne Sibley O’Brien. Illus. by the author. 2018. Charlesbridge, $16.99 (9781580898317). K–Gr. 2.
Three current students try to understand and welcome three new immigrant students into their class: Maria from Guatemala, Jin from South Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia. The book depicts emotions from different perspectives of immigrant experiences and can prompt discussion about diversity, inclusion, and developing friendships.
The Crossroads. By Alexandra Diaz. 2018. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, $17.99 (9781534414556). Gr. 4–7.
Issues of immigration and deportation emerge in this sequel to The Only Road (2016), as Jaime and his cousin Ángela cross the border and join new schools in the U.S. Jaime grapples with guilt and fear as he begins to understand what it means to be undocumented.
First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great. By Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace. Illus. by Agata Nowicka. 2018. Little, Brown, $18.99 (9780316515245). Gr. 3–7.
Illustrated portraits of immigrants from all races, nationalities, and religions show the impact they have had on the country, from politics to art to science to business. Readers may be surprised by the lasting effects of these immigrants’ hard work and perseverance.
Front Desk. By Kelly Yang. 2018. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $16.99 (9781338157796). Gr. 4–7.
In 1990s California, 10-year-old Mia’s Chinese immigrant parents manage a motel, and plucky Mia takes over the front desk. This book will help some young readers empathize with the immigrant experience, while for immigrant children, it is a much-needed and validating mirror.
My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Loss, Hope, and Home. By Diane Guerrero and Erica Moroz. 2018. Holt, $18.99 (9781250134868). Gr. 3–6.
Guerrero’s adapted version of the Alex Award–winning In the Country We Love: My Family Divided (2016) recounts her early life as a child of undocumented immigrants, highlighting the challenges faced within a complex immigration system and the devastating effect of her parents’ deportation.
Other Words for Home. By Jasmine Warga. 2019. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $16.99 (9780062747808). Gr. 4–7.
Twelve-year-old Jude is an ordinary girl who loves her family, her home in Syria, and American movies, but as war comes closer, her pregnant mother decides it is not safe to stay there. This novel in verse conveys Jude’s mixed emotions as she struggles gracefully to adjust to her new home in Cincinnati. Anyone who has felt like an outsider will relate to Jude’s search for belonging.
Save Me a Seat. By Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. 2016. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545846608). Gr. 4–6.
Alternating first-person narratives tell the story of Joe and Ravi, who think they have nothing in common. Ravi has just moved from India, and Joe has long been the target of the class bully. Readers will cheer as the boys find common ground in the resource room of Einstein Elementary.
Silver Meadows Summer. By Emma Otheguy. 2019. Knopf, $16.99 (9781524773236). Gr. 3–6.
Eleven-year-old Carolina’s family leaves Puerto Rico for New York, where they live with Carolina’s cousin Gabriela and her family. This contemporary novel reflects the complications of relocating within a new country and will appeal to any child who has felt like an outsider.
Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry). By Gary Golio. Illus. by Ed Young. 2019. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763697617). Gr. 3–6.
Gary Golio and Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Ed Young depict the beloved performer Charlie Chaplin’s path from his poverty-stricken London childhood to his new life in America making silent films.
Americanized: Rebel without a Green Card. By Sara Saedi. 2019. Knopf, $17.99 (9781524717797). Gr. 9–12.
This entertaining and relatable memoir of an undocumented Iranian girl makes use of journal entries, photographs, and pop-culture references to shed light on current immigration issues, cultural stereotypes, and what it means to navigate life between two cultures.
The Downstairs Girl. By Stacey Lee. 2019. Putnam, $17.99 (9781524740955). Gr. 9–12.
In 1890 Atlanta, frustrated by the inequalities in her city, Chinese teenager Jo Kuan rebels against societal restrictions imposed on people of color and women by writing an anonymous advice column as Miss Sweetie.
The Grief Keeper. By Alexandra Villasante. 2019. Putnam, $17.99 (9780525514022). Gr. 9–12.
This novel looks at flawed immigration policies through the lens of suspenseful science fiction. Undocumented Marisol, who is denied asylum, is coerced into being a psychological test subject for the U.S. military. She becomes a “grief keeper” in an experimental study on the effects of taking on others’ shame, regret, anxiety, and grief.
Like a Love Story. By Abdi Nazemian. 2019. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray, $17.99 (9780062839367). Gr. 9–12.
Set in 1980s New York, three teens—Iranian immigrant Reza and his American friends Judy and Art—grapple with love, friendship, and the devastation of HIV/AIDS.
Picture Us in the Light. By Kelly Loy Gilbert. 2018. Hyperion, $17.99 (9781484726020). Gr. 9–12.
Danny’s Chinese immigrant parents have always been supportive of his dream to go to art school, but having accepted a scholarship to RISD, Danny discovers the shocking truth about his family’s past: his sister was left behind in China. He now must confront what was given up for his privileged life in the U.S.
Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight. By Duncan Tonatiuh. 2018. Abrams ComicArts, $19.99 (9781419728549). Gr. 8–11.
Formatted in ancient Mixtec codex and produced in accordion-fold style with mixed-media illustrations, this graphic novel tells the story of Juan, an undocumented worker who goes on to lead the fight for equal rights for all his fellow restaurant workers.
Sonja Cole, a former school library media specialist, is the author of Booktalking around the World: Great Global Reads for Ages 9–14 (2010).
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