Most of us who live in the United States can trace our roots back to somewhere else. Our nation is a melting pot; a collection of people from all over the world who have come together in this one place, over hundreds of years. This diversity is one of the very best things about our country.
For those of us who have always called America home, it can be hard to imagine what life is like for an immigrant moving to a new country. It can be especially difficult to envision what life must be like for refugee families who were forced to flee their homes, often with nothing.
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Reading these books about immigrants and refugees with your children will help them build empathy for the struggles of others. They’re also a great reminder that, while we may be from different places, we all share things as humans that bind us together. Kindness, friendship, and love transcend all cultural barriers.
15 Children’s Books About Immigrants and Refugees
When Christmas Feels Like Home by Gretchen Griffith — Eduardo has recently moved from Mexico to the United States, and he’s having a hard time adjusting to his new home. It takes the magic of Christmas to make the United States feel more like a place where he can belong, and he learns that home is really wherever you can be with the people you love.
Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen — This book tells two parallel stories: the story of a famous statue, and the story of a little girl. Young Gitl is both excited and nervous to travel to America, where her family will join her older brother in beginning a new life. Meanwhile, a young artist named Frederic Auguste Bartholdi is creating a beautiful monument to freedom, a monument that will inspire Gitl as she arrives at her new home.
Islandborn by Junot Diaz — Lola’s class at school is full of children who, like her, are immigrants. The class is given an assignment to draw a picture of the place their family comes from. Lola is worried that she can’t complete the assignment; her family left The Island when she was just a baby, and she has no memories of her birthplace. But with the help of her family and community, she’s able to learn about the music, animals, and people that make her homeland unique. As her abuela says, “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.”
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams — When a new shipment of donated clothing comes to the refugee camp, Lina and Feroza each end up with one sandal. The shoes bring the two girls together, and they decide that a shared pair of sandals is better than having one shoe each. A strong friendship grows as they go through their days at the refugee camp, anxiously awaiting the day their names will be on the list to go to America.
Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams and R. Gregory Christie — I’ll warn you that this book delves into some sad and serious topics, and might be scary for kids younger than seven. However, it’s also a story of how a young boy turned tragedy into an opportunity to help others. Garang is only eight-years-old when his parents are killed and he is left an orphan. Despite this terrible event, Garang leads thousands of boys as they walk to Ethiopia and then Kenya, searching for safety. This book will break your heart, but it’s such an important read.
My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo — Sami and his family have to flee their home in Syria suddenly as bombs destroy their home. Sami isn’t worried about his safety; all he can think about is the pet pigeons he left behind. As the other children settle into life at the refugee camp, Sami can’t let go of the life he left behind. It takes some very special visitors to bring hope back into Sami’s life. This beautifully illustrated book is perfect for children ages six and older.
Joseph’s Big Ride by Terry Farish — In the refugee camp, Joseph idolizes a boy who has a bicycle, and he dreams of having a bike of his own. When Joseph moves to America, he encounters a girl who whooshes by on her bicycle. When her bicycle breaks, Joseph offers to help fix it, and a friendship forms. After a few crashes, he’s able to realize his dream!
The Journey by Francesca Sanna — This powerful book chronicles the journey of a family as they flee their homeland to escape violence and persecution. Sanna created this narrative from the stories of many refugees that she spoke with, and the result is both beautiful and heartbreaking. This is a book I carried with me long after I read it. I recommend it for kids ages 7 and up.
We Came to America by Faith Ringgold — I absolute love Faith Ringgold’s books, and this one might be my favorite of all. Ringgold recognizes both the native people of America and all those from around the world who make our country special. Ringgold’s dedication always brings tears to my eyes:
We Came to America is dedicated to all the children who come to America. May they find peace, freedom, and prosperity in their new home. May we welcome them and inspire them to sustain a love and dedication to peace, freedom, and justice for all.
The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco — Polacco is one of my favorite authors, and this book never fails to make me cry. It chronicles the author’s own family story, and how her great-great-grandmother made the quilt so her family would always remember their Russian roots. The quilt served as a table cloth, wedding canopy, and baby blanket for generation after generation, keeping the stories of the past alive.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs — The author took the artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badir and used it to create the story of family fleeing the Syrian civil war with only the clothes on their back. This beautiful book is in both Arabic and English, and it’s a great opening to discussing the current refugee crisis with your children in a way they can understand.
Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes — Young animal lovers will especially enjoy this amazing story of a cat who is separated from his family as they are fleeing to Greece from Iraq. When relief workers find the lost pet, they know that a family must be missing him, and people from all over the world came together to share his story in the hopes he could be returned home.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi — Unhei is very nervous about starting school in America after moving from Korea. She’s especially anxious about whether or not the kids at school will be able to pronounce her name, so decides to pick an American name. When her classmates learn she will be choosing a new name, they all write down ideas for her and put them in a jar, hoping to help her pick the right one. But along the way, a new friend learns her Korean name and its special meaning, and soon Unhei has no need for a name jar.
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting — Farah feels like an outsider in her class. She’s new to America, she doesn’t speak English well, and some of the children in her new class are unkind. It takes a class field trip to an apple orchard for Farah to realize that there are elements of her old home in her new one, and making apple cider offers a way that she can bond with her classmates. For the first time, America begins to feel like it could be home.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi — Early in the morning, Bao’s father wakes him so they can head to the pond to fish. Other people are fishing for sport, but Bao and his father have to catch fish to provide food for the family. While they fish, Bao’s father tells him about a different pond in their home country of Vietnam, and the difficulties they left behind there. This book is beautiful and powerful, and I give it my highest recommendation for reading to your school-aged kids.
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