With the recent events in the US, immigration has become an increasingly important topic to explore and discuss with our students. I am currently working with a grade 6 class at my school exploring immigration through picture books. Many of these books are based on the authors’ family experience and are the perfect opportunity to discuss the many issues surrounding immigration: different reasons why people leave their homes to seek new land (the “pull” – some are drawn to new opportunity; the “push” – others fleeing war and oppression); refugee camps; the challenges of adjusting to so much “newness” – country, friends, language, school, culture. And yes, Donald Trump was brought up in today in our class discussion.
At at a time when we need to be talking about and modelling kindness and celebrating diversity, here are my top 10 picture books about immigration and refugees.
1. I’m New Here – Anne Sibley O’Brien
The school where I teach is made up of over 30 different cultures so this book is a must have “connect” book for our library! We follow three immigrant children as they face the challenges of adapting to their new school and community while trying to maintain their language, identity and sense of “home”. Thoughtful, heartfelt and realistic with simple text and colorful illustrations.
Here I Am – Patti Kim
What must it be like to move far away from your home, across vast waters, to another country, culture and language? Through this wordless picture book, we experience this adventure through the eyes of a young Asian boy as he experiences the unknown city streets and cityscapes for the first time. Gorgeous illustrations.
Beautiful, haunting, wordless picture book told from the perspective of a new immigrant. We see and experience everything he does – the heartbreak, fear, confusion, and enlightenment. Sometimes strange, surreal and magical – this is a must share immigration book.
3. Sami and the Time of the Troubles – Florence Parry Heide
Lebanon Civil War from a young boy’s point of view. Sami and his family spend much of their time in the basement trying to keep safe while the fighting goes on right outside his home. To pass the time, they share happy memories. This book is beautiful, moving and filled with hope. Amazing illustrations.
4. Gleam and Glo – Eve Bunting
Narrated from the perspective of an eight-year-old boy, this story is based on an amazing true story of what happened in a village in the 1990s as the Bosnian war. The family flees, leaving behind their home and belongings. They spend time in a refugee camp and return to find their home destroyed, but their pet fish thriving and multiplying in their pond. Beautiful, hopeful, inexpressibly sad – a must-read book.
5. Stepping Stones: A Syrian Refugee Story – Margriet Ruurs
This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children’s writer Margriet Ruurs. Stunning artwork, a simple, poignant story about a Syrian family’s departure from their homeland written in both English and Arabic, and a wonderful story behind the story.
6. Adrift at Sea – A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival – Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
This is the beautiful true story of a family’s survival in the face of overwhelming odds as they leave Vietnam in search of a new life. In 1981, just at the end of the Vietnam war, sixty Vietnamese refugees, among whom is six-year-old Tuan Ho and his family, endure days at sea in horrific conditions. They are eventually rescued and finally reach Canada. The amazing life-like illustrations and large format makes it an engaging read-aloud. I appreciated the historical facts and real photos of Tuan in his family included at the back of the book.
This is a powerful story that many of my students made connections to. Told from a young child’s perspective, it is about what it’s like to have an absent parent living and working overseas and then to have to leave your home, country and those you love for a new life.
8. How I Learned Geography – Uri Shulevitz
This story is based on the author’s own boyhood when his family lived as refugees after fleeing war-torn Poland at the onset of WWII. One evening, instead of their ration of bread, his father brings home a world map. After the initial disappointment, the young boy see that there are places in the world beyond his home, allowing him to dream and imagine beyond his hardships.
9. Four Feet, Two Sandals – Karen Lynn Williams
Taking place in a camp in Pakistan for Afghan refugees, this is a story of friendship, sharing and compassion. When relief workers bring used clothing to the refugee camp, two young girls race to grab whatever they can find, and discover they each have one sandal from a pair of shoes. Through their plan to share the shoes, the two become friends. Powerful, heartbreaking and gives voice to the refugee experience.
One Green Apple– Eve Bunting
This is a powerful and meaningful story about a Muslim immigrant trying to find her way in a new school without friends or words to connect to. Important book about inclusion and one that we will be using for “point of view”.
Anna and Solomon – Elaine Snyder
This is a true story of author Elaine Snyder’s grandparents’ immigration from Russia to the U.S. in 1897. It is a fascinating story of patience, understanding, and love. After Anna and Solomon are married, they choose to leave Russia during the Czar’s persecution of the Jews, and immigrate to the USA. Having only enough money for one ticket, Solomon goes first. After working hard to earn enough for a second ticket, he sends for Anna, only to discover she sends her brother. Four more attempts bring 4 other family members, until eventually, Anna and Solomon are reunited.
Thanks for stopping by! What are your favorite books about immigration?