With immigration currently such a hot topic, picture books can be the perfect way to start a conversation about this complex and complicated social issue. These books, that are suited for a wide age range, can be used to inform and enlighten as well as encourage compassion and understanding. And for the child that may have lived such an experience, these books just might provide comfort or support.
A Wynk, a Blynk and a Nod to Books about Immigrants and Refugees
Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illus. by Brian Deines
Tuan Ho was just six years old when he and his mother and two sisters fled Ho Chi Minh City in 1981. Adrift at sea for several days, they were finally rescued by a U.S. aircraft carrier. The plight of the Vietnamese “boat people” is recounted in this moving story. Actual photographs and detailed author’s notes provide additional information about this period in world history. This is a powerful story with visually stunning illustrations.
Calling the Water Drum by LaTisha Redding, illus. by Aaron Boyd
A young boy uses his drum to communicate and find solace after tragedy strikes as he and his family attempt to flee Haiti. The watercolor illustrations convey the emotions and resiliency of this tender story.
Chee-Kee: A Panda in Bearland by Sujean Rim
The author wrote this story based on her own family’s journey from South Korea to the United States. A panda family leaves their home to seek new opportunity in Bearland where the bears are so very different from them. Young Chee-Kee has a hard time fitting in, but in the end does just that. This is the perfect book to introduce the concept of immigration to young children.
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
This is the harrowing story of a family’s attempt to find refuge from their war torn homeland. Striking imagery is used to help tell the story of their arduous journey. This is a very timely story that ends with a sense of hope. It is sure to be a great discussion starter.
Lady Liberty’s Holiday by Jen Arena, illus. by Matt Hunt
The Statue of Liberty, recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy, has welcomed thousands of immigrants to America. This story is just a fun look at what happens when she becomes bored and decides to take a vacation from sea to shining sea! Colorful illustrations add to its appeal.
Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes, illus. by Sue Cornelison
An Iraqi family takes their beloved pet cat with them as they flee their home for Greece. Kunkush, the cat, gets separated from them during their landing on Grecian shores. Unsuccessful in their attempts to find him, the family is forced to leave on their journey to find a new home. The cat is later found and, thanks to social media, is eventually reunited with his family in Norway. The authors of this book actually worked in Greece with the refugee crisis and Amy Shrodes is the one who found Kunkush. The story is illustrated but endpapers include photographs documenting his true journey. This is truly a heartwarming immigration and survival story.
The Map of Good Memories by Fran Nuño, illus. by Zuzanna Celej
Because of war, ten-year-old Zoe, along with her family, must flee with her family to another country. Before leaving, and as a means of saying goodbye, she makes a map of her city highlighting all of the places where she spent her happiest moments, places like Grandma’s house, the park, the cinema, and the library.
A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts, illus. by Hyewon Yum
This sweet story is that of a Korean family that immigrates to the United States as the father has accepted a teaching position at a law school in West Virginia. Hee Jun, his younger sister, and even his grandmother all struggle to adjust to their new home. Watts gives us a very sensitive portrayal of what it must be like for many immigrants as they settle into American life. The watercolor illustrations, done by a Korean artist who moved to America, are expressive and complement the text.
Somos como las nubes: We are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta, illus. by Alfonso Ruano
This bilingual collection of poetry describes the emotional and physical journey of many unaccompanied young people in Mexico and Central America as they flee their countries to escape poverty and violence. The author himself was a refugee, coming to the U.S. from El Salvador during the war in the 1980s. The imagery of the illustrations, acrylic on canvas, depicts the mood of the poems.
Teacup by Rebecca Young, illus. by Matt Ottley
This is a very artistic story, both visually and lyrically, which tells of leaving home in search of a new one. A young boy departs from his homeland in a small boat with only a few possessions: a book, a bottle, a blanket, and a teacup containing dirt from where he used to play. The illustrations convey the passage of time. The story is thought provoking and suggests connections to immigration. This beautiful story is a perfect discussion starter.
Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photographs by Wing Young Huie
This book focuses on the immigration to the United States, mostly through the eyes of children, in the 21st century. The text is minimal and the photographs powerful. Endnotes reveal the real-life immigration stories of the author and illustrator, as well as a section on how they came to create this book.
This Land is Our Land: A History of American Immigration by Linda Barrett Osborne
This is an outstanding work of nonfiction, and, in fact, was recently named a finalist by the American Library Association for the Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Osborne provides a thorough description and understanding of immigration, including its complex issues and differing opinions. Many personal stories and quotes are included, making this an interesting read. Numerous photos and illustrations complement the text as well.
We Came to America by Faith Ringgold
“We came to America, every color, race, and religion, from every country in the world.” This is the refrain repeated throughout the book. Using her typical folkloric style and poetic verse, Ringgold describes the many immigrants that have come to America throughout history. Her message is one of both diversity and unity. Ringgold won a Caldecott Honor for her book, Tar Beach, in 1992.
Welcome by Barroux
In the publisher’s words, this story “was inspired by the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis and promotes inclusiveness and welcomeness for children.” Three polar bears adrift on an ice floe are turned away by the animal inhabitants of various islands. They finally land upon a deserted island and make it their home. When a boatload of monkeys arrives on their shore seeking help, the bears welcome them, instead of turning them away. This picture book is clearly written for a young audience and provides a perfect introduction to the concept of immigration and building community.
Coming to America: The Story of Immigration by Betsy Maestro, illus. by Susannah Ryan
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman, illus. by Allen Say
The Journey that Saved Curious George by Louise Borden, illus. by Allan Drummond
The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen, illus. by Daniel Mark Duffy
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting, illus. by Ted Lewin
Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson, illus. by Diane Goode
When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, illus. by P.J. Lynch
Yoko by Rosemary Wells
Written by Cecilia Horn and Terri Diebel
Cecilia Horn is currently the Juvenile Collection Development Librarian for the Kenton County Public Library. Terri Diebel is a Children’s Librarian at the Covington Branch. Both hold Masters of Library Science degrees and have worked in the field of Children’s Literature for many years. In recent years, they have collaborated on presentations at local, state, and national library and literature conferences.
“Children’s literature is our passion. Through this blog, we hope to share that enthusiasm and love of children’s books. As children’s literature enthusiasts, our blog name pays homage to the classic children’s poem from 1889, “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” by Eugene Field.”