September 14, 2022 | As part of Welcoming Week 2022, we compiled a list of children’s books for learning about immigrant and refugee experiences.
Written by authors who are immigrants or come from immigrant families, these books inspire, entertain and educate readers through vivid imagery and unique perspectives. If you have favorite books (for any age) about the immigrant and refugee experience, we’d love to hear your recommendations on our Instagram or Facebook pages.
by Kao Kalia Yang (Minnesota author), Khoa Le (illustrator)
“Drawn from (Minnesota) author Kao Kalia Yang’s childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee, this moving picture book portrays a family with a great deal of love and little money. Weaving together Kalia’s story with that of her beloved grandmother, the book moves from the jungles of Laos to the family’s early years in the United States.” -Lerner Publishing Group
by Bao Phi (Minnesota author), Thi Bui (illustrator)
“A 2018 Caldecott Honor Book that Kirkus Reviews calls ‘a must-read for our times,’ A Different Pond is an unforgettable story about a simple event – a long-ago fishing trip. Graphic novelist Thi Bui and acclaimed poet Bao Phi deliver a powerful, honest glimpse into a relationship between father and son – and between cultures, old and new. As a young boy, Bao and his father awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.” -Capstone Press
“Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it.” -Knopf Books for Young Readers
“Dan Yaccarino’s great-grandfather arrived at Ellis Island with a small shovel and his parents’ good advice: ‘Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and never forget your family.’ With simple text and warm, colorful illustrations, Yaccarino recounts how the little shovel was passed down through four generations of this Italian-American family—along with the good advice. It’s a story that will have kids asking their parents and grandparents: Where did we come from? How did our family make the journey all the way to America?” -Penguin Random House Canada
“Inspired by the author’s childhood experience as a refugee — fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama — this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration. Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope—toward America.” -Harper Collins Publishers
“Lailah is in a new school in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting but worried that her classmates won’t understand why she doesn’t join them in the lunchroom. Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs.” -Tilbury House Publishers
“Mia Tang has a lot of secrets. Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, 10-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests. Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed. Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language? It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?” -Scholastic
by Ruth Freeman
Back home, nine-year-old Anaïs was the best English student in her class, but here in Crazy America it feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken fingers?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa… Inspired by the author’s work with students learning English, this sweet, often funny middle-grade novel explores differences and common ground across cultures. In contrast to a growing climate of fear and doubt, this story of a refugee child navigating her new life restores hope and reminds us that America is, in fact, a nation of immigrants where we must accept our differences in order to survive—and that’s one very good thing.” -Holiday House
“An astonishing story that puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States…
“Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes … Enrique’s Journey recounts the unforgettable quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, eleven years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States. Braving unimaginable peril, often clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains, Enrique travels through hostile worlds full of thugs, bandits, and corrupt cops. But he pushes forward, relying on his wit, courage, hope, and the kindness of strangers.” -Random House Books