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Books for Kids

ELL Stories

These stories capture the varied experiences of learning English through a child's eyes — from the shy and nerve-wracking beginnings to the joy of a blossoming new friendship. ELL students will recognize the highs and lows of the situations and emotions of the stories, many of which were written by authors who themselves were immigrants. The books also provide valuable insight to adults working with ELLs in the classroom.

A Day's Work A Day's Work By: Eve Bunting Illustrated by: Ronald Himler Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

When Francisco's grandfather arrives from Mexico speaking no English and in search of a job, Francisco becomes his translator. In his desire to help Abuelo find work quickly, Francisco lies about what his grandfather knows how to do, creating trouble for both of them. In the end, Francisco learns an important lesson in this poignant story about immigrant families and day laborers.

Get Ready for Gabi: A Crazy Mixed Up Spanglish Day Get Ready for Gabi: A Crazy Mixed Up Spanglish Day By: Marisa Montes Illustrated by: Joe Cepeda Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

Third grade Gabi speaks Spanish at home and English at school and sometimes "Spanglish" everywhere. Spanish and English combine naturally in Gabi's narration as the irrepressible, likable girl befriends a kindergartner who has moved from Nicaragua and as she controls her temper when teased by a classmate.

Good-bye, Havana! Hola, New York! Good-bye, Havana! Hola, New York! By: Edie Colón Illustrated by: Raúl Colón Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

It is 1960 in Havana, and young Gabriella doesn't understand what the changes she sees around her in Cuba will mean until she boards a flight to New York to start a new life with her parents in the Bronx. New York is cold and busy; she doesn't speak any English, and she misses her grandparents. Slowly, however, she adapts to her new life, making friends and learning English along the way. The story is based on the childhood of Edie Colón (now an ESL teacher) and illustrated by her husband, Raúl.

Home at Last Home at Last By: Susan Middleton Elya Illustrated by: Felipe Davalos Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

When Ana's family comes to the U.S., she can tell that her mother misses their life and family in Mexico terribly. In addition, she doesn't want to learn English, and she relies on Ana and her husband to translate. Soon, however, Ana's mother realizes that English may be the key to finally feeling at home in her new country. A touching tribute to the children — and their parents — who have come to the U.S. for a better life.

Home of the Brave Home of the Brave By: Katherine Applegate Age Level: 9-12 Reading Level: Independent Reader

This novel, written in free verse, tells the story of Kek, an eleven-year-old boy from the Sudan who arrives as a refugee to Minnesota in the middle of winter. In moments both amusing and heartbreaking, it is possible to see through Kek's eyes what it is like for new immigrants who come to this country and to think about the scars that war leaves on its youngest victims. Teacher's Guide available.

I Hate English! I Hate English! By: Ellen Levine Illustrated by: Steve Bjorkman Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Mei Mei loves to think and write and talk…in Chinese. But at her school in New York City, everything happens…in English. Mei Mei is afraid that if she starts speaking in English, she will lose all that she loves in Chinese, including her friends at home in Hong Kong. Will Mei Mei always hate English as much as she loves Chinese? A humorous and touching story about the difficulty of accepting a new language and home.

In English, of Course In English, of Course By: Josephine Nobisso Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Beginning Reader

On the first day of school, Josephine must tell her new classmates in the Bronx about her native Italy. Even though she understands English, she keeps thinking of the words in Italian! Based on the childhood experiences of the author, this book offers a tribute to the many immigrant children who have built a new life in this country — in English, of course.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson By: Bette Bao Lord Illustrated by: Marc Simont Age Level: 9-12 Reading Level: Independent Reader

Meet Shirley Temple Wong, a delightful heroine who has come from China and arrived in Brooklyn in 1947 — the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. Based on the author's own experiences, the story captures the highs and lows of coming to live in a new country, learning English, and falling in love with the Brooklyn Dodgers during moments that are both heartbreaking and hilarious. A must-read for teachers working with ELLs and newcomer students.

La Mariposa La Mariposa By: Francisco Jiménez Illustrated by: Simon Silva Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

Young Francisco is excited to go to school. His excitement gives way to shame and frustration, however, as he realizes that he doesn't fit in and he can't understand what is happening around him in English. The story explores Francisco's isolation and his daydreams about a caterpillar in a jar in his classroom.

This story is an excerpt from The Circuit and is based on the experiences of the author as the child of migrant farmworkers. Both English and Spanish versions available.

My Name Is Maria Isabel My Name Is Maria Isabel By: Alma Flor Ada Illustrated by: K. Dyble Thompson Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

Product Description: For María Isabel Salazar López, the hardest thing about being the new girl in school is that the teacher doesn't call her by her real name. "We already have two Marías in this class," says her teacher. "Why don't we call you Mary instead?" But María Isabel has been named for her Papá's mother and for Chabela, her beloved Puerto Rican grandmother. Can she find a way to make her teacher see that if she loses her name, she's lost the most important part of herself?

My Name Is Yoon My Name Is Yoon By: Helen Recorvits Illustrated by: Gabi Swiatkowska Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

Yoon narrates the difficulty she experiences when her family moves to the United States from Korea. Her struggle with the transition focuses on the moment when she must learn to write her name in English rather than in Korean, and she remains resistant to learning a new language. Her imaginative voice is child-like and plausible, augmented by inventive illustrations.

No English No English By: Jacqueline Jules Illustrated by: Amy Huntington Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Beginning Reader

No English is the story of two second-grade girls who become friends after overcoming a language barrier. Teachers and students alike will appreciate and empathize with both girls' struggles as they get to know each other and look for ways to communicate. An accompanying Teacher's Guide also provides activities and discussion questions.

One Green Apple One Green Apple By: Eve Bunting Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Beginning Reader

In this heartwarming story, Farah is trying to get used to a new country and language. She knows what's happening around her, but without the words to say what she's thinking in English, she feels alienated from her classmates. A trip to the apple orchard helps her begin to bridge those gaps, however, and she realizes that "Laughs sound the same as at home." As she practices her first "outside-myself word," she knows that she will be able to say more in time. Beautiful watercolor illustrations bring Farah, her classmates, and the apple orchard to life.

Painted Words Painted Words By: Aliki Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

Product Description: In Painted Words, Marianthe's paintings help her to become less of an outsider as she struggles to adjust to a new language and a new school. Under the guidance of her teacher, who understands that there is more than one way to tell a story, Mari makes pictures to illustrate the history of her family, and eventually begins to decipher the meaning of words.

Speak English for Us, Marisol! Speak English for Us, Marisol! By: Karen English Illustrated by: Enrique O. Sanchez Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Marisol is rushing home from school to see to her cat, but on the way she's stopped by adult family members and neighbors who need her to translate from Spanish for them so that they can communicate with shopkeepers and officials in English. Whether she's helping Uncle Tomas bargain with the poultry man, showing her neighbor how to fill out an application form, or speaking for Mama about a problem with the telephone bureaucracy, Marisol translates the words and also interprets the messages across cultures. — Booklist

Sumi's First Day of School Ever Sumi's First Day of School Ever By: Soyoung Pak Illustrated by: Joung Un Kim Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Beginning Reader

When Sumi arrives at her big new school, she thinks that it is a lonely, scary, and mean place. Throughout the day, however, little things begin to change her mind and give her hope. An excellent portrayal of what the first day of school is like for both new students and ELLs. Expressive illustrations convey Sumi's emotions throughout the course of her first day.

The Color of Home The Color of Home By: Mary Hoffman Illustrated by: Karin Littlewood Age Level: 9-12 Reading Level: Independent Reader

Product Description: First-grader Hassan has only recently arrived in the United States after he and his family were forced to flee Somalia, and he deeply misses the colorful landscape of his former home in Africa. But with the help of his parents, an understanding teacher, and a school art project, Hassan finds that by painting a picture of his old home and sharing his story, his homesickness and the trauma of leaving a war-torn country are lessened.

The Name Jar The Name Jar By: Yangsook Choi Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Beginning Reader

On the way to Unhei's first day of school, a group of kids on the school bus make fun of her name. When she gets to class, she refuses to tell anyone her name, deciding that she wants to choose an American name instead. The next morning, she finds a name jar filled with pieces of paper and finds that her classmates are eagerly awaiting to see which name Unhei will choose. Yangsook Choi (who chose the name Rachael as a child) offers a moving portrait of the importance of names and identity to all children.

The Upside Down Boy The Upside Down Boy By: Juan Felipe Herrera Illustrated by: Elizabeth Gomez Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

Product Description: The Upside Down Boy is the sequel to Calling the Doves and award-winning poet Juan Felipe Herrera's engaging memoir of the year his migrant family settled down so that he could go to school for the first time. Juanito is bewildered by the new school, and he misses the warmth of country life. Everything he does feels upside down…But a sensitive teacher and loving family help him to find his voice and make a place for himself in this new world through poetry, art, and music.

Uncle Rain Cloud Uncle Rain Cloud By: Tony Johnston Illustrated by: Fabricio Vanden Broeck Age Level: 6-9 Reading Level: Independent Reader

When Tío Tomás speaks in Spanish and tells his nephew Carlos ancient stories from Mexico, he is animated and happy. When he has to speak in English, however, his bad mood makes him look like a rain cloud. Eventually the two of them find a solution that will allow them to know "twice as much as everyone else!" This realistic story provides an authentic look at the frustration many recent immigrants feel when they are struggling to learn a new language, as well as the opportunities that being bilingual provides.

Note: While the scene in which Carlos translates at a school conference is realistic, we strongly discourage schools from using students as translators for parent conferences.

Yoko Writes Her Name Yoko Writes Her Name By: Rosemary Wells Age Level: 3-6 Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Yoko is ready for kindergarten! She can write her name, write numbers, and read stories. There is only one problem, though — she does it all in Japanese, and her classmates make fun of her scribbles. Can her new friend convince her that knowing a secret language isn't such a bad thing after all? Wells offers a loving, empathetic story that young ELLs will easily relate to, as well as a thoughtful portrayal of a teacher who embraces her young student's native language in the classroom.

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