Using Books About Immigration in the Classroom

Learn more about the ways you can use books about immigration in the classroom and where to find recommended titles about this complex topic. This article is part of our guide to using diverse books with ELLs.

Image: Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes

Books can be a powerful doorway into a topic that is complex and highly personal, such as immigration. They can serve as mirrors for students who see their experiences reflected and validated; they can also serve as windows for other students (and adults) who gain a new perspective, some background knowledge, and perhaps a new level of empathy as well.

Here are some ideas for using books related to immigration in the classroom, as well as recommended booklists for children's and young adults.

Note: Educators and school staff should never ask students about their immigration status. All students have a right to a K-12 public education regardless of immigration status.

Tips for Getting Started

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan

The following tips can help guide your selection of books related to immigration:

  • As you get to know your students, look for books related to your students’ experiences and cultures (without asking your students direct questions about their immigration experiences).
  • Ask colleagues for their input on cultural authenticity.
  • Include the books you find in classroom libraries, school libraries, reading rooms, parent resource rooms, or other places where families will be able to share them.
  • Look for ways to include these books as a part of a class unit or classroom read-aloud.
  • Keep in mind that picture books can be great resources for older students and adults as well.

Note: Many immigrant and refugees have experienced trauma. Educators are encouraged to seek guidance in trauma-informed practices and should use care and sensitivity in discussing topics that may be traumatic. Learn more from the Dearborn video below as well as the from the following articles:

Tips for talking about big topics

When talking about a big topic like immigration, it's helpful to know some strategies for navigating those classroom discussions. Here are some resources to support that work:

Booklists

ELL, Immigrant, and Refugee Stories: Books for Children and Teens

Books for young children

Books for older children

You Are Welcome Here: Supporting the Social and Emotional Health of Newcomer Immigrant Students

In this excerpt from Colorín Colorado's award-winning film You Are Welcome Here, middle school teacher Anna Centi in Dearborn, MI talks about connections her refugee students from Yemen made to Linda Sue Park's book A Long Walk to Water, observing that she has been able to push her students with more rigorous text when they make those kinds of connections.

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