Immigration Stories: Books for Young Children
Picture books are a wonderful way to talk about big topics with children (and adults). These books for children focus on themes related to immigration, including the many kinds of journeys people make when moving to a new land, as well as some of the experiences that children in immigrant families experience.
These titles can provide important 'mirrors' and 'windows' for children and families from a wide range of backgrounds, and may also prove to be important resources for immigrant families at home.
Note: Keep in mind that some of the topics in these books may elicit strong feelings from children, especially those who have experienced some kind of trauma. Use discretion when choosing which titles to share with children in private or group settings.
For additional information about how immigration issues can impact young children, see our related guide on this topic.
Every day, Angelina tells her mother she wants to go home. Not to their new city home, cold and gray and unfamiliar — but their old island home, sunny and colorful and filled with rainbow-colored fruits and birds. Angelina believes she'll never feel at home in this new place, until her mother finds a wonderful surprise in the newspaper. A beautiful tribute to the traditions of the West Indies, Carnival, and the longing for home that young immigrants will recognize immediately.
"Narrated by elder sister Annushka, the story tells of two Russian girls who leave their native home and their beloved grandparents to begin a new life in New York with their father. Their parting from their relatives is wrenching, yet their future is full of possibility…An afterword includes an antique photograph of the real sisters, the author's mother and aunt, along with a historical note regarding the persecution of Jews in Russia during the late 1800s." — School Library Journal
Areli Is a Dreamer: A True Story
When Areli was just a baby, her mama and papa moved from Mexico to New York with her brother, Alex, to make a better life for the family — and when she was in kindergarten, they sent for her, too. Everything in New York was different. Gone were the Saturdays at Abuela’s house, filled with cousins and sunshine. Instead, things were busy and fast and noisy. Areli’s limited English came out wrong, and schoolmates accused her of being illegal. But with time, America became her home.
Cora Cooks Pancit
Cora wants to learn how to cook, but she's too young to do the jobs her older siblings do. One day, however, after the older kids have all gone out together, Cora asks her mother what they can cook together. To her surprise, Cora's mother asks her what she would like to make, and Cora chooses her favorite Filipino noodle dish, pancit. This family story about the importance of sharing tradition is brought to life by Kristi Valiant's charming illustrations and includes a bilingual glossary of Tagalog words.
In 1994, Caldecott Honor artist and five-time Pura Belpré winner Yuyi Morales left her home in Xalapa, Mexico and came to the U.S. with her infant son. In this picture book which she wrote and illustrated, Yuyi tells the story of how she and her son made a home in a new place, finding refuge at the public library. A Spanish-language version is also available. Pura Belpré Author Award Winner.
Home at Last
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.
I'm New Here
Maria, Jin, and Fatimah are new to their American elementary school. The words that they hear around them and see on the page are confusing. They each long for the language that they understand and the friends who understand them back home. They feel as though they don’t fit in—they are alone, confused, and sad in their new school. After observing those around them, each new student slowly gains the confidence to interact with their new surroundings. They realize that their peers and teachers are very supportive, welcoming, and excited to learn what these new classmates have to share.
Just Like Home
As a young girl begins to get used to her new life in the U.S., she compares everything around her to life back in her country. Some things — like sharing a big meal with her family — are just like home. Other things, however, like not being able to speak to her classmates easily, are not like home. The simple structure and colorful illustrations of the story provide an interesting model for immigrant or new students to compare one home to another. Bilingual text.
Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush's Incredible Journey
Lost and Found Cat follows an Iraqi family’s escape from Mosul — by car, by foot, and by boat — all with their beloved pet, Kunkush, in tow ... until Kunkush escapes his carrier. The family is heartbroken, but Kunkush fortunately ends up in the hands of Amy, a woman volunteering with refugees in Greece, who grows determined to reunite the cat with his original family. This moving true story will inspire discussions with young readers about what it means to be a refugee, the unexpected consequences of being displaced, and the importance of kindness.
Mamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestre
"When Mamá's purse falls on the floor, Sofia gets a peek at Mamá's old Resident Alien card and comes to the conclusion that Mamá might be an alien from outer space. Sofia heads to the library to learn more about aliens. Some are small and some are tall. Some have four fingers on each hand and some have large, round eyes. Their skin can be gray or blue or green. But Mamá looks like a human mother! Could she really be an alien? Sofia is still puzzling out this mystery when she sees an alien-looking Mamá one night.
Mama's Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
Danticat’s celebration of storytelling and the bond between mother and child is an empowering one. Saya, whose mother is being detained, writes a story inspired by her mother’s experience. When her father sends Saya’s story to a newspaper, she learns firsthand that one voice, one story, can make a difference.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey (Arabic and English Edition)
Nizar Ali Badr's striking stone art inspired Ruurs to create a narrative about a family in Syria who attempts to walk to safety and freedom in Europe with only what they can carry on their backs. Booklist called this free-verse tale "a unique offering that will open eyes and soften hearts."
The Journey recounts a refugee boy's story as he travels from his war-torn country to a new home. Sanna writes that the book began when she met two young girls at an Italian refugee center, then "began collecting more stories of migration and interviewing many people from many different countries." The striking result, in a setting that is not specified, is a simple yet powerful illustration of the anxiety, exhaustion, and heartbreak a family faces when displaced by war and conflict, as well as the courage and hope of their journey. 2017 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award honor winner.
The Morning Chair
When Bram comes to America, he misses everything from Holland — his brick house and friendly neighbors and walks to the sea. Most of all, though, he misses his time with Mama in the morning chair. Will Bram ever begin to feel at home in America? Illustrations done in soft colors are the perfect match to this touching story about starting over from a child's point of view, which is based on the author's husband's experience of emigrating to the U.S. shortly after World War II.
The Trip Back Home
Based on the author's experience, a child visits the village in Korea where her mother lived before immigrating to America. The simplicity of the text provides rich details of everyday life in the small Korean village, enhanced by realistic illustrations.
The Ugly Vegetables
In a neighborhood of flower gardens, a Chinese-American girl and her mother plant what the child considers to be ugly vegetables. The ugly vegetables, however, become attractive and help build community when made into a delicious soup! A recipe is included.
Un tren llamado Esperanza/A Train Called Hope
In this poignant bilingual picture book, a boy remembers his first present, a toy train. Years later, after his parents have gone far away in search of work and a better future, the boy rides a real train to join his family. This one is loaded with hundreds of children traveling alone, just like him.
Watch the Stars Come Out
Every once in awhile, Grandma shares the story of her mother's journey to America as a young girl. Grandma doesn't leave anything out, from the moment her mother boards the ship with her older brother to the moment the children are reunited with their parents. Levinson offers a touching portrayal of the immigrant experience that children will relate to, complemented by Goode's detailed and often humorous illustrations. This book is featured in Reading Rainbow episode #29 about immigration.
When This World Was New
Danilito is excited about coming to America, but he is also scared — it is so different and cold, and he doesn't speak any English. Then he experiences his first snowfall. After feeling the snowflakes on his cheek and leaving footprints in the snow, he begins to feel a little more confident in this new country. Warm illustrations bring an immigrant family's journey, and their first snowfall, to life. Spanish version available.
You Weren't with Me
Little Rabbit and Big Rabbit are together after a difficult separation, but even though they missed each other, Little Rabbit is not ready to cuddle up and receive Big Rabbit's love. Little Rabbit needs Big Rabbit to understand what it felt like when they were apart. "Sometimes I am very mad. I don't understand why you weren't with me," says Little Rabbit, "I worry you will go away again." Big Rabbit listens carefully and helps Little Rabbit to feel understood and loved.
See more great related resources and videos in our Multicultural Literature section!