Tough Topics: Family Separation
These stories address difficult topics around family separation. Many relate to immigrant stories (both historic and contemporary). These books can be a powerful tool in helping children talk about their feelings and experiences during or after a separation.
Related resources: Immigration and family separation
- The Crisis at the Border: What Educators Need to Know
- You Are Welcome Here: Supporting the Social and Emotional Health of Newcomer Immigrants
More related booklists
- Books for military kids with a deployed parent, father (Operation We Are Here)
- Books About Incarceration for Kids, Teens, and Adults (Social Justice Books)
- Japanese-American Internment: Books for Kids and Young Adults
An Ellis Island Christmas
When Krysia is six, her family leaves Poland for America. The journey is difficult, as is the arrival at Ellis Island when the family is separated. While the family waits for Papa, Krysia sits down by the Christmas Tree of the Great Hall at Ellis Island and watches as other fellow travelers begin to sing and dance. The mood is festive, but Krysia begins to worry — will Papa ever return? Cultural details from Polish customs passed down through the author's family enhance the touching story of one family's Ellis Island experience.
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.
From North to South
When Mamá is sent to a detention center in Tijuana because she doesn't have the right immigration papers, José must get used to life without her. He and his father visit Mamá at the center, where they talk about the future in which they will be together. Based on the experiences of René Colato Laínez's students, both he and illustrator Joe Cepeda strike the right balance of honesty and hope in depicting this difficult yet common situation for families along the border.
Home of the Brave
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.
La Frontera: El Viaje Con Papá / My Journey With Papa
Alfredo Alva tells the true story of the arduous journey he made as a child with his father from Mexico to the United States in the 1980s to find a new life in Texas.
Land of the Cranes
When nine-year-old Betita’s beloved father is arrested by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported to Mexico, Betita and her pregnant mother are left behind on their own. Soon they too are detained and must learn to survive in a family detention camp outside of Los Angeles. Even in cruel and inhumane conditions, Betita finds heart in her own poetry and in the community she and her mother find in the camp. The voices of her fellow asylum seekers fly above the hatred keeping them caged, but each day threatens to tear them down lower than they ever thought they could be.
Luca’s Bridge/El Puente de Luca
Luca has never lived outside the U.S., but when his parents receive a letter in the mail, the family must pack up and leave home for a strange land. Together in their car, Luca, his brother Paco, and their parents head across the border to Mexico where his parents were born. Luca doesn’t understand why he must leave the only home he’s ever known, his friends, and his school. He struggles through lonely and disorienting times ― reflected both in Real’s delicate, symbolic illustrations and through Llanos’ description of his dreams ― and leans on music, memory, and familial love for support.
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.
When a father is taken away from his family and facing deportation, his children are left to grieve and wonder about what comes next. Maricela, Manuel, and their mother face the many challenges of having their lives completely changed by the absence of their father and husband.
My Family Divided: One Girl's Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope
Before becoming a successful actress and landing a spot on the megahit Netflix show Orange is the New Black, Diane Guerrero was a young girl living in Boston. One day, while Guerrero was at school, her undocumented immigrant parents were taken from their home, detained, and deported to their native country, Colombia. Guerrero's life, which had been full of the support of a loving family, was turned upside down.
My Freedom Trip
In this intense and moving book, Frances and Ginger Park share the story of their mother's escape from North Korea as a young girl. On the night that Soo prepares for her freedom trip, she bids her mother a tearful farewell and begins a journey during which she will travel by train and foot to reach the border with South Korea. Filled with suspense and heartache, the story is a tribute to those who set out for freedom — and those who stay behind.
My Shoes and I
Mario is leaving El Salvador with a new pair of shoes — and a good thing, too, because he has a long and difficult journey ahead of him to reach a new country. His shoes carry him through rain and across mountains, all the way to the river where his mother is waiting on the other side. Young readers may need some information explaining the context of the story, which is based on the author's journey from El Salvador in 1985. Painted illustrations on grainy wood backgrounds match the gritty but hopeful tone of the story.
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale
When the rains don't come in the spring, Papá Rabbit sets out north to work in the carrot and lettuce fields. He doesn't return when expected, however, and his eldest son, Pancho Rabbit, embarks on a journey to find his father. He meets a coyote who agrees to show him a shortcut, but only in exchange for Pancho's food. After an exhausting journey, Pancho is left with nothing — except the hope of finding his father.
Annala lives with her family in New York — everyone, that is, except for her two little brothers. She misses them terribly, but whenever she asks her parents when they will come, they can only respond, "Soon, Annala." Annala can't help wonder, however, if that day will ever arrive. A touching depiction of the separation that so many immigrant families endure in search of a better life. Out of print but may be available in libraries.
Super Cilantro Girl/La Superniña del Cilantro
What happens when a small girl suddenly starts turning green, as green as a cilantro leaf, and grows to be fifty feet tall? She becomes Super Cilantro Girl, and can overcome all obstacles, that's what! Esmeralda Sinfronteras is the winning super-hero in this effervescent tale about a child who flies huge distances and scales tall walls in order to rescue her mom. Award-winning writer Juan Felipe Herrera taps into the wellsprings of his imagination to address and transform the concerns many first-generation children have about national borders and immigrant status.
We Are Like the Clouds/Somos como las nubes
Why are young people leaving their country to walk to the United States to seek a new, safe home? Over 100,000 such children have left Central America. This book of poetry helps us to understand why and what it is like to be them.
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!