Recent Children’s and Young Adult Books on Immigration
by Crystal Hicks, Collections Librarian
Immigration is a large, complex issue, one that can be especially challenging to explain to children, tweens, and teens. There are many books on this topic at the library for our younger patrons, books which can be read together or in tandem with children to help broach the topic. These books cover all aspects of the immigrant experience, from the initial journey through acclimating to life in a new country and living with the risk of deportation.
Wendy Meddour’s picture book “Lubna and Pebble” provides a gentle introduction to immigration, focusing on the friendship between Lubna, a young immigrant, and a pebble she found on the beach. Pebble listens to all of Lubna’s concerns and is her dearest friend while she and her father live in the World of Tents, until they move to the next stage of their journey.
Another picture book, “Marwan’s Journey” by Patricia de Arias, recounts young immigrant Marwan’s determination to “walk, and walk, and walk” until he reaches a better place. This book is more somber, depicting the “darkness” of war that “swallowed up everything,” but also ends on a hopeful note, as Marwan thinks about returning to his homeland and “paint[ing] the walls with happiness.”
For older readers, there are graphic novels that tackle the immigrant journey, including “Zenobia” by Morten Dürr and “Illegal” by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin. Both of these comics begin in boats crossing to Europe, alternating the end of the journey with remembrances of the wars the main characters are fleeing and their journeys thus far. These books don’t shy away from tragedy and may be best for more mature readers.
There are also books about what immigrants can expect after they’ve arrived in a new country. Picture books include “Mustafa” by Marie-Louise Gay and “Saffron Ice Cream” by Rashin Kheiriyeh. In these books, Mustafa and Rashin are both learning about their new, sometimes strange homes in America, one by playing in the park and the other by visiting the beach. These books are both bittersweet and hopeful, showing how much immigrants have to adjust to in their new lives.
Anne Sibley O’Brien’s “Someone New” is a companion picture book to her earlier “I’m New Here,” focusing on the same three immigrant children as they acclimate to their new classrooms. “Someone New” follows the immigrants’ classmates, including their initial reactions to the newcomers and how they eventually discover common ground (soccer, writing, and drawing) that they can use to build friendships.
Jasmine Warga’s middle grade novel “Other Words for Home” is about Jude, a girl who immigrates to America from Syria with her mother. This novel-in-verse combines big topics, like immigration and war, with more everyday youth concerns, like auditioning for a school play. Above all, it’s about Jude trying to find her identity as everything she knows shifts around her.
“Mango Moon,” by Diane de Anda, is a picture book about deportation, showing how it affects the family members who are left behind. Maricela’s papi has been deported, and, as she looks at what he called the “mango moon,” she thinks about him and the changes that have occurred in her life since he was deported. This book brings up a lot of questions and doesn’t resort to giving out easy answers.
Memoirs are also good for helping put faces to the large, sometimes-abstract issue of immigration. Actress Diane Guerrero talks about her experience as a child of immigrants in “My Family Divided.” Born in America to undocumented Columbian immigrants, Guerrero’s life was shattered when they were deported while she was at school for the day.
For the experience of an undocumented immigrant teen, check out “Americanized” by Sara Saedi, whose family left Iran when she was two years old. Growing up thoroughly American, Saedi didn’t know she wasn’t an American citizen until her older sister was unable to get a part-time job due to the lack of a Social Security number.
Malala Yousafzai recently published “We Are Displaced,” a memoir that incorporates the stories of many young refugees she met during her travels. Yousafzai writes of her struggles adjusting to a new country and knowing she couldn’t return home, then introduces stories from refugees and volunteers from around the world.
These are only some of the recent books available at the library covering immigration; we have many others touching on similar themes. For help finding these books or books on any other topic, feel free to ask for assistance at the Children’s Desk and the Reference Desk.