Modern Immigration Books for Kids

Modern Immigration & The Refugee Experience Books for Kids

Use these books on modern immigration and the refugee experience books for kids to teach empathy and compassion. What are your favorite books on this topic that I’ve left out? Thanks for sharing!

Modern Immigration Books for Kids

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Three children from Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia are starting over in America where they have to learn a new language and make new friends. They feel isolated, confused, and sad. Slowly, they make progress, and they find their place with the help of kind classmates. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Here I Am by Patti Kim, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

This wordless picture book that tells a Korean American immigration story beginning with a plane ride to New York City. It’s not easy adjusting to a new city and a new language but slowly, the young boy adjusts. He’s brought with him a seed from his old country, and it helps him make a new friend … and a new happy life. [wordless picture book, ages 6 and up]

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Lewin

A young Muslin girl joins her class on a field trip to an apple orchard. Because she doesn’t speak English, she feels isolated and unwelcome. When she chooses a green apple, a boy protests that it’s unripe. Her teacher intervenes and it’s added to the cider press. The resulting cider is delicious; an analogy for the beauty of diversity. By the end of the trip, the young girl makes a new friend, and feels like she is starting to fit in. [picture book, ages 6-11]

My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Barbara Kiwak

Bilal and his sister Ayesha are born in America, and they have switched to a new school where there are not a lot of Muslim kids. Ayesha is bullied on her first day of school by two boys who make fun of her headscarf. Bilal is frozen, unable to come to his sister’s aid. His teacher is a family friend, and he gives Bilal a book about another Bilal was born in the time of Prophet Muhammed. This Bilal was also tormented by bullies who tried to get him to denounce his god. This new-found knowledge gives Bilal strength to stand up for his sister the next day when the bullies harass her at her locker. Bilal finds a way to connect with the bullies on the basketball court, and it’s there he also meets an older boy who’s also Muslim. Now Bilal can call them both to prayer, just like the Bilal of olden times. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

In Search of a Better Life ImmigrationPicture Books

Pancho Rabbit and Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh

This is the perfect picture book for young children to introduce the issue of undocumented immigrants and the perils that they face. Young Pancho wants to find his papa who is long overdue from traveling North in search of work. After packing his father’s favorite meal, he sets off and meets a coyote who offers to help for a fee. After the coyote consumes the food he’s brought for his papa, Pancho realizes that the coyote is still hungry and has to make an escape. There’s a happy ending with Pancho reuniting with his father. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Calling the Water Drum by LaTisha Redding, illustrated by Aaron Boyd

Henri and his parents leave Haiti on a rickety boat in search of a better life, but only he survives. Now, living with his uncle in New York, his bucket is the only reminder of them, and his drumming on the bucket, his only form of communication. With the help of a new friend, Henri speaks his first word. Kids might not realize how dangerous the journey to the United States might be for some immigrants, including children. This picture book promotes empathy for the immigrate experience. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

The Refugee Experience Picture Books

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

Without being overly scary, this picture book shows a realistic version of the refugee experience. It starts with a war which takes the father. The mother and children decide to escape to another country which promises safety. They leave much behind in the cover of night, but they are denied by an enormous wall and border police. They run and hide in the darkness, and pay to have someone help them cross, but their journey is not over. There’s an ocean to cross, and still more borders to cross. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

The Little Tree by Muon Van, illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi

Author Muon Van tells the story of her family’s exodus from Vietnam to escape the war in a parable about a tree sending her seed to a place that looked more promising than where she was. It’s a beautiful story of parental love strong enough to let the little seed go. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Sami and his family leave behind all that they have when civil war breaks out in Syria, and they walk for days to reach a refugee camp. Sami is safe for now but can’t stop worrying about his pigeons. In this new place, birds find him: a canary, a rose finch, and a pigeon. They bring him comfort and help him find joy again. When new kids come to the camp dazed and traumatized as he was, he is able to help. [picture book, ages 5 and up]

My Name is Sangoel by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Catherine Stock

Sangoel’s father has died in the war in Sudan, and now he and mother and sister are leaving the refugee camp to move to the United States. The wise man at camp tells Sangoel to be proud of his Dinka name, handed down to him from his father and grandfather.

Lonely and homesick in this new country, Sangoel feels that he has lost his name because no one says it correctly. After he joins a soccer team, he gets an idea of how to teach everyone his name. The importance of one’s name is not merely for his identity, but represents all that he has left behind. This is a gentle story of the refugee experience. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme Landowne

This is the true story of Laotian American artist Malichansouk Kouanchao, whose family was forced by civil war to flee Laos when she was five. Mali lived an idyllic life in the country with her family until the war began. Forced to flee, Mali and her family are arrested for not having a home in this country. With her childhood memories to sustain her, Mali tells stories of home to her fellow refugees. [picture book, ages 5 and up]

Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

The Lost Boys of Sudan were usually the sole survivors of their families who were systematically killed village by village during the Sudan war. Those boys who were tending cattle survived, only to come back to find everything destroyed. This is the case of eight-year-old Garang who then embarks on a treacherous journey to safety first to Ethiopia, and then Kenya, joining up with other boys in the same situation. Their survival is a miracle and a testament to their courage and the power of the human spirit. [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]

The Refugee Experience Novels in Verse for Kids

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

In free verse poems, a ten-year-old girl, Hà, chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave war-torn Vietnam to resettle in Alabama. Her voice is not what you’d expect from a refugee in America. Instead of humble gratitude, she brings a feisty and honest perspective of her new experiences, including bullying and rejection from her new classmates. She’s a character that is hard to forget and easy to root for. [novel in verse, ages 9 and up]

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Amira is twelve when war breaks out in Southern Sudan, and her peaceful village is attacked. Her father is killed and now she, her mother and sisters make the difficult journey to a refugee camp. Traumatized, Amira is unable to speak. At the camp, she is given a red pencil and pad of paper which helps her reclaim her voice and her creative spirit. [novel in verse, ages 9 and up]

Understanding Modern Immigration Chapter Book for Kids

A Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

10-year-old Bilal and his mother and sister move to the United States, leaving their father behind in Pakistan. His father is caught in a web of political corruption, and Bilal finds a way to help him using his newfound baseball skills. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]

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Modern Immigration Books for Kids

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for including some books I haven’t seen, or reviewed, yet!

  2. Thanks, Mia! There are several here that I haven’t yet read. I’ve been dying to read My Beautiful Birds for quite some time now. I need to put it in our library’s suggest a title program–so behind with requesting titles!!

    Here I Am, The Journey, Inside Out & Back Again to be really powerful. I liked The Red Pencil too.

  3. I am so glad more books are being written on this topic.
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