Immigration Books for 4th Grade
My 4th grader is doing a unit on immigration at school and everyone in her grade is reading one of four books. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson is not one of the books, but, nevertheless, it’s also a story about immigration and adjustment from an 8-year-old perspective. Granted, Shirley Temple Wong who emigrates with her mother to join her engineer father in Brooklyn, New York, has the “white-collar, educated Asian” immigrant experience. This includes a graduate degree in science or math for the father, a place to live, food to eat, and, sometimes, a loving, intact family.
Still, Shirley’s adjustment to America is not easy. Because birthdays are counted differently in China, Shirley is placed as a ten-year-old into her new school and struggles to fit in as she learns English and tries to make friends. When spring comes, Shirley learns to play stick ball with the help of a new friend, and following Jackie Robinson and the Brookyn Dodger’s quest for the pennant shows Shirley that America is, indeed, the land of opportunity.
Baseball, as America’s favorite pastime, is often a symbol for what is great about America. There is a passage in this book that expresses this beautifully:
“Baseball is not just another sport. America is not just another country… In our national pastime, each player is a member of a team, but when he comes to bat, he stands alone. One man. Many opportunities. For not matter how far behind, how late in the game, he, by himself, can make a difference. He can change what has been. He can make it a new ball game.
In the life of our nation, each man is a citizen of the United States, but he has the right to pursue his own happiness. For no matter what his race, religion or creed, be he pauper or president, he has the right to speak his mind, to live as he wishes within the law, to elect our officials and stand for office, to excel. To make a difference. To change what has been. To make a better America.”
This is Bette Bao Lord’s own story of her immigrant experience and appropriate for ages 8-12.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
The other 4th grade books on immigration are Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan, Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse, The Orphans of Ellis Island by Elvira Woodruff, and The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung: A Chinese Miner, California, 1852 (My Name is America) by Laurence Yep. All four books are excellent and highly recommended by the 4th graders who read them. If you want an interesting book club compare/contrast, compare In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson with The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung, two very different Chinese immgrant stories.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.