These are terms for my daughter’s 4th grade immigration unit. They also read several of the first four books on Nineteenth Immigration above but I’ve added some more books that fit the theme and tell the story of a more recent immigrant experience.
The highlight of this unit is the “Wax Museum.” The children are assigned to different immigrant groups and make a 3-sided display of what their country’s immigration experience was like.
Then, if you put in a “coin”, each child would come to “life” and recite a speech. The countries included Italy, Poland, Ireland, Japan, Germany, Africa, and the Jews.
What struck me was how each immigrant group had the same story: life was hard when they came to the United States. No matter where they were from, they faced prejudice. I didn’t realize everyone felt the same way.
Terms that Define Immigration
Immigrant: a person who leaves one country to live in another permanently
Drought: a long period of little or no rainfall
Why did they come?
They came to get a good education or to get better jobs. They also came to escape war, starvation, torture, and death.
What challenges did immigrants face?
At first, many knew little or no English. Even those people who were well educated were forced to work at jobs that did not pay well. They had to continue at these jobs until their English improved. Sometimes, people were as poor in their new country as in their previous one. Some immigrants faced prejudice from people who did not want them in the United States. Other immigrant groups had religious customs that were different from the ones in their new communities. Some new arrivals once lived in rural areas. They had a hard time adjusting to city life in a new country.
How did immigrants preserve their history and culture?
What contributions did immigrants make to life in the U.S.?
They are in business and politics. They play professional sports. They are actors and entertainers, artists and writers. They go to school and work in factories. They open stores and restaurants.
Immigration Books for 4th Grade
The first four books are all part of the immigration unit. My kids read at least one of the four books but the class reads all four collectively. The kids all agreed that all four books were excellent and it really helped them get into the mindset of that early time period to feel what it would be like to be a new immigrant to the United States.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, & servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances.
Letters From Rifka by Karen Hesse
A deeply felt, deeply personal story of immigration from beloved Newbery Medalist Karen Hesse.
During a school trip to Ellis Island, Dominick Avaro, a ten-year-old foster child, travels back in time to 1908 Italy and accompanies two young emigrants to America.
In 1852, during the height of the California Gold Rush, ten-year-old Wong Ming-Chung makes a dangerous trip to America to join his uncle on his hunt for a fortune. The true treasure for Ming-Chung, though, is America itself. In the midst of the lawless, often hostile environment, he is able to forge an international community of friends.
This next group of books is selections that I’ve picked. They also tell an immigrant’s story but a more recent one.
The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
Shirley Temple Wong sails from China to America with a heart full of dreams. Her new home is in Brooklyn, New York. America is indeed a land full of wonders, but Shirley doesn’t know any English, so it’s hard to make friends. Then a miracle — baseball happens. It is 1947, and Jackie Robinson, star of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is everyone’s hero. Jackie Robinson is proving that a black man, the grandson of a slave, can make a difference in America, and for Shirley as well, on the ball field and off, America becomes the land of opportunity.
This is the immigrant experience that I am familiar with; parents who immigrated to the United States for graduate degrees, typically in the math and science fields, and staying permanently. These families, like my own, had a middle-class lifestyle but wrestled with issues of cultural identity, assimilation, and fitting in.
Maria is a girl caught between two worlds; Puerto Rico, where she was born, and New York, where she now lives in a basement apartment in the barrio. While her mother remains on the island, Maria lives with her father, the super of their building. As she struggles to lose her island accent, Maria does her best to find her place within the unfamiliar culture of the barrio. Finally, with the Spanglish of the barrio people ringing in her ears, she finds the poet within herself.
The combination of poetry, letter, and gorgeously written prose are as unique as Cofer’s own immigrant story that mirrors that of Maria. Her mother, who stays in Puerto Rico is a teacher and lives comfortably in the home country contrasted with the blue-collar life of her father who immigrates to the United States. English, which she struggles to learn, soon becomes a tool for her to express herself through poetry.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.
For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.
But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.
This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.
The Vietnamese immigrant experience is seen through the eyes of HÀ, a young girl with a strong personality. Told in verse, Lai’s book shows the difficulty of the transition from one country to another and the longing for the home country, even while fleeing in a time of war. For those who may think that it might be easier for children to start over in a new country, HÀ will convince you that this is a bittersweet experience at best.
One of my favorite bloggers, The Fourth Musketeer, just posted on a new historical fiction book called Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices by Gwenyth Swain.
She writes, “Author Gwenyth Swain brings stories of Ellis Island vividly to life through text and photographs in the beautifully rendered Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices. She uses poetry, monologues, and dialogues combined with a selection of archival photographs to help us imagine Ellis Island at various stages of its existence, beginning in the late 1500s with a poem by a native Lenni Lenape boy.” The Fourth Musketeer
The rest of the review is here. She recommends this book for ages 9 and up.
Last of the Name by Roseanne Parry
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“This is a timely story about the treatment of a large group of immigrants who are mistreated by the mainstream culture. Most students today don’t know that the Irish faced a lot of obstacles in coming to the US from a troubled country. This was also fun, with Danny being forced to look and act like a girl. ”
To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
p.s. Related posts:
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.