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Find more Classroom Connections: Crossing Borders with Books
From picture books to informational titles, these books—and related activities—will give young people of all backgrounds a better understanding of immigration and its effects on individuals and communities.
Since 1492, immigration has defined the population of what we now call the U.S., and it remains one of the most hotly debated and politically charged topics across the globe. As immigration policy undergoes a new wave of scrutiny and change, and communities continue to be altered by an influx of new arrivals, more books for youth about immigration are being published. This annotated bibliography features contemporary fiction and nonfiction titles that can help students consider the human rights, racial, socioeconomic, and security issues that arise when new residents enter a country. Especially revealing are the narratives of a wide variety of immigrants, both legal and illegal.
Big Red Lollipop. By Rukhsana Khan. Illus. by Sophie Blackall. 2010. 40p. Viking, $16.99 (9780670062874); e-book, $10.99 (9781101587553). PreS–Gr. 2.
Rubina, of Pakistani descent, is invited to a birthday party, and her little sister, Sana, screams, “I wanna go too!” Their mother insists that Sana be taken along, and the party turns out as badly as Rubina had worried it would. When Sana gets her own invitation, Rubina, though tempted to let Sana suffer the same embarrassment, persuades their mother to let Sana go alone. Warm, expressive illustrations show the universal sibling feelings and the tensions between cultural traditions and assimilation.
Carmen Learns English. By Judy Cox. Illus. by Angela Dominguez. 2010. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (9780823421749); paper, $7.95 (9780823423828). PreS–Gr. 2.
The first day of school is scary for Carmen, a recent immigrant from Mexico, but with the help of Señora Coski, she begins to learn English. Then she starts to teach Spanish to her classmates during the day and English to her little sister in the evenings. Affecting mixed-media artwork illustrates this realistic story, which avoids didacticism.
Here I Am. By Patti Kim. Illus. by Sonia Sánchez. 2013. 40p. Capstone/Blue Earth, $14.95 (9781623700362). K–Gr. 3.
This contemplative, wordless picture book depicts a young boy who has recently journeyed to America. Patterned illustrations that invite reflection show the boy’s fear in a confusing new environment. After the boy accidentally drops a beloved seed from his homeland and a girl skips away with it, he’s drawn out of his apartment building and becomes more at ease with his neighborhood.
Migrant. By José Manuel Mateo. Illus. by Javier Martínez Pedro. 2014. 22p. Abrams, $17.95 (9781419709579). Gr. 2–5.
Migrant is constructed as a codex with an accordion format revealing one long, vertical image in blacks and grays and presented in a traditional Mexican style. The imagery and accompanying text reveal the story of a young boy, along with his mother and sisters, who must leave his farming village and migrate illegally to Los Angeles. Their harrowing journey ends with the family looking for work and the father who preceded them.
Migrant. By Maxine Trottier. Illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. 2011. 40p. Groundwood, $18.95 (9780888999757). PreS–Gr. 2.
Illustrated with stylized, soft-toned artwork, this touching book depicts a rare migrant family story. Sometimes young Anna feels like a bird chasing warmth; other times, like a jackrabbit that lives in an abandoned burrow. As she travels north to Canada from Mexico every year with her German Mennonite family, she experiences stares and whispers and yearns to be a tree with roots in one place.
My Shoes and I. By René Colato Laínez. Illus. by Fabricio Vanden Broeck. 2010. 32p. Boyds Mills, $16.95 (9781590783856). Gr. 2–4.
Based on the author’s personal immigrant experience and illustrated with vibrant, weathered artwork, this story begins with young Mario receiving a new pair of shoes from his mother, who is waiting for him in the U.S. After he and Papá say good-bye to El Salvador, Mario uses these shoes to cross three countries, against great odds, to join Mamá.
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale. By Duncan Tonatiuh. Illus. by the author. 2013. 32p. Abrams, $16.95 (9781419705830); e-book, $16.95 (9781613125724). PreS–Gr. 1.
Pancho, a young rabbit, sets out for El Norte to find his father, who is late returning from the “great carrot and lettuce fields.” He falls in with a ravenous coyote, who offers to guide him over the border (for a price), but when the food runs out, so does Pancho’s luck. The allegory follows folkloric patterns, with cultural references (coyote is the term for someone who smuggles people across the border) that are echoed in illustrations in a folk-art style.
The Quiet Place. By Sarah Stewart. Illus. by David Small. 2012. 44p. Farrar, $16.99 (9780374325657). Gr. 1–3.
When Isabel moves from Mexico to Michigan with her parents and older brother, she leaves behind an aunt, who has been teaching her English. In a series of letters to “Dear Auntie Lupita,” Isabel practices her new language as she writes about her new world. She also uses discarded boxes to make her own cozy “quiet place.” Although set in the 1950s, this immigrant story, illustrated with evocative mixed-media artwork, has a timeless feel.
A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the World. By Christine Ieronimo. Illus. by Eric Velasquez. 2014. 40p. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (9780802723079). Gr. 4–6.
Tears, rain, puddles: water keeps Eva Alemitu connected to Emaye, the mother she left behind in Ethiopia, as Eva adjusts to her new life in the U.S. In this hauntingly bittersweet picture book for older readers, inspired partly by the author’s own life, Ieronimo imagines the heartbreak of a mother and daughter forced apart by hunger and poverty. An author’s note provides context and prompts for kids to take action.
Crossing the Line. By Malín Alegría. 2012. 192p. Scholastic/Point, paper, $5.99 (9780545402408). Gr. 7–12.
This start to the Border Town series is a gripping mystery and also a warm, contemporary Latino drama of extended family and friends. After school, Alexis and Fabiola “Fabi” Garza help out in the family restaurant. Newly arrived from Mexico, Chuy works in the kitchen, and when he is mugged, Fabi overhears a classmate bragging that illegal immigrants sending money home are “walking ATMs.” But how does Fabi’s beloved cousin Santiago suddenly have cash?
Gaby, Lost and Found. By Angela Cervantes. 2013. 224p. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545489454); paper, $5.99 (9780545489461). Gr. 4–7.
Gaby’s mom, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, was deported after her factory was raided. Now Gaby ponders her mother’s options and the possibility of their future together. She tries to navigate life with her newly custodial dad, who had left the family years before, and face down classmates who taunt her over the deportation. On a happier note, Gaby finds support from the school community and while conducting her class-service project with the local animal shelter.
Illegal. By Bettina Restrepo. 2011. 272p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, $16.99 (9780061953422); e-book, $10.99 (9780062069788). Gr. 7–10.
Nora’s papa has been working illegally in Texas and sending money back home. But when the letters and money stop, Nora and Mama set out to find him. After being smuggled across the border in a stifling, packed mango truck, they struggle to survive with false papers. With depth and detail, Restrepo tells the story of contemporary illegals and their harsh daily struggle for shelter, food, and community, as Nora fights off violence, makes friends, and questions her faith in God.
The Orange Houses. By Paul Griffin. 2009. 160p. Dial, paper, $7.99 (9780142419823); e-book, $7.99 (9781101052730). Gr. 10–12.
Tamika is a partially deaf student agonizing over whether she wants to hear, Fatima is a refugee who fled the violence and poverty of her unspecified African country, and Jimmy Sixes is already a disturbed veteran at age 18. The three teens form an unusual friendship, connecting both artistically and emotionally, while their city has become a powder keg of anti-immigration sentiment (thanks to a recently passed law that rewards citizens for reporting illegals).
Out of Nowhere. By Maria Padian. 2013. 352p. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375865800); paper, $9.99 (9780375865626); lib. ed., $19.99 (9780375965807); e-book, $9.99 (9780375896101). Gr. 9–12.
Sports have always come easy to soccer-team-captain Tom Bouchard. The arrival of talented soccer-player Saeed, part of a new community of Somali immigrants in Tom’s small Maine hometown, creates a stir. Although Tom and Saeed become friends, not everyone welcomes the newcomers, and some would like to see Saeed removed from the team. Padian writes an insightful portrayal of immigrants attempting to acculturate while dealing with bigotry.
Return to Sender. By Julia Alvarez. 2009. 336p. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375858383); paper, $6.99 (9780375851230); e-book, $6.99 (9780375891618). Gr. 6–9.
Alvarez tells a contemporary immigration story through the alternating viewpoints of two children in Vermont. After 11-year-old Tyler’s father is injured, the family are in danger of losing their dairy farm. They employ Mari’s family, who are illegal migrant Mexican workers. Mari writes heartrending letters and diary entries, especially about Mamá, who has disappeared during a trip to Mexico. Questions raised about the meaning of patriotism will spark debate.
Same Sun Here. By Silas House and Neela Vaswani. 2012. 304p. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763656843); paper, $7.99 (9780763664510); e-book, $7.99 (9780763657475). Gr. 5–8.
This epistolary novel combines two separate stories to show the connections between two 12-year-olds. Born in India, Meena lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Chinatown, New York. In rural Kentucky, River faces hardship when his coal-miner father loses his job and has to move far away. Through e-mails and snail mails, both kids help each other through painful family tensions and struggles as well as through community prejudice.
The Secret Side of Empty. By Maria E. Andreu. 2014. 336p. Running Press, $16.95 (9780762451920); e-book, $16.95 (9780762452057). Gr. 9–12.
With her blonde hair and pale skin, Monserrat Thalia (M. T. for short) is as American as apple pie. But, like her Argentinean parents, she is in the country illegally, and no one, not even her best friend, has a clue. Being undocumented isn’t her only challenge: her father is abusive. Eventually, M. T. seeks help and is surprised to find support that will allow her to move forward with her life.
A So-Called Vacation. By Genaro González. 2009. 192p. Arte Público/Piñata, paper, $10.95 (9781558855458). Gr. 7–12.
Gabriel’s dad wants the family to spend the summer doing fieldwork in California to earn extra money. The Gustavos are Americans, born in the U.S., unlike most migrant workers, Gabriel thinks. This breakthrough novel offers a realistic view of the contemporary migrant scene. Gabriel and his brother are kicked out of the town swimming pool, and they know it is because of their brown skin. Yet they are prejudiced, too, and fearful of the stigma of being labeled illegal.
Star in the Forest. By Laura Resau. 2010. 160p. illus. Yearling, paper, $6.99 (9780375854101); e-book, $6.99 (9780375895944). Gr. 4–8.
After her father is imprisoned in Colorado and then deported to Mexico as an illegal immigrant, lonely 11-year-old Zitally befriends her neighbor and classmate, Crystal. Together, the girls care for Star, an abandoned dog they find chained up in their trailer-park “forest,” made up of heaps of rusted car parts. The unaffected writing makes clear the anguish of illegals, especially when Zitally’s father is kidnapped and held for ransom, and her family cannot go to the police.
Tell Us We’re Home. By Marina Budhos. 2010. 304p. Atheneum, paper, $8.99 (9781442421288); e-book, $8.99 (9781442406100). Gr. 6–9.
Three eighth-grade immigrant girls—Jaya from Trinidad, Lola from Slovakia, and Maria from Mexico—begin to feel more at home in Meadowbrook, New Jersey, after they meet. Then Jaya’s mother is accused of stealing from an employer, and the girls work to clear her name—but not without alienating each other first. Budhos offers no easy answers to the families’ problems with employment, depression, and prejudice, just the hope that society will find the right direction.
Thief Girl. By Ingrid Lee. 2011. 152p. Orca, lib. ed., $16.95 (9781552775394). Gr. 6–9.
Avvy speaks Mandarin at home and helps out at her family’s stall in the food court. In this SideStreets title, aimed at reluctant readers, money is scarce in Avvy’s home, so when Avvy finds a wallet, she uses the bank card to take out cash. Told from an immigrant child’s authentic viewpoint, the story’s fast, contemporary action never gets preachy. And the suspense builds: Whose wallet is it?
What Can’t Wait. By Ashley Hope Pérez. 2011. 240p. Carolrhoda/Lab, paper, $9.95 (9780761384991). Gr. 9–12.
Marisa loves AP calculus, and she is good at it. But her overbearing father, a Mexican immigrant, always reminds her that familia comes first. That means picking up extra shifts at the grocery store, where she works to help pay bills. This is Marisa’s senior year, and she has a shot at a great engineering school, but her supportive teacher doesn’t seem to comprehend the cultural conflict she is creating by pushing Marisa’s college dreams.
Border Patrol. By William Weir. 2011. 128p. illus. Chelsea House, lib. ed., $35 (9781604136357); e-book, $35 (9781438136165). 363.28. Gr. 6–9.
The hottest issues of border control in the U.S. are all examined—drugs, bandits, and the smuggling of goods and people—in this entry in the Law Enforcement Agency series. It provides a historical overview of how the issue has changed and evolved, information on the technology used by agents, and a levelheaded discussion about the arguments that illegal immigrants present security threats.
Denied, Detained, Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration. By Ann Bausum. 2009. 112p. illus. National Geographic, $21.95 (9781426303326); lib. ed., $32.90 (9781426303333). 325.73. Gr. 6–12.
With personal narratives and heartbreaking photographs, this beautifully designed photo-essay connects past immigration issues of economics, racism, national security, and patriotism with what is happening today, including immigration policy gone wrong (e.g., Japanese Americans detained). Bausum concludes with crucial contemporary problems, including the post–9/11 debate about monitoring Islamic extremists.
A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America. By Ronald Takaki and Rebecca Stefoff. 2012. 384p. illus. Seven Stories, $40 (9781609804848); paper, $18.95 (9781609804169). 305.800973. Gr. 7–10.
Adapted from the 1993 adult title A Different Mirror, this revised edition for younger readers is a thorough look at American immigration. It offers historical and modern perspectives, with chapters that focus on newer immigrants, legal and illegal. The text also shows perspectives from both minority and immigrant groups and white, Eurocentric populations. Retained from the original are the carefully cited chapter notes, and sidebars toward the end of each chapter highlight a particular person or event discussed. This title offers essential reading for students, and few other books on the subject look at American immigration in such a thorough way.
Does Illegal Immigration Harm Society? By Scott Barbour. 2009. 104p. illus. ReferencePoint, lib. ed., $28.95 (9781601520852); e-book, $39.95 (9781601524096). 364.1. Gr. 8–12.
Beginning with an overview of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century legislative attempts at regulating immigration, this title in the In Controversy series examines contentious issues surrounding the current impact of illegal immigration upon America’s economy, culture, crime, and national security. A final chapter considers various views on how the government should respond to illegal immigration.
Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother. By Sonia Nazario. 2013. 288p. Delacorte, $16.99 (9780385743273); paper, $8.99 (9780385743280); lib. ed., $19.99 (9780375991042); e-book, $8.99 (9780307983152). 973. Gr. 7–10.
In this adaptation of a 2006 adult title of the same name, Nazario recounts a modern-day immigration odyssey. Retracing 17-year-old Enrique’s trek on foot from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, through Central America atop freight trains, to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and across the Rio Grande on an inner tube, the author illuminates the plight of thousands of children who seek to reunite with parents who have come to the U.S. seeking higher wages.
Frequently Asked Questions about Growing Up as an Undocumented Immigrant. By Lisa Wade McCormick. 2013. 64p. illus. Rosen, lib. ed., $32.95 (9781448883295); e-book, $32.95 (9781448883356). 305.23. Gr. 7–9.
This volume in the Teen Life series begins with a definition of undocumented immigrants and an explanation of how young people may find themselves in this circumstance, almost always through no fault of their own. The harsh effects of being undocumented—a life of secrecy, the possible incarceration of parents, etc.—are discussed, as is legislation, such as the DREAM Act, that may change the future.
Graphing Immigration. By Andrew Solway. 2010. 32p. illus. Raintree, paper, $7.99 (9781432926267); lib. ed., $29 (9781432926175). 304.802. Gr. 4–8.
Various charts and graphs in this Real World Data title show such data as where immigrants in the U.S. come from and estimated illegal immigration. These charts complement descriptions of why people emigrate, immigrant policy, dangers for illegal immigrants, and the costs and benefits of immigration. A final “Chart Smarts” explains how to read these accompanying visuals.
Immigrants and Refugees. By Cath Senker. 2012. 48p. illus. Black Rabbit/Smart Apple, lib. ed., $35.65 (9781599205090). 304.8. Gr. 6–9.
Divided into regions of the world, this title in the Mapping Global Issues series tracks movement of people as they search for a better life, whether fleeing from poverty or war, as well as the methods by which they move. Enhanced with numerous maps and facts, it considers the effects on both the home and host countries, and it concludes with a forecast of the future of immigration.
Immigration. By Andrea C. Nakaya. 2010. 96p. illus. ReferencePoint, lib. ed., $28.95 (9781601520951); e-book, $39.95 (9781601522184). 304.8. Gr. 9–12.
Following an overview of immigration in the U.S., this Current Issues volume presents different points of view on immigration’s effect on the economy and society as well as U.S. immigration policy, particularly toward illegal immigrants. Numerous features include primary source quotes, statistics, charts, key people and advocacy groups, related organizations, and a chronology.
Pushes & Pulls: Why Do People Migrate? By Robert Walker. 2010. 48p. illus. Crabtree, paper, $9.95 (9780778751984); lib. ed., $22.95 (9780778751830); e-book, $22.95 (9781427184115). 304.8. Gr. 5–8.
Part of the Investigating Human Migration & Settlement series, this book looks at migration across the world, both past and present. It identifies such causes as war, economics, and environmental disasters and discusses the effects and controversies surrounding each. Filled with numerous color photos, the text also features short, first-person perspectives through “Journey Stories.”
U.S. Immigration Services. By Amie Jane Leavitt. 2014. 48p. illus. Mitchell Lane, lib. ed., $29.95 (9781612284477); e-book, $29.95 (9781612285078). 325.73. Gr. 4–6.
After explaining some of the reasons immigrants come to the U.S., Leavitt introduces the basic requirements of the process to become an American citizen. The final chapter in this My Guide to U.S. Citizenship series title focuses on some of the legislation and controversies surrounding illegal immigration. Numerous color photos, sidebars, and fact boxes help students manage the text.
The following are suggestions for sharing books about immigration across the curriculum while implementing the Common Core State Standards. You can find more information about the standards at www.corestandards.org.
In the Classroom: After a class read-aloud of Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale, by Duncan Tonatiuh, lead a class discussion in which students identify culturally specific information. Then, as a class, have students use this information to identify the main theme of the story.
Common Core Connections
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.2. Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.2. Recount stories, including fables and folktales from diverse cultures, and determine their central message, lesson, or moral.
In the Classroom: Using Immigration, by Andrea C. Nakaya, and Does Illegal Immigration Harm Society?, by Scott Barbour, ask students to list overlapping topics that are covered in both books and then compare and contrast how the authors make their cases in each.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.9. Analyze how two or more authors writing about the same topic shape their presentations of key information by emphasizing different evidence or advancing different interpretations of facts.
In the Classroom: After students have completed Bettina Restrepo’s Illegal, have them discuss events that depict the impact of illegal immigration on the main character. Students could respond individually, in small groups, or as a class, always referring back to the text for support in their arguments.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
CSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.3. Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
In the Classroom: Using Denied, Detained, Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration, by Ann Bausum, students can compare modern-day immigration issues to those of the past. They can then present their findings in an oral or written report.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.3. Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions for further research and investigation.
In the Classroom: After reading the wordless picture book Here I Am, by Patti Kim, students can write a narrative about an immigrant’s experience to accompany the illustrations.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.2.3. Write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3.b. Use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations.
Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond (Virginia).
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