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May 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
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The world is a complicated place, sometimes even a terrifying one, and although the impulse to protect children from the ugly parts of the world is natural, the prevalence of news reports and photojournalism means it’s unlikely they’ll be in the dark for long. As kids encounter immigrants and refugees in the news, their neighborhoods, or their classrooms and inevitably begin to ask questions, a picture book can be a perfect way to start a conversation. And for children who may have experienced similar events first hand, a picture book might offer some much-needed comfort or solidarity. Taking various approaches to the material, from artistically ambiguous to movingly candid, the following titles—picture book in format but aimed at a range of ages—tell stories of contemporary immigrants and refugees seeking out a place to safely call home. They might not answer all the questions, but they’ll certainly get kids thinking.
Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival. By Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch and Tuan Ho. Illus. by Brian Deines. 2016. Pajama, $18.95 (9781772780055). Gr. 3–5.
In this picture book for somewhat older readers, Ho narrates the story of his perilous escape from postwar Vietnam, in 1981, describing his pain at leaving behind loved ones and relief upon being rescued by an American aircraft carrier after six days adrift on the ocean. The text is terse and unembellished, leaving the rich images to capture the emotional events. Photographs of the family bookend the story and remind readers of the events’ reality.
Four Feet, Two Sandals. By Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed. Illus. by Doug Chayka. 2007. Eerdmans, $17 (9780802852960). Gr. 1–3.
In a refugee camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Lina, 10, finds one sandal that fits her perfectly, but Feroza is wearing the other one. They eventually decide to each wear both sandals on alternate days and become friends, but they must part when Lina and her mother get to go to America. With evocative paintings and a moving tale of sharing and hope, this is the personal drama behind the daily news. Williams and Mohammed offer a similarly moving story about a Sudanese refugee adjusting to life in America in My Name Is Sangoel (2009).
The Journey. By Francesca Sanna. Illus. by the author. 2016. Flying Eye, $17.95 (9781909263994). K–Gr. 2.
In a bright palette and playful visual style belying the serious subject matter, Sanna tells the story of a mother and her two children fleeing an unnamed, war-torn country to seek safety in a land of high mountains and friendly creatures. The straightforward text and fairy-tale-style artwork make this heartbreaking, scary, yet hopeful story beautifully captivating.
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation. By Edwidge Danticat. Illus. by Leslie Staub. 2015. Dial, $17.99 (9780525428091). K–Gr. 3.
Saya’s mother is in a detention center because she doesn’t have the right “papers.” Although Saya can visit her, she wants Mama home. Staub’s warm, swirling illustrations depict Saya’s mother comfortingly floating above her as she recalls her mother’s fanciful stories and comes up with an inspiring solution. Danticat’s endnotes remind readers that this is a story based in reality.
Migrant. By José Manual Mateo. Illus. by Javier Martínez Pedro. 2014. Abrams, $17.95 (9781419709579). Gr. 2–5.
In this accordion-fold picture book, appropriate for middle-graders, Mateo and Pedro present a single, extended childlike drawing packed with minute details, which move from crowded village life through a harrowing train journey to a modern cityscape, all the while accompanied by the story of a young, undocumented boy migrating to Los Angeles. This striking, empathetic look at a difficult issue is presented in both English and Spanish.
My Shoes and I. By René Colato Laínez. Illus. by Fabrico Vanden Broeck. 2010. Boyds Mills, $16.95 (9781590783856). Gr. 2–4.
Mario’s mother sends him a new pair of shoes for his walk from El Salvador to the U.S., where he will join her. The shoes grow filthy, develop holes, and wear down, but Mario and his father finally ford a river and join his mother in the U.S. The grainy illustrations portray the story, pitched for middle-graders, from a variety of perspectives but focus on the shoes, as a symbol of Mario’s journey.
Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds. By Jorge Argueta. Illus. by Alfonso Ruano. Tr. by Elisa Amado. 2016. Groundwood, $18.95 (9781554988495). Gr. 5–9.
Argueta’s collection of carefully crafted, first-person, bilingual poems centers around the experiences of unaccompanied minors from Central America making the dangerous trek to the U.S. in search of their families and a safer life. Together with Ruano’s expressive paintings, Argueta’s poems, ideal for all older middle-school audiences, offer a unique and much-needed perspective on the reasons driving young people to immigrate to the U.S.
A Song for Cambodia. By Michelle Lord. Illus. by Shino Arihara. 2008. Lee & Low, $16.95 (9781600601392). Gr. 3–5.
This picture-book biography for middle-grade readers traces the childhood of Arn Chorn, who survived a Khmer Rouge work camp by learning to play a traditional Cambodian instrument. After many terrors, he’s eventually brought to America and adopted, and though he adjusts to his new country, his music keeps him connected to his homeland. Arihara’s realistic paintings, which steer clear of graphic violence, enliven Lord’s text.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey. By Margriet Ruurs. Illus. by Nizar Ali Badr. 2016. Orca, $20 (9781459814905). Gr. 3–6.
The story of fictional Rama’s life in Syria before war forced her family to flee is an all too common one. First their lives are curtailed by political oppression, then violent warfare. Written in English and Arabic, the verses of Rama’s poetry teem with tangible detail, but it’s the illustrations—tableaux composed of rocks and pebbles—that will most fascinate middle-school readers.
Teacup. By Rebecca Young. Illus. by Matt Ottley. 2016. Dial, $17.99 (9780735227774). PreS–Gr. 2.
With a bundle of belongings, including a teacup containing earth from his homeland, a boy sets sail alone. As time passes, the cup sprouts an apple tree, which sustains him until he finds a place to land. Though the journey sometimes seems like a metaphor for growing up, the stunning illustrations contain subtle hints about turmoil in the boy’s homeland, suggesting connections to immigration stories as well.
Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land. By John Coy. 2016. Carolrhoda, $19.99 (9781467780544). PreS–Gr. 2.
Wing Young Huie’s moving photos capture immigrant families in a variety of modern contexts, while Coy’s words emphasize common experiences of newcomers to this U.S. The powerful message of the words and pictures together reminds readers that immigrants are not just brand-new transplants in their neighborhoods; in some cases, they are the progenitors of many American families.
A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the World. By Christine Ieronimo. Illus. by Eric Velasquez. 2014. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (9780802723079). Gr. 4–6.
This hauntingly bittersweet tale, good for middle-graders, imagines the heartbreak of a mother and daughter forced apart by hunger and poverty. Eva longs for her biological mother, Emaye, but feels real security with her adoptive family in America. Velasquez’s light-infused illustrations capture the quiet dignity of Emaye’s grief and Eva’s tentative acceptance and perfectly complement the tender tone of the text.
Two White Rabbits. By Jairo Buitrago. Illus. by Rafael Yockteng. Tr. by Elisa Amado. 2015. Groundwood, $18.95 (9781554987412). K–Gr. 2.
The slow pace of this immigration story (also available in a Spanish edition) matches the steady tread of a girl and her father as they embark on a journey of immigration on foot, by raft, and atop trains, moving day and night through deserts and fields. The multimedia illustrations use saturated earth tones to render these anonymous people beautifully real. Though they have no names or a place to call home, there is no doubt that they count.
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