The United States is a nation of immigrants. As I look up books for different countries we’re studying, quite often I find a book about a family immigrating to the United States. They are all full of hope, and how they learn about their new country and are often grandparents telling their grandkids what happened when they came over. Either way these immigration picture books are must-reads and great for a history lesson, a geography lesson, or just a great booklist.
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Immigration Picture books
I mainly discovered these by accident when looking up books for different countries for our geography lessons.
- The Matchbox Diary– I loved this story of an Italian immigrant who started keeping his diary in matchboxes before he learned to read with small mementos. Then as he learned to read he added more things to this small collection.
- Peppe the Lamplighter– the story of an Italian immigrant supporting his family back home
- Nora’s Chicks– a great story of a Russian girl learning to adapt to living on the American prairie
- The Memory Coat-two immigrant families and one has to decide what he will do with his old battered coat that is full of memories
- The Dress and the Girl– a young girl immigrates from Greece wearing her favorite dress, but one day, she outgrows it and gives her favorite dress away, only to see it years later
- The Blessing Cup– I love anything by Patricia Polacco. She does such a great job talking about stories and in this case a generational story of bringing a tea set over from Russia, and how one cup is saved through the generations (Jewish family)
- Annushka’s Voyage– I love books like this that are the author’s family story, and this follows her mother’s journey from Russia to America (Jewish family, I’m only noting it because I think this could be an interesting mini-unit as you follow different ethnicities or religions as they come to the United States and see why they are coming)
- Sakura’s Cherry Blossoms– This one is different from so many of the others because it’s more modern, AND they are specifically moving because of a job change, which will probably resonate more with kids who might have moved because of a job change
- How My Parents Learned to Eat– An absolutely adorable story about how a sailor learned to eat Japanese food as the girl he was interested in learned about American food (also, I super love the illustrator, Allen Say, I just realized it was one of his books)
- Yoko’s Paper Cranes– A bit unique because, the illustrations are cats, and it’s a sequel to the original Yoko.
- Grandfather’s Journey– The story of how the author’s grandfather came over from Japan, I really enjoyed this author and he has a whole bunch of books about his family who came over from Japan somewhere related to World War 2 (most of the stories are non-specific, there is one referring to soldiers that I think is set after World War 2)
- The Arabic Quilt: an immigrant story– Another rare book set within the last 5-10 years. Kanzi and her family moved from Egypt to America and some of the students tease her, until she shares more about her home and the beauty of her culture. I just summed that up very poorly, but I highly recommend the book.
Not specifically immigration, but in the same genre
These aren’t specifically about immigration, but visiting family from “the old country” so it’s a first or second-generation immigrant learning from their family “back home.”
- Crouching Tiger– I found this when looking for books on China and I loved the story of a grandfather sharing a calmer martial art (Tai Chi) with his grandson and the gentle sharing of cultures
- The Castle on Hester Street– A grandfather regales his grandchildren with stories about the mother country, Russia. This is the 25th-anniversary edition, so quite a popular book to get a reprinting 25 years later
- Ojichan’s Gift– This one is a bit different because it’s about a girl visiting her grandpa in the “home country” when she grew up in America and he still lives in Japan
- Wakame Gatherers– Much like the last book, an American girl goes to visit her grandma back in Japan. I found learning about different ways seaweed is used in food fascinating
Holiday related Immigration books
Most of these books are Christmas books, but a few are Hannukah, and either way I love them all.
- Oskar and the Eight Blessings– I loved this story, which also is a great WW2 story of a young boy who immigrates from Germany right as Kristallnacht happens, and he’s scared, but remembers what his Dad said to look for the blessings.
- Nonna Tell Me a Story– A grandma tells her grandchildren all the stories of growing up in Italy and celebrating Christmas, lots of great Christmas cookies
Some more great booklists
- Underground Railroad booklist
- Dog booklist
- Montgomery Bus Boycott booklist
- Russia booklist
- Johnny Appleseed booklist
- “Health Inspection of Immigrants in the 19th Century” by NIAID is marked with CC BY 2.0.
- “Immigrants Celebrate Tu Bishvat” by Government Press Office (GPO) is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
- “No Known Restrictions: Ellis Island Immigrants by National Photo Co., ca. 1909-1932 (LOC)” by pingnews.com is marked with CC PDM 1.0.
- “‘An immigrant boy carries luggage at Ellis Island.’” by mákvirág is marked with CC PDM 1.0.
- “‘Photograph of Immigrants on a Ferry Boat Near Ellis Island’ (1920)” by mákvirág is marked with CC PDM 1.0.