Did you see the cover of The New Yorker published on July 2, 2018? The illustration is quite remarkable. In it, we see terrified children peeking through the cloak of the Statue of Liberty. This powerful image brings attention to family separation at the Mexico-United States border. I often wonder how young learners synthesize current events. What is their background information about immigration? How do they feel about children who immigrate to America? Learners may want help sifting through the news and their feelings. Below is a list of picture books to cultivate empathy for immigrants.
La Frontera: El Viaje con Papá ~ My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills
This is a true story about a boy and his father who left Mexico to find work in the United States without documents. They waited until dark to cross the Rio Grande River with an inner tube. The journey was dangerous. Alfredo and his father crossed the border unharmed. Why did they make the journey? What happened to them after they arrived? This story, told in Spanish and English, will give readers an insight to life for those who enter the United States illegally. Engaging illustrations support the text. The back matter has more information about Alfredo, immigration, and borders.
Refugees and Migrants by Ceri Roberts
Questions about immigrants may lead to inquiries about refugees and migrants. This book will answer questions with a straightforward message. References to camping, moving, and getting lost help readers connect with the troubled children in the book. A reassurance at the end of the book lets readers know that they are safe. Most children will not have to leave their homes. The author recommends that children talk with adults about their worries. The end of the book includes ideas to help refugees and migrants.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
A Different Pond raises awareness of the financial struggles some refugees face. This beautiful story begins before sunrise, with a boy and his father preparing to fish. This trip is not for fun, though. The fish will provide free food. We see throughout the pages how hard the family works to live in America. We also see how much they love each other. Readers will feel compassion for refugees after reading this remarkable book.
Teacup by Rebecca Young
Capture the imagination with this poetic story about a boy who leaves his home. We don’t know why he leaves, but he is alone as he boards a boat with a few items. The gorgeous illustrations help tell the story of a magical journey across the ocean. Hints of a previous life show up in both text and illustrations. This book will generate questions about why the boy leaves his home and why he travels alone.
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
This beautiful story reminds us that no matter what we look like or where we live, we all have feelings. What an important message to build a classroom culture of empathic learners.
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien
What does it feel like to be in a school where you don’t understand the language? How do you make your way in a new situation? I’m New Here gives the reader an idea of how hard it is to make a global transition. Readers will empathize with the children in the story who find a way to make friends and learn a new language.
Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna
When a girl starts school in a new country, Fear accompanies her. Fear follows her wherever she goes and grows bigger in new situations. Sometimes Fear gets too big and keeps the girl from participating in life. This artistic story delivers a therapeutic lesson in coping with fear. The gorgeous illustrations help reinforce a meaningful message for all readers.
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story about A Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët
Have you ever been in a room full of people and didn’t know a single person? How did you feel? Did someone introduce themselves to you and make you feel welcome, or were you ignored? In I Walk with Vanessa, a new girl does not feel welcome in her school. She is alone and neglected. When a bully yells at her, an onlooker feels terrible. She decides to make a difference, and the illustrations do a remarkable job of showing her in action. The author’s purpose is clear, and the message of being a friend will resonate with readers. This book is a perfect choice for starting a conversation of empathy.
Looking for YA book titles about immigration? Read “‘The Country We Love’: Immigration, Literature and Libraries” blog post by Loretta Gaffney on Knowledge Quest.
Consider following @imyrneighborbks. Their profile highlights a focus on children’s literature to help children from around the world feel welcome in America.
Author: Maureen Schlosser
Author: Lessons Inspired by Picture Books for Primary Grades published by ALA Editions