being a teacher, books, global, global read aloud, Literacy, picture books, Reading

Books That Teach Us About the Experience of Refugees, Migrants, and Immigrants

This year in English we have really been focused on learning about others.  Others whose life experience may be so very different from our own.  Others who have so much to teach us. Others who some may tell us to fear.  So our collection of chapter books and books have grown with a focus on breaking down biases and broadening understanding.  I, therefore, thought that it would be helpful for others to see which books have helped us do just that.  Many of these books have been on other lists that I have posted, but there are a few new ones.

Picture books

La Frontera / The Border: El viaje con papá/ My Journey With Papa by Deborah Mills (Author), Alfredo Alva (Contributor), Claudia Navarro (Contributor)

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales 

Spectacularly Beautiful: A Refugee’s Story by Lisa Lucas (Author), Laurie Stein (Illustrator)

Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias (Author), Laura Borràs (Illustrator)

Teacup by Rebecca Young (Author), Matt Ottley (Illustrator)

Gleam and Glow by Eve Bunting  (Author), Peter Sylvada (Illustrator)

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild (Author), Freya Blackwood (Illustrator)

A Different Pond by Bao Phi  (Author), Thi Bui  (Illustrator)

Fish for Jimmy: Inspired by One Family’s Experience in a Japanese American Internment Camp by Katie Yamasaki  (Author)


Me And My Fear by Francesca Sanna (Author)

The Dress and the Girl by Camille Andros  (Author), Julie Morstad (Illustrator)

Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan (Author, Illustrator)


The Day War Came by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb is a picture book about when war comes to the life of a child.  It is a beautiful reminder of the the normalcy before war.

After the war comes to Sarajevo a young boy finds beauty among the ruins in this picture book by John McCutcheon and Kristy Caldwell.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Doug Chayka tells the story of life in a refugee camp and two young girls who share shoes.

Brothers in Hope by Mary Williams and R. Gregory Christie features the story of two of the lost boys of Sudan.  Powerful discussion starter about hope, perseverance, and the reality of war.

Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes, illustrated by Sue Cornelison tells the true story of a family who loses their family cat as the must leave their home and travel to safety through Europe.

A Refugee’s Journey from Syria by Helen Mason not only depicts the trials of people trying to leave Syria, but also what the rest of the world is doing.

What’s in a name?  As educators, we know the inherent power of pronouncing a child’s name correctly to make them feel accepted and included.  This picture book from 2009 shares the story of Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan, and what happens when he comes to America.  A must add as we try to break down walls and build understanding for others in our classrooms.
One of the most powerful picture books to be published in 2016, The Journey is about a family as they flee from war and the decisions they have to make as they search for safety.  Beautifully illustrated this picture book packs a punch.
Also a picture book about a family that has to leave their country in search of safety, the artwork is all done by stone.  With both English and Arabic text, I am so grateful for the vision of this picture book.
Why would a child set out on foot toward America, knowing that there were thousands of miles filled with danger ahead of them?  This picture book illustrates the journey that more than 100,000 children have taken as they try to reach safety in the United States.  Told in poetry, this picture book helps us understand something that can seem inconceivable.

A Piece of Home written by Jeri Watts and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Fitting in. Feeling lost.  Appreciate differences.  What happens when a family chooses to move to the US and all of a sudden does not fit in anymore?

The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi (Having a name that no one pronounces correctly in the USA really makes me love this book even more).

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat (Author), Leslie Staub (Illustrator) brings us the story of a little girl’s longing for her mother as they are separated.  The mother has been sent to a detention center and does not know what will happen to her.


Sharing the story of Oskar, a young boy who has escaped the horror of the Jewish persecution in Germany and arrives in America with only a photograph and an address of an aunt he has never met.  He must make his way through the streets of NYC, but rather than being afraid, he sees the blessings he meets along the way. Another must add as we discuss refugees, and not being afraid of others in our classrooms.
Taken from his own life; this story of having to hide in a planetarium as the government looks for his activist father is one sure to get students talking.  What happens when you speak up but the government does not want you to.  Reminding us that even when it is scary, we should still stand up for what is right, and sharing the story of why some people have to flee, this is another must-add to your collection.

In The Seeds of Friendship by Michael Foreman a boy is not sure how to make a connection with others.  That is until he is given seeds and he has an idea of how to make this new gray city more like home.

What happens when a father and his young daughter set out toward the border?  In 

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood speaks to how hard moving is, but also about finding a new friend.  This is all about finding the beauty in someone else’s culture.

 Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh.  This allegory tells the tale of Pancho who is waiting for his father’s return from the north.  When Papa doesn’t show up as expected, Pancho is determined to find him.  The author, Duncan Tonatiuh, is a Global Read Aloud contender for picture book study.
 In Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say I am reminded of how split we can feel when we belong to two countries.  Beautiful and still relevant more than twenty years after its release, this is a wonderful way to discuss what it means to feel home.
 Sometimes the books that tell us the most do not even have words.  The Arrival by Shaun Tan wordless graphic novel/picture book is one that will mesmerize readers.
Stormy Seas – Stories of Young Boat Refugee by Mary Beth Leatherdale and Eleanor Shakespeare offers stories from many different time periods, all featuring people who had to flee by boat.

Chapter books

Where Will I Live by Rosemary McCarney is a photo essay featuring children who have to flee around the world.

The Unwanted by Don Brown is a graphic novel exploration of the Syrian Refugee Crisis and how the world responded to those who tried to flee.

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai is a powerhouse of a book, it tells the story of a young girl as she tries to escape from Aleppo while flashbacking back to the beginning of the Syrian conflict.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani is a beautiful portrayal of one family’s quest to get back to India after the country has been split in two.

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi follows Tariq and his family as they try to escape from Syria.


5 thoughts on “Books That Teach Us About the Experience of Refugees, Migrants, and Immigrants”

  1. Lost and Found Cat is just a perfect as it looks! Have you seen My Beautiful Birds, by Suzanne Del Rizzo? Another must-own!

  2. Hi Leslie, Next time you need to put in a book order, here is a suggestion for books.

    On Tue, Feb 28, 2017 at 10:31 AM, wrote:

    > Pernille Ripp posted: “This year in English we have really been focused on > learning about others. Others whose life experience may be so very > different from our own. Others who have so much to teach us. Others who > some may tell us to fear. So our collection of chapter books ” >

  3. I have My Journey and Stepping Stones, but I’m curious…if you had to pick two or three favorite pictures books outside of these two, which would they be? I want to add a few to my collection. Without holding them in my own hands and reading them, they all look great, so I’d love to go by your recommendation.

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