Posted by: montclairlibrary | February 20, 2017

Understanding the Refugee & Immigrant Experience

Picture books about refugees and immigrants, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

Fiction helps us understand other people and builds empathy, a quality that often seems to be in short supply in today’s world.

Fiction and picture books can also help us explain complex and difficult situations to kids in ways they’ll understand.

Here’s a list of 21 books in the Oakland Public Library (plus three books not in OPL that are worth looking up through Link+) that explore the refugee and immigrant experience through stories from different cultures and eras. Some of them are uplifting and some are profoundly sad, but all of them speak to aspects of leaving one’s home to travel to a new place.

The Journey by Francesca Sanna (J PICBK SANNA) (not at Montclair) – New in 2016 and getting a lot of press, this beautifully illustrated book explores the unimaginable decisions made as a family leave their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war. Based on Francesca Sanna’s interviews with refugee families in Europe. (Ages 4-12)

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs (J PICBK RUURS) (not at Montclair) – Another recent book, in which “a young girl and her family are forced to flee their village to escape the civil war that has engulfed Syria and make their way toward freedom in Europe.” (Publisher) (Ages 4-8)

The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman (J PICBK HOFFMAN) (not at Montclair) – Hassan, newly-arrived in the United States and feeling homesick, paints a picture at school that shows his old home in Somalia as well as the reason his family had to leave. (Ages 4-8)

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed (J PICBK WILLIAMS) (not at Montclair) – Two young Afghani girls living in a refugee camp in Pakistan share a precious pair of sandals brought by relief workers. Includes author’s note about refugees. (Ages 7-10)

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz (J PICBK SHULEVITZ) – As he spends hours studying his father’s world map, a young boy escapes the hunger and misery of refugee life. Based on the author’s childhood in Kazakhstan, where he lived as a Polish refugee during World War II. (Ages 4-8)

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald & Freya Blackwood (J PICBK KOBALD) (not at Montclair) – A homesick little girl who has recently moved to an unfamiliar country comforts herself by clinging to an old blanket, but when she meets a new friend, the relationship helps her take her first steps into a new culture. (Ages 4-10)

How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving story by Eve Bunting – Refugees from a Caribbean island embark on a dangerous boat trip to America where they have a special reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. (Ages 5-9)

Dia’s Story Cloth by Dia Cha (J 973.0495 CHA) – The story cloth made for her by her aunt and uncle chronicles the life of the author and her family in their native Laos and their eventual emigration to the United States. (Ages 6 and up)

Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland (J PICBK GARLAND) (not at Montclair) – A haunting story of a family’s flight from danger to a new life in a new country. (Ages 7-9)

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard and Tanya Simon (J PICBK SIMON) (not at Montclair) – A young Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany arrives in New York City on the seventh night of Hanukkah and receives small acts of kindness while exploring the city. (Ages 4-8)

The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden (J BIO REY) – Kids may be interested to learn that the authors of the Curious George books were themselves refugees, who fled their Paris home on bicycles as the German army advanced, carrying children’s book manuscripts among their few possessions. (Ages 7-10)

The Long Road by Luis Garay (J PICBK GARAY) (not at Montclair) – When Jose and his mother return to find their Central American village destroyed by soldiers, they head north, eventually finding a home, work, school, and new friends in a new country. (Ages 4-9)

Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan by Mary Williams (J PICBK WILLIAMS) (not at Montclair) – Eight-year-old Garang, orphaned by a civil war in Sudan, finds the inner strength to help lead other boys as they trek hundreds of miles seeking safety in Ethiopia, then Kenya, and finally in the United States. Based on a true story. (Ages 7+ or 10+, depending on whom you ask. Definitely not for the youngest readers.)

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat (J PICBK DANTICAT) (not at Montclair – When Saya’s mother is sent to jail as an illegal immigrant, she sends her daughter a cassette tape with a song and a bedtime story, which inspires Saya to write a story of her own–one that just might bring her mother home. (Ages 5-8)

Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber (J PICBK GRABER) (not at Montclair) – Muktar, an eleven-year-old refugee living in a Kenyan orphanage, dreams of tending camels again, as he did with his nomadic family in Somalia, and has a chance to prove himself when a traveling librarian with an injured camel arrives at his school. (Ages 5-9)

Dos Conejos Blancos by Jairo Buitrago (J SPA PICBK BUITRAGO) (not at Montclair) – In this moving and timely story, told in Spanish, a young child describes what it is like to be a migrant as she and her father travel north toward the US border. (Ages 5-7)

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki (J 940.5318 MOCHIZUKI) – Looks at the Japanese diplomat who used his powers–against the orders of his own government–to assist thousands of Jews in escaping the Nazis in Lithuania. (Ages 7-10)

The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco (J PICBK POLACCO) (not at Montclair) – A single china cup from a tea set left behind when Jews were forced to leave Russia helps hold a family together through generations of living in America, reminding them of the most important things in life. (Ages 4-8)

And, lastly, two books that celebrate immigrants of all kinds and their contributions to America:

We Came to America by Faith Ringgold (J PICBK RINGGOLD) – Celebrates United States immigration and the country’s diverse immigrant heritage. (Ages 5-7)

This is Me: A Story of Who We are and Where We Came From by Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell (J PICBK CURTIS) (not at Montclair) – An interactive picture book about immigration. Raising important identity issues like “Where did we come from?” and “Who are we?” this book is sure to stimulate dinner table conversation. (Ages 5-9)

And honorable mention to these three books which aren’t in OPL, but can be requested through Link+:

Welcome by Barroux – A good gateway for younger kids who may not be ready for stories of war and death: In a story inspired by the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, three lost polar bears adrift on the ice search for a new home. After being turned away by cows, a panda and giraffes, they come to an empty island and make it home. But what will they do when three lost monkeys turn up? (Ages 3-6)

Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz & Amy Shrodes – Describes how an Iraqi refugee family was separated from their beloved feline companion while on a crowded boat crossing to Greece before a worldwide community helped the cat and his owners reunite. (Ages 4-8)

Teacup by Rebecca Young – “A boy travels across the sea in a rowboat in search of a new home, making a journey that is long and difficult–but also filled with beauty and hope.” (Publisher) (Ages 3-8)

Looking for more books or books for older kids? See also:


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