March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Immigration: Coming to America

By Phyllis Levy Mandell, 12/31/2010

slj1101_feat_FO_main(Original Import)

Give me your tired, your poor…

But not too tired, not too poor.

And we will give you the red tape,

the long line, white bread in its wrapper,

forms to fill out, and the looks, the stares

that say you are not where or what you should be,

not quite, not yet, you will never live up to us.

—from “Statue of Liberty Dreams of Emma Lazarus, Awakens with Tears on Her Cheeks” by Naomi Shihab Nye

To say that immigration is currently a controversial issue would be an understatement. The media is rife with misinformation and does a very poor job of making the critical distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Because of this, it is vitally important that libraries provide students with clear and unbiased material on the topic.

In addition, fiction written from a broad range of perspectives is critical to students’ understanding of immigration. Stories can demonstrate that peanut butter seems as strange to some kids as hummus is to others, acknowledge the overwhelming experience of exchanging familiar faces and places with the unsettlingly unfamiliar, or underscore the challenges for children who integrate more quickly into American culture than their parents. Through reading about an immigrant’s experience, nonimmigrant children and teens learn to empathize with those they might see as “different,” and those who come from an immigrant background learn that they are not alone. Recent concerns about bullying in our schools make these benefits all the more important.

While this bibliography focuses on current immigration, some titles on immigration history have been included where appropriate or in cases where there are parallels between the historical experience and contemporary issues. Their inclusion serves to illustrate that the latest questions about immigration are not in any way new, even though they are often presented as such. And in a few titles, the protagonists are not immigrants themselves, but they struggle with being perceived as newcomers because of cultural practices or simply because of their appearance.

Coming to America

Also in this Issue
On the web
Media picks

RECORVITS, Helen. My Name Is Yoon. illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska. Farrar/Frances Foster Bks. 2003. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-374-35114-4.

K-Gr 2–A Korean girl comes to America and struggles with learning a new language as she tries out different names for herself in English. Imaginatively conceived, strikingly handsome paintings convey the confusion and sorrow Yoon experiences, capturing her frustration and ultimate triumph as she forges a personal path in her new home.

FLEMING, Candace. Lowji Discovers America. S&S/Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Bks. 2005. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-689-86299-1.

Gr 3-5–Nine-year-old Lowji has just moved from Bombay to an apartment in Illinois with his parents. It’s summer and making friends is a challenge. As he settles into his new home, his confusion about American culture leads to a string of comedic pet adoptions. Told from Lowji’s perspective, this is an engaging classroom read-aloud.

APPLEGATE, Katherine. Home of the Brave. Feiwel & Friends. 2007. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-312-36765-7.

Gr 4-6–In this poignant verse novel, a Sudanese refugee violently torn from a culture in which “cattle mean life” moves in with his aunt’s family in Minnesota in the middle of winter and is quickly overwhelmed by the vast changes in his environment. Caring for an old cow helps Kek bridge the gap. Audiobook available from Listening Library.

GIFF, Patricia Reilly. Wild Girl. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. 2009. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-375-83890-3; PLB $18.99. ISBN 978-0-375-93890-0.

Gr 4-6–Five years after her mother’s death, 12-year-old Lidie immigrates to New York from Brazil to join her brother and father, who have been training racehorses and who treat her like the little girl they remember. Strong-willed and confused, Lidie finds comfort in the relationship she builds with a horse called Wild Girl.

HOBBS, Will. Crossing the Wire. HarperCollins. 2006. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-074138-9; PLB $16.89. ISBN 978-0-06-074139-6.

Gr 5 Up–With his family struggling to get by in Mexico, 15-year-old Victor decides that the only way he can help them is to make the dangerous trip across the American border. This is an adventure story that will also help readers understand the plight of undocumented immigrants. Audiobook available from Recorded Books.

TAN, Shaun. The Arrival. Scholastic/Arthur L. Levine Bks. 2007. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-439-89529-3.

Gr 7 Up–In this wordless graphic novel, Tan captures the feelings of a man recently arrived in a new country who must make sense of his strange surroundings. Fantastical and surreal illustrations demonstrate how confusing and bizarre a new place can look to an outsider.

KAMARA, Mariatu with Susan McCleland. The Bite of the Mango. Annick. 2008. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-1-55451-159-4; pap. $12.95. ISBN 978-1-55451-158-7.

Gr 9 Up–In this memoir, Kamara, a victim of atrocities experienced in war-torn Sierra Leone, shares her story. When she was 12, rebel soldiers chopped off her hands with a machete and left her for dead. Against all odds, she survived and immigrated to Canada. A realistic and harrowing account of the refugee experience.

Dealing with Our Differences

AL ABDULLAH, Rania , with Kelly DiPucchio . The Sandwich Swap. illus. by Tricia Tussa. Hyperion. 2010. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-2484-9.

K-Gr 2–Two girls, each thinking the other one’s lunch looks unappetizing, finally agree to trade. Salma decides peanut butter and jelly isn’t so bad after all, and Lily decides the same thing about hummus and pita bread. Soft watercolor illustrations enhance this story about accepting and appreciating differences.

KHAN, Rukhsana. Big Red Lollipop. illus. by Sophie Blackall. Viking. 2010. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-670-06287-4.

Gr 2-4–Colorful, expressive illustrations communicate both cultural detail and the real tension between Rubina and her younger sister in this winning story of sibling rivalry. Khan shows how something as simple as a birthday party can create considerable confusion for someone new to American culture.

LIN, Grace. The Year of the Dog. illus. by author. Little, Brown. 2005. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-316-06000-4.

Gr 3-5–As Grace becomes friends with another Taiwanese-American girl and listens to her parents’ stories, she begins to appreciate her dual cultures. Charming black-and-white drawings are scattered throughout. Audiobook available from Recorded Books.

LOMBARD, Jenny. Drita, My Homegirl. Putnam. 2006. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24380-6.

Gr 3-5–Drita, a refugee from Kosovo, and Maxie, an African-American girl, form a unique friendship. Maxie helps Drita learn American customs so that she can more easily fit into their fourth-grade classroom, while Drita helps Maxie deal with her grief over the death of her mom. Told in alternating viewpoints.

MOBIN-UDDIN, Asma. My Name Is Bilal. illus. by Barbara Kiwak. Boyds Mills Press. 2005. RTE $15.95. ISBN 978-1-59078-175-3.

Gr 3-6–Bilal and his sister, Ayesha, are the only Muslim students in their new school. When a bully snatches Ayesha’s headscarf, Bilal denies his Muslim heritage. With the help of a caring teacher, he learns to stand up for his sister and his beliefs. Illustrated with watercolor paintings.

ALVAREZ, Julia. Return to Sender. Knopf. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-85838-3; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95838-0.

Gr 4-7–After an injury, Tyler’s father relies on an undocumented migrant family to run his Vermont farm. Sixth-graders Tyler and Mari Cruz relay the story of a growing friendship between families over a year spent together as well as the dangerous challenges faced by illegal immigrants from Mexico. Audiobook available from Listening Library.

MELMAN, Anna. Muslims in America. (World of Islam Series). Mason Crest. 2009. PLB $22.95. ISBN 978-1-4222-0535-8.

Gr 4-8–Part of a series that “seeks to educate and enlighten youth to one of the world’s most predominant religions,” this book discusses the challenges faced by the diverse group of people who practice Islam in America in the wake of the September 11th attacks. Information on American Muslim history, demographics, organizations, extremism, and attitudes is included.

LUPICA, Mike. Heat. Philomel. 2006. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24301-1.

Gr 5-8–Michael, a Cuban immigrant, is the star pitcher of his little-league team. When a rival team challenges his age, he must figure out how to get his birth certificate from Cuba to prove he can play before the big game, highlighting how difficult a simple process can become for someone born elsewhere. Audiobook available from Listening Library.

BUDHOS, Marina. Tell Us We’re Home. S & S/Atheneum. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-0352-9.

Gr 6-9–Three eighth-graders, all immigrants from different backgrounds, strain to fit in at their affluent New Jersey middle school. Their mothers work as nannies and housekeepers in the homes of their peers, and when Jaya’s mother is accused of stealing from her employer, the girls must face anti-immigrant sentiment within their community.

STRATTON, Allan. Borderline. HarperTeen. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-145111-9; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-06-145112-6.

Gr 7 Up–Fifteen-year-old Sami faces bullying at school because of his Muslim faith. Ultimately he sets off a chain of events that results in his father being accused of domestic terrorism. A taut, fast-paced thriller with well-crafted characters, realistic teen dialogue, and a disturbingly plausible plotline.

YANG, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. illus. by author. First Second. 2007. pap. $17.95. ISBN 978-1-59643-152-2.

Gr 7 Up–This graphic novel conveys the pain of trying to fit in. Chinese-American middle-schooler Jin Wang wants to be accepted but feels that he is perceived as a stereotype. Jin’s story is interwoven with two additional story lines, one featuring Chinese folk hero Monkey King and the other featuring ethnic stereotype Chin-Kee, each illustrated in a different style.

KARIM, Sheba. Skunk Girl. Farrar. 2009. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-374-37011-4.

Gr 8 Up–At 16, Nina is mortified to discover that she has inherited the “Pakistani hairy gene,” including a stripe of dark hair down her back. The lone Asian student in a small high school in upstate New York, she struggles with insecurities about her appearance, her Pakistani-Muslim identity, and the strict rules set by her parents.

MCNEAL, Laura. Dark Water. Knopf. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84973-2; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-94973-9.

Gr 8 Up–In this tragic romance set against a backdrop of impending tragedy, 15-year-old Pearl and Amiel, an undocumented Mexican migrant worker, fall in love. They make decisions to hide their relationship that lead to disaster when a wildfire sweeps through their Southern California community.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same (Understanding Our History)

GLASER, Linda. Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty. illus. by Claire A. Nivola. Houghton Harcourt. 2010. RTE $16. ISBN 978-0-547-17184-5.

Gr 2-4–Told in spare, free verse paired with tender watercolor and gouache paintings, this biography of Emma Lazarus and the story of how she came to write “The New Colossus” illuminates the importance of immigrant advocacy and serves to remind readers that the United States has always struggled with integrating immigrants. DVD and audio version available from Spoken Arts Media.

PATERSON, Katherine. The Day of the Pelican. Clarion. 2009. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-547-18188-2.

Gr 5-8–Eleven-year-old Meli and her family, Albanian Kosovars, must leave their home to avoid ethnic cleansing. After spending time in a refugee camp, they arrive in America and begin to integrate into the culture until the attacks of September 11th change their lives once again. Audiobook available from Brilliance Audio.

SENZAI, N. H. Shooting Kabul. S & S/Paula Wiseman Bks. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-0194-5.

Gr 5-8–After a traumatic escape from Afghanistan in July 2001, in which his younger sister is lost, 11-year-old Fadi and his family find a new home in San Francisco. Set against the backdrop of September 11th and the subsequent bombing of his homeland, Fadi perseveres against bullying and maintains hope in finding his sister.

BAUSUM, Ann. Denied, Detained, Deported: The Dark Side of American Immigration. National Geographic. 2009. Tr $21.95. ISBN 978-1-4263-0332-6; PLB $32.90. ISBN 978-1-4263-0333-3.

Gr 5-9–Three true stories illustrate the struggles America has faced with immigration policy over the years and how ideas of “right” and “wrong” with respect to it change over time. A concluding chapter deals with current immigration issues across our southern border. Historical photographs are included.

BURG, Ann E. All the Broken Pieces. Scholastic. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-08092-7.

Gr 6-8–In this verse novel set in the late 1970s, 12-year-old Matt Pin, the son of an American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, tells his story of being airlifted out of Vietnam. Adopted by an American couple, he is torn between cultures, while many of his peers feel his Vietnamese heritage makes him “the enemy.” Audiobook available from Scholastic Audiobooks.

MANIVONG, Laura. Escaping the Tiger. HarperCollins. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-166177-8.

Gr 7-10–In 1982, 12-year-old Vonlai and his family escape Communist Laos by way of a dangerous trip across the Mekong River and spend four long years of deprivation in a Thai refugee camp, waiting to come to America. A gripping tale based on the author’s husband’s experiences.

General Nonfiction

WEISS, Gail Garfinkel. Americans from Russia and Eastern Europe. (New Americans Series). Marshall Cavendish. 2010. PLB $24.95. ISBN 978-0-7614-4310-0.

Gr 4-8–This entry in an accessible and highly visual series examines recent patterns of immigration from Eastern Europe to America, the challenges immigrants face upon arrival, their contributions to American culture, and the history of immigration. Maps, color photos, and census information are included. Other areas represented in the series are India and South Asia, the Caribbean and Central America, China, Korea, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and West Africa.

MILLER, Karen, ed. Immigration. (Social Issues Firsthand Series). Greenhaven. 2006. PLB $28.70. ISBN 978-0-7377-2893-4.

Gr 8 Up–People from all walks of life and many different countries share their stories. Sections on coming to America, adapting to this country, feeling caught between cultures, and the benefits of immigrating are included.

ANDERSON, Stuart. Immigration. (Greenwood Guide to to Business and Economics Series). Greenwood. 2010. Tr $55. ISBN 978-0-313-38028-0.

Gr 9 Up–This text-dense title is ideal for students wanting more information about how immigration policy decisions can have a larger impact on the economy and the country as a whole. It’s a complete and unbiased discussion of current immigration from an economic and public-policy perspective.

BANKSTON, Carl L., ed. Encyclopedia of American Immigration. 3 Vols. Salem Press. 2010. PLB $395. ISBN 978-1-58765-599-9.

Gr 9 Up–Comprehensive and accessible, this alphabetically arranged, three-volume encyclopedia covers a broad range of topics, from “Au pairs” to “Green cards” to “Xenophobia” and more. Essays on immigration from various regions, historical events, various types of discrimination, and biographies of prominent immigrants are included. Photographs are incorporated with entries where appropriate.

Author Information
Kristin Anderson is a Team Leader at the Columbus (OH) Metropolitan Library.

On the Web


Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Gale. (Accessed 11/28/10).

Gr 6 Up–This excellent subscription database (free trials are available) provides information about controversial issues related to current immigration (and other topics) for student researchers. Easily searchable, the results can be sorted by content level. Ongoing updates make this a particularly useful resource.

It’s My Life: Immigration: Moving Towards Hope. PBS Kids. (Accessed 11/28/10).

Gr 4 Up–Written in a clear, kid-friendly tone, this series of articles presents the difficulties faced by those wanting to immigrate to America. Reasons people leave their country are explored along with the challenges of living as an undocumented immigrant.

Remade in America. The New York Times Company. (Accessed 11/28/10).

Gr 6 Up–This excellent seven-part series ran in the New York Times between March and April 2009. A broad range of immigration topics is covered, including schools, family life, medical care, jobs, and politics. Links to additional interactive content and media are provided.

Stories of Yesterday and Today: Immigration. Scholastic, Inc. (Accessed 11/28/10).

K-Gr 8–Historical and current information on immigration is included along with lesson plans for teachers. Direct students to the stories of three recent middle-school-age immigrants from Kenya, Vietnam, and India as well as questions each child answered about the move to America.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (Accessed 11/28/10).

Gr 6 Up–Foreign citizens trying to immigrate must navigate this densely packed site offered in English or Spanish. Challenge older students to locate specifics like a video on the naturalization process. Younger students will enjoy browsing the Children’s Art Project, which displays paintings illustrating the theme “We are America.”

Media picks
By Phyllis Levy Mandell

Betti on the High Wire (unabr.). 5 CDs. 6:20 hrs. Prod. by Listening Library. Dist. by Listening Library/Books on Tape. 2010. ISBN 978-0-3077-3828-8. $34.
Gr 4-6-When 10-year-old Babo, one of the “leftover children” living at a destroyed circus camp in a war-torn country, is adopted by an American couple, she finds it challenging to adapt to American life and her new name, Betti. Perfectly narrated by Rachel Gray, Lisa Railsback’s tale (Dial, 2010) about adoption and the melding of diverse cultures is a winner.

I Hate English. DVD. 15 min. with tchr’s. guide. Nutmeg Media. 2007. ISBN 1-933938-22-6. $49.95.
Gr 1-5-In this iconographic version of Ellen Levine’s book (Scholastic, 1989), Mei Mei has difficulty accepting a new language and culture after her family moves from Hong Kong to New York City and avoids speaking English because she’s afraid of losing her Chinese identity. Levine narrates, and Steve Bjorkman’s bright, cartoon-style illustrations reveal the girl’s strong emotions.

Which Way Home. DVD. 83 min./63 min. Prod. by Mr. Mudd Prod. and Documentress Films. Dist. by Bullfrog Films. 2009, 2010 release. ISBN 1-59458-941-0. $295.
Gr 9 Up-This extraordinary film brings viewers into the perilous and inspiring world of several boys from Central America and Mexico who risk life and limb to attain a better life in the U.S. The combination of fabulous cinematography, urgent social commentary, and deeply sympathetic human stories make this a must-have.