Saturday, January 14, 2017

New Immigration Books, part 1: Syrian and Central American immigrants

Two years ago I wrote a three-part series about teaching kids about the history and impact of US immigration. The first post introduced nonfiction resources for studying immigration; the second post covered historical fiction and memoirs, including novels and picture books; and the third shared books about modern-day immigration. A few months ago I shared a review of the picture books of Rene Colato Laínez, many of which feature immigrants to the US.

Since those posts, several more wonderful books have come out - so many so that I thought it was high time for a follow up. I've broken them down into several categories. This post will share books about the Syrian migration to Europe and books about Central American migration through Mexico to the US, while the second post will cover other picture books about recent immigrants, and anthologies and novels about immigration.

Books about Syrian Migration to Europe

Stepping Stones: a refugee family's journey (2016) by Margriet Ruurs and illustrated by Nizar Ali Badr (Bilingual in English and Arabic - Arabic translation by Falah Raheem). The artwork in this book blows my mind. Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr created each of these illustrations as a 3D collage of river stones, which were photographed for their incorporation into the story. The text itself is a powerful version of the modern refugee story - the fear, the flight, the dangerous voyage across the water, but it's the emotion of the illustrations that make this book memorable.

The Journey (2016) by Francesco Sanna. This picture book tells an intentionally-generic version of a forced immigration story as the narrator, her brother, and her mother flee their home country after the war and the death of her father. The book was inspired by the author's encounter with refugee girls in Italy. This one doesn't work for me as well as other immigration / migration / refugee books. The generic nature of the story makes it harder to connect with the characters, and I felt like the cartoonish border guards also downplay the seriousness of the issue. I'd love to hear other opinions!

Books about Central American Migration to Mexico and the US

Somos como las nubes / We are Like the Clouds (2016) by Jorge Argueta and illustrated by Alfonso Ruano. This collection of bilingual poetry shares powerful insights into the decisions and journeys behind Central American immigration to the US. This is not a single narrative but rather a collection of individual voices. The realistic illustrations and difficult moments depicted make this a powerful picture book for older readers. It is definitely one I will be using with my middle schoolers.

Migrant: the journey of a Mexican worker (2014) by José Manuel Mateo and illustrated by Javier Martínez Pedro [an Américas Awards: honorable mention]. This book is an incredible work of art. Designed in the style of a codex, the book is one giant illustration that folds down in on itself to become the book. One side has the text in English, the other in Spanish. In the story two children and their mother head north in search of their father who has not returned.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: a migrant's tale (2013) by Duncan Tonatiuh [a Pura Belpré Honor book and [an Américas Awards: honorable mention]. Written in the style of a fable or folktale, Pancho Rabbit deals with the very real-world issue of illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States. When Pancho's father does not return from "El Norte," Pancho sets out to find him and bring him back, with the help of a coyote he meets along the way. Every year when I share this story it leads to powerful conversations - both with my third graders and my middle schoolers! (Click on Part 1 or Part 2 to read more about other books written and/or illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh.)

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation (2015) written by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub [a Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Book]. This book shares the story of a young girl whose mother from Haiti is being held in prison because she does not have the right papers. When I shared this book with my third graders, it was clear that they were deeply impacted by the story." We also read the author's note and discussed the fact that many children and many families do not experience a happy ending like the one in the book.

Mamá the Alien / Mamá la Extraterrestre (2016) by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Laura Lacámara. Sofia has made a startling discovery - hidden in her Mamá's purse is a card identifying her ... as an alien! When her parents' explanations fail to satisfy her curiosity, Sofia decides to do her own research on aliens, which only adds to her confusion and worries. (Bilingual in English and Spanish.) The author's note provides additional information about terminology and his personal immigration story. (Review copy provided by the publisher. All thoughts are my own.)

My review: This is a great story that demonstrates the power of words and labels. Kids can relate to Sofia's flights of imagination and her worries about her place in the world. Every year when I taught my third graders about immigration and family histories, I had students react with similar confusion to the term "illegal alien" and "resident alien." I look forward to sharing this book with the new third grade teacher so she can read it aloud and discuss it with them. (Read an interview with the author here or read about his many other books which feature immigration issues.)

América is Her Name (1997) by Luis J. Rodríguez and illustrated by Carlos Vásquez. (This isn't a new story, but it was new to me.) 9-year old América is dealing with a lot: gangs on the street, an alcoholic father, being called illegal, and the feeling that she has lost her words in switching from Spanish to English. But a school visit from a Puerto Rican poet helps broaden her horizons and set her on a new path.

What are your favorite new books about immigration or immigrants?

Read more in the immigration series here: nonfiction resources for studying immigration , historical fiction and memoirspicture books of Rene Colato Laínez, and more books on modern immigration.

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