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Immigrants & Refugees
Stories countering anti-immigrant & refugee propaganda
Challenges & Requests
- Talking with my kids about race, gender, immigration, refugees, etc. I want them to be human beings who are sensitive to and advocate for other human beings. It’s hard to figure out age-appropriate ways to talk about these very important topics. – group member
- Do you have any recommendations for books specifically on asylum seekers? – Lynette M.
- Are there any recommendations for books about refugees and/or immigrants? – group member
- there is a period of time after immigrating when immigrants feel is a big swell of US national pride, relishing saying the pledge of allegiance, what that carries with it in terms of the obstacles they faced to get here. 1st Gen immigrants can push for assimilation in ways 2nd gen immigrants push back on. folks will go back and forth between valuing assimilation and feeling allied with different identities. – From teachers of newly immigrated students
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- Check out the public collection: Immigrants Belong Here – Books helping kids advocate for human rights, which uses many of these books
- Don’t read a whole mess of these in a row. They will eat at your soul if you don’t come up for air – so don’t do what I do, and read piles of them in one go once a year. It totally burns me out. Pick 2-3 that are most appropriate for your kids, and spread them out throughout the year.
- We’ll focus mainly on destigmatizing books – helping kids see through the fear-mongering against refugees and asylum seekers they might pick up from the news
- I started talking with Q around age 5 about refugees (most effective books: A Kiss Goodbye, Lost And Found Cat & Journey). I’ve started the process talking with R2 at age 4.5 now, but unfortunately so many of the books are just written for an older audience he has a hard time sitting still through the books.
- From BFL-group member Lara Nations on the difference between asylum seekers & immigrants:
- “I’m an immigration lawyer. Basically asylum seekers and refugees are both groups of people who cannot go back to their home country because it is not safe for them to do so (it’s more complicated than that, of course, but I think that’s the important part for this discussion). The difference is that refugees are outside the US (or other country in which they seek refugee status) as they apply for immigration status whereas asylees go through the application process inside the US (or whatever country they go to). Does that make sense? In any case, the experience of being an asylum seeker is different from being a refugee but the basic story of having fled one’s homeland under often traumatic circumstances to come to a strange place is very similar. I hope this is helpful.”
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Quick & Messy Book List:
My Personal Favorite Refugee Stories
- Lost And Found Cat
In all the refugee stories we read, the parts about leaving behind pets are the ones that catch the Earthquakes in the gut. They recognize how dangerous this situation is when families are desperate enough to leave pets behind to die. They’re aware of how much help they need to survive, they can’t fathom helping another child in a worse situation. It’s easier to sympathize with a cat. It’s more palatable to realize pets just like ours are in danger. That’s something they feel they can tackle. While Q really got a lot out of it at 5, I have to admit I’m not sure the whole story is sinking in for R2 at 4.5. It’s a really popular book at the library so we never get as much time to sit and discuss the stories as I’d like. Unfortunately, there’s a copycat to this story called Kunkush (NOT RECOMMENDED), which I’ve included in the problematic books section, so make sure you get the right one. Keywords: Animals, pets, volunteers, accomplices, books that make me cry
- Journey – Sanna
Powerful with gorgeous illustrations, but heartbreaking. This should be mandatory reading for all kids. Helps us talk about why it’s vital we welcome asylum seekers with gorgeous a fairytale-style illustrations to offset the scary situation. It has the feel of a classic Disney film (lurking darkness and all). I thought the boys would be too young for it a 3 & 5, but they handled it well – it feels like a storybook, just enough to keep it abstract. A good followup book is Sanna’s continuation, from the perspective of a child who has arrived in a new country: Me And My Fear – it’s cuter and lighter in tone, and also gives the impression that things turn out okay for the kids, if you read it as a sequel. Click here for the FB post.
- From Far Away (2017 version) – Saoussan Askar (autobiography)
Q noticed that it was oddly written, which I was delighted about, because that gave me an in to point out that this was written by a child who was in the process of learning English as a second language. He’s like WHAT?! KIDS CAN WRITE BOOKS?! He was amazed, and it made the point of reinforcing the agency of refugees as more than poor victims. The story takes place when she’s in 2nd grade. Every single page sparked a conversation and gave us something to consider – from what it’s like to have a ‘normal’ life suddenly destroyed by terrorism and war, “The place we used to live was very nice. But then a war started.” To what it feels like to have people on a plane avoid her (Islamophobia & discrimination) “Nobody wanted to sit near me.” To de-centering the dominant English-speaking narrative – “I listened to my teacher, only I didn’t know what she was saying because she did not talk right.” To normalizing diversity (wide range of races in classroom, Black teacher, classmate who uses a wheelchair). We discussed how it must feel to be new and not understand the rules and what other kids take for granted. About triggers, and how seeing a paper skeleton might seem fun to us, but to someone who has seen violence and war, it can be terrifying. We see on one page kids laughing at her for being frightened, and discuss how that must compound her fear, and how we could handle that situation if we realize someone is afraid. On the next page, her class does exactly that – realizes this is a big deal and offering comfort. Then we see her slowly gain hope – learning English, making friends, going on to excel in school. “I changed my name from Saoussan to Susan, but my mother told me to change it back.” On assimilating and where to draw the line between safety and asserting yourself. Amazing book. Originally published in 1995, the latest edition’s illustrations are PERFECTION. Takes place in Canada (Toronto)
- Three Balls Of Wool– kono
Wonderful. Story based on maybe(?) fictional family participating in Prague spring. 8yo Portuguese refugees fleeing in exile to Prague. End notes show map heading from Lisbon, Portugal to Paris, down to Algeria, up to Bucharest, up to Prague. Fascist Portuguese dictators Antonio de Oliveira Salazar & Marcelo Caetao. Story focuses on what happens after arrival in Prague – we see how bland things are in their new home, and how her mother influenced school children to changed from solid block sweaters to beautiful patterns – immigrants bringing something to the new land to make it better, which is a complete 180 from tropes that paint immigrants as helpless drains on society. One of the rare books that shows that white people can be refugees, too. Bonus: the English version was translated by an autistic woman and neurodiversity in kidlit advocate.
- The Wall In The Middle of The Book– Agee
Agee is already one of Q’s favorite authors, and with this book (written in response to 45’s Muslim ban & border wall campaign), he’s one of mine, too. This flips the script – the narrator (nonbinary), fully armed, insists their side of the wall is safe, and the other side is dangerous. The story is simple, but every aspect gives you something to talk about. If it’s so safe on this side – why all the armor? From there, we see the scary ogre the narrator is so afraid of, who saves the narrator when things go wrong on the ‘safe’ side. Super simple makes it easy for R2 to understand, but gives us lots to talk about with older kids. Perfect for discussing open vs. closed borders, immigration, refugees, discrimination & stereotyping, allegories. 3.5+, Arrogance, Jingoism
- Joseph’s Big Ride (Farish) – We LOVE THIS BOOK. transparency – I got this for free from the publisher. R2 found it too metaphorical at 4.5 to start, but Q loved it from the beginning. both kids loved the part where he meets Whoosh, and his singular focus on riding a bike. Q particularly found it HILARIOUS. It’s so refreshing to find a book about refugees and immigrants that centers them and shows them as characters outside victims. Additional notes: Black makers, normalizing, making friends, communication missteps, bikes, natural hair. also a good introduction to appreciation/love languages. joseph tries to trade a ride (experience) with things (drawings, kerchiefs), and whoosh values assistance and help (would have been nice to learn her real name). normalizing girls of color, natural hair “You may wear this. It holds your hair in the wind.’/ ‘I like my hair freeeeeee,’ Whoosh says. kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, africa. I go into more details here.
- La Frontera (Mills) –
Q didn’t want to read a 6 but it really slammed into him and he suggests every child read it. similar to tonatiuh’s pancho rabbit & coyote, but less abstract and with more heartstring tugs – the part where he says goodbye to his mother had Q curling up into a ball and whimpering (in a good way) helping him to appreciate what he has, and being down in the depths of empathy with this kid. the part about a place being called an embassy but NOT being an embassy was a sticking point that he couldn’t unhook himself from, but that’s a minor point. SO many good points here (having to make contingency plans if he’s caught and deported without his father, the fear, endurance, etc.) and we discussed afterward how closed borders and a lack of easy circular migration made this so dangerously difficult when it wasn’t always like this. wealth inequality, immigrants, migrant laborers, latinx (mexico), autobiography, undocumented immigrants
My personal favorite immigrant stories:
- Hannah is my name – yang
AAPI maker. takes place in 1967-68. flows from her moving to th US and taking a new name that white people can pronounce, waiting in agony for a greencard while her parents are forced to work without a working visa (undocumented & speaks to the broken system). white accomplice is a doorman in uniform who seems frightening but actually protects them from immigration enforcement. sees her friend get deported, gently shows a few hurdles immigrants face, SO well done. Q didn’t want to read it based on the cover (age 6), but afterward, he recommended that every single kid should read it, it’s a great book. yang was born in taiwan, immigrated at age of 7, autobiographical. one spread depicts learning about MLK’s assassination while in school and how his work resonated with non-black POC. “Mr. King must have been fighting for my family to be treated kindly too. Papa and Mama say this is why we came to America.” and that gives us a lot to unpack from the frame of refrence that she knows, at the age of 7, that he was killed for fighting for kind treatment of her, how that despair is multiply worse in an environment of constantly being on their toes in anxious limbo. spectacular.
- Undocumented – tonatiuh – labor rights, brief image on police brutality, wealth inequality, organizing, activism, courage (for others) – turns down payout and chooses to risk deportation to help others. disambiguates mixteco language from spanish (has to learn it from his wife.), latinx makers, healthy masculinity, (1 star review on hispanic colonization of indigenous mixtecs and appropriating their art – but is tonatiuh mixtec as well as latinx?), courage collective action
- in the year of the boar and jackie robinson – AAPI, undocumented, validating for girls of color – bette bao lord – chapter book for 8+. protagonist is 8, seems best for that age. really cute story, mentions some micro-aggressions but overall just a cute story of choosing to assimilate and some metaphors for more advanced readers on combining both chinese and american identities. very few illustrations, but the ones that are there are adorable, witty, and funny. i enjoyed the book and Q could be into it, but lack of adventure and parallel to our lives on top of lack of illustrations make me hesitant to introduce at 5 – I think that would actively turn him off, and would rather wait until he’s old enough to love it. school day, baseball, 7+ wonderful sense of time and place, validating for girls of color. takes place in 1947 before we were allowed to gain citizenship (chinese exclusion act) – it’s not mentioned in the book (probably for the author’s protection) but given the date, the author is likely a paper daughter, autobiography, third culture kids
- Pie In the Sky (Lai)- SO FREAKING GOOD!. Chapter book. Might be okay as a (long) read aloud at 7, but I just don’t have the energy for it, so I’m waiting until Q can read this independently. It would definitely hold his attention, it’s superb! English as a second language, pesky little siblings, death of a parent. Asian Australian. I do wish they specified what country he’s from – the author left it vague to be validating for more kids (#OwnVoices Asian immigrant, born in indonesia, grew up in singapore, now lives in australia) but instead it just kind of nags at me – could have been stronger with some specificity. Touches on food view of Asian (all of these seem Chinese?) pastries vs. Western pastries and view of some as cheap vs. fancy. illustrations break up the huge book. how hard it is to learn english as a second language. ESL. funny and hilarious, would recommend it as a FORJ reader for every kid read it to empathize with ESL students. single mothers (not by choice). father died 10 days before 10th birthday. now he’s 12 and little brother is about to turn 10. grief, ages 8-12
- Front Desk – (Yang)
AAPI, #OwnVoices. Chapter book, too advanced for 7y, will wait until he can read it independently. Spectacular book, but surprisingly heavy. Author respects children’s ability to hear hard things and empathize. Touches on immigrant labor exploitation, wealth inequality, anti-black racism, East Asian privilege, activism (writing letters). Some mature language (bastard), and the content is way heavier than the cover implies – which I like. Ages 8-12. My favorite thing about this is that the author doesn’t fall into the evil-white-villain trope popular lately. The racists and wealthy folks who exploit and ignore the plight of immigrants living in poverty are all Chinese (and even our own families), which forces us to reconcile with the fact that we’re hurting our own. End notes touch on how Chinese who fled after cultural revolution thought they were finding safety, only to miss out on economic boom, so the weird crush between American Chinese who lived in poverty while families who stayed behind flourished.
- New Year – Rich Lo (Same name as my dad, but no relation)
illustrations are beautiful as usual. great centering on immigrant perspective – both 4.5 & 6.5 got sense of what it might feel like and how embarrassing and unpleasant it is to be the only kid who doesn’t speak english. he chose to show the ABC girl being reluctant to talk to him and even resenting being seated next to him as his cantonese interpreter. we discussed how it feels to be the only asian in the class, and how hard we work to assimilate and encourage people to see us as one of them, but by placing us as an interpreter, teachers accidentally other us and tap into the pain of being an outsider. the story handles this well and gives us lots to talk about. we talk about how he feels sad about begin Chinese, but given a chance to share his culture around the lunar new year, he can find pride in it when his classmates embrace it. later, the ABC girl is proud to be chinese as well. they say gong hey fa choi, so they speak cantonese!!! Hard to find cantonese with all the mandarin-centered books around. AAPI, immigrants, new kids at school, conflict between ABC and FOB Chinese
- A piece of home -watts & yum – in Korea, grandmother was wise and wonderful teacher, he was ordinary and like everyone else. Q loves seeing hte korean letters and it’s inspiring him to want to know more about korean language since he doesn’t recognize the word bubbles. Dad moves them all to west virginia. gave us an opportunity to discuss how homes and furniture look different – in this case it was just slightly different wiht a low table and cushions, and i was able to explain how what we do is not ‘normal’ with chairs. in Viginia grandmother keeps to herself, he feels like he sicks out. implies that teacher is mixed-race “But when the pale moon is full and round, it looks like my face – and a litle like the face of the woman who is now my teacher” esp since yum tends to incorporate multiracial (white/asian) children ino her stories. AAPI maker. finding apiece of home in new surroundings. (similar to baobab tree). what it feels like to not understand people and not be understood. slowly see him picking up language even though it was hard and seemd impossible at first. finds mugunghwa flowers as he develops friendships, he and his grandmother find a place for htem in the new commu nity. VERY awesome book and less didactic with more story than similar books like “I’m new here” 4+ AAPI makers.
- the name jar – unhei ends up picking her own name after all. anxious about fitting in with her new classmates, validating for girls of color. unhei doesn’t change her name just to please her classmates. Unhei tries to make up a new name that americans can pronounce, ends up sticking with her own name, moving, new home, names AAPI makers.
Introductory Allegories About Refugees
You can use these for kids who are still too young to understand borders/terrorism/climate disasters that lead to a refugee crisis (4 and under, give or take). You can read these books on a surface level, and when it comes time to discuss a refugee experience, refer back to them, as in: “Remember in that book we read about the bears searching for a place to stay…?”
- A Kiss Goodbye – Penn
Chester has to move and he’s dealing with the sorrow of having to leave home. This one has a softer ending than a ‘real’ refugee story – he makes a new friend who welcomes him to the neighborhood (who also is new to the place), and he gets to move with his family and prepare before the destruction comes. As Chester and his family prepare to flee the only home he knows, he deals with the emotions of losing his home. There are undertones of deforestation (environmentalism) and fleeing for safety, but it’s also universal for kids moving to a new place or understanding those feelings of fear and sadness.
- Fox’s Garden
Basic human decency in providing shelter to someone in need, and how doing stuff like that makes you feel good.
- Shelter– Leng
Both Q & 2 loved this, had a wide age range (many books are hard to read to two different ages at the same time.) Although R2 enjoyed re-reading it more at 3 than Q at 5. Got again at 4.5 & 6.5 and it was still a hard but engaging read. I used to explain how ‘kind’ people can be mean when they are afraid, and how courage is a necessary component of kindness. Two brother bears seek shelter in a blizzard. Everyone has plenty but refuses to share, until one little fox shares what little he has. But then his family ends up in need and the bears help them, even though they have so very little. Illustrations are beautiful, quiet, and perfect for a dark wintry night. Generosity, kindness, fear of strangers, winter, scarcity mindset, Ages 3.5+ Canadian- Asian makers, refugees, scarcity mindset, why otherwise average people might make selfish decisions or act out of fear instead of generosity
Motivating Kids To Welcome Refugees & Immigrants
- Her Right Foot– This is…loooong. But good.Q was able to sit through it at 6, but I’m not sure he quite ‘got’ it and it took a little while to get to the point, which is by design, but not something he’s used to. I found it absolutely wonderful, motivating and inspiring, like a call to action. pacing was good. a few pages after Q pointed out the statue is drawn in the wrong color, we see why she starts brown and ends up green. a few pages after he’s like, ‘so when are we going to find out about her foot?’ they tell us they’ll get to it soon. jokes are funny but over a 6yo’s head. “Liberty and freedom from oppression are no things you get or grant by standing around like some kind of statue. No! These are things that require action.Courage. An unwillingness to rest.” “After all, the Statue of Liberty is an immigrant, too. And this is why she’s moving. This is why she’s striding. In welcoming the poor, the tired, the struggling to breathe free. She is not content to wait. She must meet them at the sea.” ages 7+, immigrants, independence day, statue of liberty, activism
Modern-Day Refugee Stories (1950 and later)
- From Far Away – see notes above
- Lost And Found Cat – see notes above
- Journey – see notes above
- Banana-Leaf Ball – Might be very recent since this camp is still in place, or maybe around 1972 around the Hutu genocide? Or Rwandan Genocide or civil war? I’ll have to read it again and double check the details. Takes place in Burundim ,then Lukole, in Tanzania, Africa. Beginning of the book offers a visceral (and terrifying) scene where the protagonist flees for his life and is separated from his family. The book is primarily about how having a shared goal in sports can connect people and heal toxic social environments (like bullying). Mature content for 5+ additional keywords: family fleeing from gunshots and fire, child half-dead from starvation, separation from parents, genocide, refugees, bullying, collective action, sports, war, violence, conflict resolution. restorative justice. Content warning for family fleeing from gunshots and fire, child half-dead from starvation, separation from parents, genocide, making friends, power of collaborative play, sports, war, violence, trauma, social emotional
- Adrift at sea – a Vietnamese boy’s story of survival (Ho) – Made Q curious to learn more about the Vietnam war. both 4.5 & 6.5 were like WTF why are they shooting at a kid who just wants to leave? Didn’t have answers for them, which is nice, got them curious to learn more. understanding the risks and dangers of coming over in boats made them want to donate money to refugee relief. takes place in 1981 (so not the war, but end notes explain the fallout after US left) Vietnamese boat people. Ho narrates it from his perspective as a 6yo. Vietnamese Canadian, not AAPI
Modern-Day Immigrant Stories (1950 and later)
- mama the alien – lacamara – meh. girl finds card tha says ‘alien’ in her mom’s purse and most of the story is just her thinking her mom is from space. at th very end, we see that her mom is becoming a naturalized citizen. eh. fine for explaining what an immigrant is, i guess, but there are better ones. bilingual (spanish, english), immigrants, silly
Two White Rabbits – buitrago – surreal, kinda counting book, but kinda not. seems like a story best for validating, doesn’t really spell it out for us and the text is vague, “The truck that is going to take us arrives. The boy and his grandmother ook at us the way people we met on the road look at us.” – which is how? images show what’s happening, but text is in left field – better to read other books about undocumented immigration and border crossings. Much prefer La Frontera. this one is too vague and reads like the disjointed journal of a 4-year-old. so odd it doesn’t make th reader empathize with the character, just wonder what the fuck is going on. this would have ben better as a wordless book. immigration, undocumented, single fathers, latinx
Refugee Stories From Pre-1950
- Oskar and the Eight Blessings – Historical fiction, Jewish boy fleeing Europe arrives in late December to NYC, where he finds people who do little bits of kindness to help him find his way to his Aunt’s house. The story is super unrealistic, but gorgeous and a nice gentle way (well, as gentle as you can get) to introduce the Holocaust, as it references the Night of Broken Glass. This was the first book we used introducing Q to the Holocaust, at age 5. Particularly enjoy the way we see US holidays (at least in the Northeast) as a community celebration mix of Hanukkah and Christmas. Alludes to ‘the night of broken glass’ which didn’t explicitly point out the holocaust or the fact that his parents are doomed, but gave us an opening to discuss the holocaust when we were ready. Q asked, and I prepared him, and we discussed it at 5y. Then we saw the ways to look for blessings as he walked to his aunt’s house through Manhattan. How he can be blessed by small acts of kindness and compassion, and he can return that blessing – but it’s not necessary and non-transactional. non-transactional radical kindness, interfaith friendships/community. Judaism, Christianity, religion, winter holidays
- Gleam And Glow – Bunting – Kids fleeing farm during Bosnian war. Worried about pet fish left in pond. They come back to burnt out house and find lots of fish. Based on a true story. Since she’s talking about white kids, Bunting manages to not be racist in this one.
- Dia’s Story Cloth – Hmong migration fleeing Laos to Thailand. Images are story cloth stitched by her uncle of her family’s story. A little didactic and didn’t hold the attention of the Earthquakes, but as an adult, it’s pretty fascinating to see this medium in a book. Asian history. AAPI
- Small Beauties – See notes in our post about the Irish refugee & Great Hunger collection.
- chachaji’s cup– krishnaswami – post-war after getting rid of british colonists, ‘the partition’ (1947) separating muslim pakistan from hindu india, refugees feeling unsafe and having to flee across the border. his great uncle tells this story to him (they are close) story has lots of themes – how he grows older and seems like his uncle is less cool. how his uncle gets sick and he brings his great great grandmother’s teacup to him to help him feel better. AAPI (born in india, emmigrated to to new mexico)
- Shanghai sukkah – Hyde – European jew refugees fled to Shanghai via Japan (thanks to sugihara, mentioned in the end notes). Connecting sukkot and building a sukkah with mid autumn lantern parade, friendship and how Chinese Liang is a good friend and welcoming to Marcus, a European jew living in Hongkew (poorest section of Shanghai). Accomplices, holocaust, wwii, China. Illustrator is AAPI and author is from chestnut hill, Jewish author
- the garden of peace – kaur – beautiful illustrations, pages and binding feel luxuriously crafted. went way over the head of Q at 5, and he got some of it when i stopped to explain it – but the metaphor of weeds & people intermixed is unclear and hard to understand. book needs several reads to understand and is better served with much older kids and adults. as an adult i find it beautiful, but we need to wait until he’s older. technically it’s engaging – Q was riveted by the idea of the emperor and his men following the baaj to destroy the seeds. he was really interested in seeing which seeds came from which pods and what each one grew into. there was such a mixture of history and symbollism it was just confusing for Q and reads more like an allegorical bible passage. the author’s note at the end clears a lot of stuff up and is great for explaining the significance of why Sikhs grow their hair long, and the upswell of upstanders. 7?+, Upstanders, sikhism, discrimination, symbollism, tyrants, religious persecution. transparency: saffron press sent this to me for free.
Biographies of Real-Life Refugees
Humanizing today’s refugees by telling the stories of previous ones.
- A Poem For Peter– Woodson
Biography/dedication for Ezra Jack Keats, a US refugee from Warsaw who lived through the Great Depression. Focuses mainly on his life after arriving in the US, with his parents working hard so he can grow up and contribute – creating A Snowy Day in 1962, which broke through barriers (there were books featuring kids of color before this, but not in this particular ground breaking manner), normalizing children of color with agency to mainstream kidlit. Black women makers, history, accomplices, Jewish makers & Jewish history
- A Different Pond – Phi – Wonderful. Ordinary morning in the life of the author as a young boy. We use this book to show our kids what it’s like for American immigrants struggling to make a life in America – which is particularly relevant for us, since this was similar to their grandfather’s experience after moving to the US as a teen. For 1st and 2nd-gen Asian immigrants – the illustrations are SO PERFECT. It feels like going home. The book is mild on the surface – if a bit slow-paced. My kids find it boring, and I find it gorgeous and nostalgic. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to entertain them. It just has to show them something they haven’t seen anywhere else. The mundanity of it all helps my kids connect with the main character, and the sense of entrenched poverty and stubborn endurance gives them a sense that not everyone has the easy life we enjoy. Read it at least twice (once to discuss meaning behind each element, another time to let the story sink in). the story isn’t exciting (they just go fishing) so wait for kids who can understand the thing behind the thing first. keywords: short graphic novel, vietnam, immigrants, wealth inequality – age range: 5+ every adult and older child should read this book. wealth inequality, poverty, AAPI, See A Different Pond FB post
- From Far Away – see notes above
- Write On, Irving Berlin! kimmelman
How he escaped Jewish pogrom and contributed great things for the us US (with a good deal of hard work). Worked well for age 6, a little too wordy for age 4. Doesn’t explicitly mention it, but Berlin had an interfaith marriage (his second wife and the mother of his children was Catholic). We see how his music was a way to give back to the America he loved, including giving profits from ‘God Bless America’ to both the boys and girl scouts, racially integrating his performances for the troops and treated his performers with dignity and solidarity. “They refused to stay or play anywhere that didn’t welcome ALL of them.” How giving people hope and making them smile through tough times is another form of patriotism, giving kids another perspective on how the many ways to contribute. Unlike the other bio we read, this one made it clear that it’s his drive and love of music, paired with his unwavering hard work that made him a success. Wrote ‘white christmas’ and ‘god bless america,’ got criticized as an immigrant and Jew for not staying in his lane, which speaks to how immigrants are expected to assimilate, and criticized when they do. Lovely. Jewish history. judaism, accomplices. immigrants, music, refugees, christmas
- NOT to be confused with Irving Berlin – The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing – which you can find in the problematic section, below.
- First Generation – Anthology specific to immigrants, and a good chunk are refugees. I appreciate the clarity at the beginning defining ‘first generation’ as first generation to arrive, not first generation to be born here, since that gets confusing. Some problematic trans-erasive language for AAPI Pauline Park’s bio (‘born a boy,’ blech), and I was only able to read about half of it before I ran out of time, but for the most part this seems solid, if didactic. Illustrations are clear and rich, but not as much fun as more illustrative styles like in ‘Bad Girls Throughout History.’ Well written, but too didactic and dry for age 6, so I’m going to try again around 8+. Includes LGBTQ, many faiths and religions, ethnicities & races, with industry & innovation, fashion, sports, STEAM. activists & musicians, artists.
Stormy Seas – Leatherdale
YES, this! For advanced readers, way beyond 6 (says for grades 4-7, but I’m going to try maybe age 7 or 8). Author wanted to write about refugee experience but didn’t want to stray out of her lane, so solicited #ownvoices stories from actual real-life boat refugees. Two timelines in the book points to a few significant refugee crises over the last few hundred years, but actual stories are all from living refugees who can explain experience themselves. Stories include 1939 Ruth fleeing German holocaust, denied entry to Cuba, stuck on boat for 4 months, some passengers sent back to die in Holocaust. 1979 Phu fleeing Vietnam war for US – facing repeated (17) pirate attacks. Didn’t have time to read the rest – 1980 Jose fleeing Cuba to US, 2000 Najeeba fleeing Afghanistan Taliban to Australia, 2006 Mohammed’s 4yr journey fleeing ivory coast to Italy. SUPER well done book with routes, stats and details that personalize and enhance the story, rather than overwhelm us with too many details. SO good. Worth noting that Leatherdale just came out with another book that is popular in the Indigenous women’s movement, another compilation where she stepped aside as a white accomplice but boosts the voices of Indigenous women. Damn girl, this is how it’s DONE!
the timeline gives us more to reference and research: 1677 mennonites fleeing to pennsylvania, 1763 Filipinx fleeing spanish colonists for louisiana, 1809 saint domingue fleeing french colonists in Caribbean for new orleans, 1830 jews leaving germany and Austria-hungary to escape anti-semitism, 1845 irish coming to north america, 1865 norwegians coming to north america from crop failures, 1868 swedes coming to north america from famine, 1850 mormon danes coming to US for freedom of religion, 1914 sikh arriving on Komagata Maru to Canada in search of jobs, forced to sail to WWI-torn India – even though they are British citizens, britans kill and imprison then because they are wary of sikhs., refugee camps, death on the sea, pirates, detention centers, coyotes/smugglers, religion
Didactic Books About The Refugee Experience
- My Name Is Not Refugee – milner
I’m not 100% sure who this is written for. Parts of it feel like it’s supposed to be validating for very young refugees, parts of it feel like it’s for non-refugees to empathize with the experience, and mushing the two together almost feels like it invalidates the other perspective – kids like to feel that a book is ‘for them’ – and waffling between the two creates an uncomfortable dissonance that breaks their trust. Example: Validating title, text: “You’ll be called Refugee but remember Refugee is not your name” but frequently asks kids to imagine themselves in that position. Questions like: What would you pack? Very tame, makes it sound like an exciting adventure, but a little bit sad, then asks kids what it would be like to live somewhere where there will be no water in the taps. “it might get a bit boring” “Do you like cars and lorries?” asks kids where they would brush teeth and change pants if sleeping on the streets. It almost feels like a book you’d read to a kid just BEFORE fleeing, which is obviously impractical. Infantilizing text could works for kids around 3-4, beyond that, it’s too oblivious. Asking “what is the weirdest food you have ever eaten?” and other derailing questions feel odd and trivializes it a little. My guess is this would work for super, super, super fragile readers teaching kids about refugee crisis – but then, someone hat fragile wouldn’t even bother. Maybe it’s a British thing I just don’t understand.
- Refugees And Migrants Roberts – Spells out how and why folks migrate and has a few general ideas on how to help (donate clothes, money, etc.) but super dry and didactic. had to spread it out so it’s a couple pages each night, which broke it up and there wasn’t anything…memorable about it. Okay for age 6 (but still a chore) and over the head of age 4, although R2 was happy to sit and listen despite not knowing what on earth we were talking about. First half of book shows white refugees (super rare), but toward the end there are pages with white kids helping kids of color in a kind of white saviory way that makes me a little uncomfortable. Slightly biased to center on whiteness, but not so bad that I’d call it problematic, just something to keep an eye out for. Includes relief organizations at the end. Would be perfect to help kids about to invite an asylum seeker into their home to understand the background behind the new housemate. BE CAREFUL – this is a part of a series all illustrated by the same person, but the authors are different. Spilsbury’s Racism and Intolerance is problematic AF, full of whitewashing, victim-blaming, and other horrifying bullshit.
- Who Belongs Here? Knight
I read the old version, but there’s a new one with updated and presumably less bland illustrations (that admittedly still look pretty boring). Centers on young Cambodian refugee, what he flees from and the racism he faces once here. In the old version, the blurry images and dry text way too boring for 6 and under, so I’ll try again around age 8. Cambodia, independence day, AAPI
Didactic Books about Immigrants
- I’m an immigrant too! – fox. centered on australia, even the US version(?). “My parents come from China- they think Australia’s great. Now we live in Canberra and call out, “G’day mate!” Ooof. that rhyming. so painful. references cities(?) and where people come from and how they are now patriotic australians. ends on girl standing in front of wall holding open bird cage “Sadly, I’m a refugee- I’m not Australian yet. But if your country lets me in, I’d love to be a vet.” seems like it’s designed for australian pride in diversity, for very fragile people. Leans toward erasing actual issues of racism for citizens. seems too lazy. colorblind erasure
Potentially Validating Stories For Refugee Children
This is way out of my lane. But for the sake of providing stories that might help kids get through their time here, I’ll note these just in case.
- From Far Away see notes above
- Me And My Fear see notes above about Journey – could potentially be used as a sequel
- Azzi In Between – Garland
I’d use this as a validating story for refugees or for much older kids, maybe 9+. It’s fine for 4.5+, but both the Earthquakes and I aren’t the right audience for this, and there are better, more engaging books for us on this topic. The hangup feels small, but – her dad’s eyebrows are SUPER angry for most of it. The author is trying to symbolize how he turned into a giant A-hole from the stress of fleeing. Buuut angry men of color (and by implication, dangerous men of color) is REALLY not the stereotype I want to feed right now. That anger is valid, obviously, but given the stuff they pick up outside the home, I don’t need to fan that flame. Meanwhile – the women and children aren’t depicted with angry eyebrows – but they also don’t complain at all during the book, which feeds into some anger/toxic masculinity issues of what we expect from different genders under stress.
- The Map of Good Memories – Nuno
For girl who is about to leave her war-torn home, making map of her memories before it started to get destroyed. message would be completely lost on young kids, since we don’t see the crumbling buildings until th very end – in conrast to the way it was shown at the beginning. By then, after sitting through the rather slow and mellow story, it didn’t even occur to them to check. Would be best for validating refugee/immigrant children as a way to work through saddness leaving home, but not for us, and not even destigmatizing. Unless it might MAYBE work to show kids that refugees once had lives just like us? But it’s a weak link and wouldn’t work without a LOT of work on the reader’s part. war, trauma
Potentially Validating Stories for kids about assimilating into the anglosphere & learning ESL (English as a second language)
- Dreamers – morales – hard for Q to understand without background. ages 5+, validating for immigrants, ESL, book lovers, library, latinx, women makers of color De Colores has a post that covers more than I could catch as an outsider. mexico, motherhood, latinx, bilingual, ESL, immigrant latinx makers women of color
- Here I Am (patti kim), graphic novel. messy illustrative graphic novel made this a litlte hard to read. i get that it’s a stylized decision, but i had to stare at the mages for a while to figure out what’s going on, which made reading ti together a chore, and took the benefits of illustration-only away. Q can’t read this on his own at 6 because the illustations are too confusig. boy and family arrive in american airport where everything is foreign and confusing. eventually he stats to see the good parts of living here, makes a friend, builds a community. when he acidentally drops the seed that he’s been holding on to focusng on his home, he’s forced to go out into the world and he sees the benefit, so small message of how mistakes/accidents can be blessings. author(?) based this stoy on her immigration here at age 4. we’ve read other books on this topic he connected with much better keywords: illustration only, graphic novel, immigration, ESL, city life, boys of color (korean), accidents. Korean AAP
imagine – herrera – validating latinx, ESL poet laureate author, imagine moving to US and learning englisha nd becoming poet laureate
goodbye 382 shin dang dong – frances park – good book. i like that when her parents ask if she wants to change her name to the english translation of her name, she says no firmly – she likes her name. AAPI korean, ESL
Sumi’s first day of school ever – wouldn’t read this as a validating book, at least before kids start to demonstrate feeling like an outsider. not a book to read to my kids as accomplices for the first day of school, but maybe like 2 months into the school year, a unit on these types of books and how to help and welcome kids who don’t necessarily speak the same language. Shows semi’s reactions to the way things happen, seeing school as a lonely place, a mean place (the reason I wouldn’t read it to Q before starting kindergarten) but then how she starts to like it. Simple without a big interesting story, but better for younger kids than the name jar (works for preschool, maybe 2.5+) whereas the name jar is better for kids 4+. Definitely better than my name is yoon, and more cohesive than ‘I’m new here’, because it focuses on one girl and one story, assimilating
‘I am new here’ (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ‘Someone New’ which confusingly looks almost identical and I rant about how problematic it is below.) English-speaking American littles empathize with the experience of new classmates unfamiliar with our the language and culture. Okay for 5+, although it’s better for ages 7+ attending traditional education schools because of the class structure in the book. centers the voices of three children (somalia, korea, guatemala), based on the author’s experience moving from the US to south korea when she was 7. covered multiple dimensions simply enough for an older preschooler (4.5+) to grasp, like how the letter look strange, the words sound funny and have no meaning at first, how the routines of a classrom are confusing and how hard it is to find your place when everyone else but you knows the program. also shows that they WILL get it eventually, and things wil get easier in thier ‘new home’ . Ages 6+ They sat through it okay younger, but the class settings and obstacles they get through aren’t something they can understand yet through preschool.
American Wei – Pomeranc- gets kids of a specific age intot he story by bringing in the element of the lost tooth, which is kind of genious since it’s universal – Q would have no way of connecting with this story otherwise. not excited about the orientalism and slant eyes. i like that everyone comes together to help him find his lost tooth before the citizenship ceremony takign the oath of allegiance. could have been written better though, so it’s not worth reading again.. Ages 5+
- Speak up Tommy – speaks with accent (Hebrew, from Israel) and new to learning English alphabet. Kids make fun of him until he shows he can speak with police dog trained in Israel, new kid at school, English language privilege, immigrants, Judaism. Not wild about the fact that he has to earn their approval by being cool and knowing stuff they don’t.
Refugee Stories For Older Kids & Adults Only
- The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui (autobiographical, focuses on her family history)
AMAZING. Bui’s memoir of her parents’ lives and how it impacted her own upbringing. She weaves the inter-generational timeline perfectly, starting with her own childhood (which seems like a pretty shitty time), until we realize how her parents are a product of the violence and hardship of the tumult of the Vietnam war, and what it was like to be raised by people who had gone through this. Illustrations are fantastic. I loved it, but there is sexual & physical violence, trauma, and it’s horrifying, so it’s NOT for kids. But I highly suggest you read this first to get a handle on the subject, and then approach A Different Pond with your kids. AAPI, Vietnam war
- Marwan’s Journey – Borras
Not for us. But maybe validating for much older kids who have gone through this. Beautiful illustrations, but targeted toward adults in washes of earth tones and India ink. Text is gorgeous and poetic, but not for kids “I take giant steps even though I am small…” “I walk, and my footsteps leave a trace of ancient stories, the songs of my homeland, and the smell of tea and bread, jasmine and earth.” with random abstract imagery thrown in. I’m wondering if the maker has ever met or talked with a child of average cognitive development, of if they think they are just tiny adults. Even as an adult, it’s hard for me to get a concrete grip on what’s going on: “On night they came…The darkness grew colder, deeper, darker, and swallowed up everything: my house, my garden, my homeland.” We know he’s journeying across a border and eventually finds a place, but we don’t learn anything at all, don’t find a place to empathize or connect, and are left with no calls to action. “I will build my house with the cement of my sure steps. I will let in the rays of sunlight that come through the windows and paint the walls with happiness.” Okay, buddy, you do you. This is gorgeous, but I resent this waste of my time – something about this feels masturbatory, like they chose to make a children’s book because kidlit is ‘easy,’ and wanted to appear compassionate, but failed to take into account their audience. It’s disrespectful to kids. additional keywords: war, children’s books for adults
- Child Soldier – Humphreys
This is a spectacular book, but holy shit, don’t read this with your little kids. Super, duper, superduper violent. Book recommended for ages 10-14, but I’m almost inclined to say 12+, we’ll have to see when we get there. This is a true story, a biography of a little boy who was kidnapped, forcibly drugged with cocaine, forced to murder his friend, and tortured. This particular boy managed to escape, but the understanding is that the rest of the boys he left behind were left to become child soldiers and eventually die or forced slaughter villages full of people.
Additional Keywords: Children’s rights, violence, war, exploitation, drug abuse, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, torture, coercion, Red Hand Day (Feb 12), We Are Silent/Free The Children (April – 24 hour vow of silence), Unicef, NGOs (association de soutien de l’opprime, siembra), child soldiers international, Geneva call, war child, Canadian activists, children of activists, Group Conflict, slavery
Immigrants in US History
Si se puede – cohn – R2 and Q squirmed though it and it was boring, but tying it in from the perspective of a son of one of the strikers helped. It was still kinda…meh. bilingual (spanish, english), labor rights, labor movement, wealth inequality, latinx history, union organizing activism, strikes, los angels, women’s history – Dolores Sanchez, labor organizer, mexican immigrant, illustrator delgado is political artist for mestizo & immigrant communities, immigrant rights, wealth inequality, labor rights
Brave Girl – markel – shirtwaist makers strike of 1909. learn about dangerous and torturous working conditions but doesn’t mention the fire. clara goes to the library every day after work even though she’s exhausted. “The men at the factory tell her they’ve been trying to get the workers to team up in a union. Then they’d strike-refuse to work-until the bosses treat hem better. But the men don’t think they’re tough enough. Not tough enough? Beause they’re girls? Oh, yes, they are. Clara knows it. She’ll show them.” Not a fan of the line “Clara smolders with anger, not just for herself, but for all the factory girls, working like slaves.” – nope. don’t equate this with slavery. minimizes horrors of slavery. Just don’t. Problematic! “The police arrest her seventeen times. They break six of her ribs, but they can’t break her spirit.” Also don’t think it’s necessary to point out that she hides the bruises from her parents – especially without context on why. Had to point out to the boys that they should NEVER hide bruises from us. That doesn’t make someone tough! Clara speaks Yiddish, but doesn’t mention anywhere else about her Jewish heritage. “Proving in America, wrongs can be righted, warriors can war skirts and blouses, and the bravest hearts may beat in girls only five feet tall.” Endnotes: “Police brutality ceased only when members of the Women’s Trade Union League, made up of wealthy and middle-class women, joined the picketers and held meetings to publicize their plight.” ages 5+ women’s history (clara Lemlich, immigrant, jewish?), immigrants, labor rights, strike organizing, garment workers, sweatshops, libraries, sexism, whitewashing, police brutality, NYC, feminism, wealth inequality
When the beat was born (hill) DJ cool Herc – origins of hip hop, black history, jamaican immigrants, music. Q 6.5 was excited to learn about break dancing, but the pace, name-dropping and didactic nature of the story was super boring. black makers
Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life(Wallmark) – got for free from sterling publishing. women’s history, STEAM, ignores pretty privilege and makes it sound like a curse, inventors, actresses, Austrian-born american immigrants. WWII, written a little too name-droppy for age 7. AAPI illustrators
- Someone New – O’Brien – This book fits in too many categories. I hate this for many reasons.
- It’s CONFUSING AF – This is a spin-off designed to capitalize on the maker’s other popular book, which centers the voices of children who recently emigrated to an English-speaking country and just started school. The books are practically identical, so it’s VERY confusing. In this version though, we center on the English-speaking classmates, because I guess we don’t have enough of that. (THIS IS SARCASM). The maker claims they are doing a thing with windows and mirrors, but really it’s just a hot mess and looks very much like a marketing ploy.
For no apparent reason, the maker chose to turn this into three very shallow stories, rather than creating a single set of multidimensional character kids can truly empathize with. It’s confusing, both to me and the 4 & 6yo.
- It’s racist: As we see below, makers who stay intentionally vague on the difference between regular immigrants and refugees feed into the narrative that all brownish immigrants of color (particularly Muslim people) are from war-torn, violent countries.
- The light-skinned East Asian (Korean) boy is the most well-adjusted and hasn’t fled for his life. This is the only immigrant in the book who seems to have interests and a semi-deep personality – probably because the author actually lived in Korea for a time as a child, and is more likely to see Koreans as real people.
- About the (south-asian?) girl: “She didn’t want to leave, but it wasn’t safe for her parents. She had to come here.” She’s also notably more shy and pathetic looking than the Korean boy.
- About the Black girl wearing a khimar: “Fatima draws her family and her house. She adds flames and soldiers with guns. She shows me how her family ran away to another country.” Fatima, of course, is the most pitiful-depicted of the children, they really harp on how ‘strange’ and terrified she looks.
- White & English-centering as ‘the norm’
- Okay sure, one of the English-speakers is Black, but he’s voicing the thoughts of a grown white lady, he’s basically a white character swapped in with Black features, and he’s coded as American white. The other two characters are white.
- Knowing how to read, write, and speak are all predicated that you do it in English:
- “I would share my comic, but he can’t read or write.”
- “I guess she’s been practicing speaking. I can understand her.”
- “She may not know many words, but she can play.”
- Yeah….these kids are FLUENT in writing, speaking, and knowing words, just not in ENGLISH, UGH.
- Jin, the Korean, is the only one who isn’t depicted as completely mute and illiterate: “Jin teaches me how to write in his first language.” So the author KNOWS how to do it, she just refuses.
- As I mentioned earlier – this book was created based on the author’s experience moving from an English-speaking country to Korea, and how lonely and afraid she felt. Her other book, I’m New Here is a riff off of that, with a twist – it’s an English-language learner coming to the US. Which, due to cultural differences, is not the same experience. O’Brien seems oblivious to the fact that not all experiences are run through a white lens.
Why then, in ‘I’m New Here,’ didn’t she tell her story, rather than appropriating faces of children of color to give her white perspective on what she believes it’s like to be a child of color entering the US?
Why in this version, didn’t she reach out to get the perspective of how her Korean classmates felt about her when she arrived?
Being a new kid in a strange new place is a universally human experience – one that I’m positive a 5-year-old can handle, even if the characters don’t look like them. Is the idea of an Asian person playing a savior role SO incomprehensible? This is a lot of mental gymnastics to create a whole new narrative. Did she really believe that US-based kids couldn’t possibly empathize with Koreans? It smells like childism, and we should give kids more credit than that. All the immigrants in these books are Asian/African, and all the US-based kids are White & Black, and this all feeds into the myth that Asians are perpetual foreigners, never domestic peers.
- Saviors: “The new girl seems strange to me. Everything about her looks different. It feels like there is a big distance between us. I don’t know how to reach her.” The characters harm on pity, on difference, on how they are going to rescue them, etc. etc. Note that none of these kids starts out by trying to learn the language of the kid they are trying to befriend and asking how to help. They approach the new kid as a ‘puzzle’ and feel an obligation to rescue the kids from themselves. The understanding here is that the immigrants aren’t going to make any progress without intervention from a savior – because how could a child of color and non-English speaker (understanding: incompetent, ignorant) do anything by themselves?
- It’s not HELPFUL – I tried reading this to Q, despite my reservations. He has multiple people join his classroom each year who are English language learners, and none of this resonated with him at all. Admittedly it might be because he’s so self-centered that he doesn’t care about making the new kid feel welcome (not uncommon), or he’s just not afraid of immigrants because they aren’t freaking feral cats and they don’t bite if you walk up to them.
- It equivocates white fragility with real trauma – “I feel uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do. I can’t figure out how to help.”
This book is designed to put white discomfort at the same level of the valid fear immigrants of color face in America. Setting it up as a companion book to one centered on the immigrant experience, as if white kid fears of offending a new student are comparable with the fears of a refugee who has lost everything and are in a strange new place with kids who might call ICE on them. Which begs the question – do we need a book about white feelings? Sure – that’s what Not My Idea and The Princess & The Peanut Allergy (for non-allergy privilege) does, and they do it well. But unlike in this book, they also put in perspective – white discomfort is not equivalent to actual fear for your life.
- The upside: But also this unintentionally HILARIOUS illustration that is just perfect to illustrate the resigned feeling of dealing with invasive white nonsense:
[Image description: Fatima, a young Black girl wearing a khimar, listens to a blonde white girl asking “Were you scared?” with an exhausted ‘this white nonsense‘ look on her face.
- It’s CONFUSING AF – This is a spin-off designed to capitalize on the maker’s other popular book, which centers the voices of children who recently emigrated to an English-speaking country and just started school. The books are practically identical, so it’s VERY confusing. In this version though, we center on the English-speaking classmates, because I guess we don’t have enough of that. (THIS IS SARCASM). The maker claims they are doing a thing with windows and mirrors, but really it’s just a hot mess and looks very much like a marketing ploy.
- Kunkush – Ventura – (not to be confused with Lost And Found Cat, which is a much, much better story on the same topic)
Was so excited for this because look at that gorgeous cover! illustrations are great, but not nearly as engaging as Lost And Found Cat (LAFC). In fact, it takes giant leaps backward. The cat’s family plays nothing but a background role in the story – they’re depicted as nameless silhouettes. (“A widow and her five children”), contrast that with the full names and ages we’re given in LAFC. The entire book reads as a long, boring tribute to white saviors. Unlike in LAFC, where the white volunteers who help him seem to be hardworking, kind, and humble, they come off as frivolous millennial stereotypes who have waaaay too much free time and spend it caring for this one cat instead of doing something more productive. Unlike the Kunkush’s Muslim family, the white US & European volunteers are not only named, but they each get pages and pages dedicated to the most mundane bullshit – like giving the cat flea baths. The one who finds him actually comes off as a jerk – she feeds Kunkush but won’t feed the other local feral cats, and the book fails to explain as LAFC does, how the other cats already have a food source. The whole thing is just WEIRDLY awful. White saviorism, centering whiteness.
- My Two Blankets – White savior, white centering nonsense. You can find deeper detail unpacking this book in our Wealth Inequality post on Victims & Saviors.
- Friends from the other side – anzaldua – bilingual english/spanish. story is good, illustrations are distractingly bad. really there isn’t much to this book that isn’t covered in a better version, it centers the savior over the immigrant (who is actually kind of pathetic), and I’m not sure it’s really that necessary to start out the book with slurs (wetback/mojadito) both because UGH I accidentally said it in front of my 4yo and now he’s repeating it all over the place, and I don’t know if Q is going to start chanting it just to get attention. they could have ALLUDED to slurs without actually saying them. skip this, immigrants, upstanders, undocumented
- Kunkush – Ventura – (not to be confused with Lost And Found Cat, which is a much, much better story on the same topic)
- Whitewashing – White authors just writing about shit without doing any research first.
- The Quiet Place – Beverly Slapin of De Colores covers this way better than I could.
- This is me – curtis – thought i might like the device of asking kids to think of what hey would pack in a suitcase if they had to immigrate here like ancestors did (erases and ignores indigenous that not everyone is a descendant of immigrants), but implies that he protagonist – an east-asian presenting boy, his great-grandmother came here as a young child. but then they show how she choses not to bring chinese flower bowl shoes, choosing mouse-shaped slippers instead, which suggests she was chinese. another girl is obsessed with katy perry, which obvs not great at celebrating a known anti-asian racist. my first thought was how unlikely an entire chinese family, with women and children, would be allowed to emmigrate to the US during his great-grandmother’s childhood before the chinese exclusion act was repealed, and it speaks to curtis’s consistent obliviousness in the shit she chooses to write about. all of her books are garbage. notes: orientalism.
- my name is yoon – orientalist with the Jerry-Lewis style haircuts and contorted alien faces. perpetual foreigner stereotype. It’s just a shitty rip-off of of the name jar, which is waaay better, #OwnVoices and written 13 years prior to this.
- Stories that make refugee camps & oppression look like a summer vacation
- My Beautiful Birds – in addition to the erasive nature of the book and the overdone obsession with birds, the author has been accused of anti-Blackness in story, and refuses to answer for it or amend it in future publications.
- Teacup – young – not quite a summer camp, but strays so far into allegory it’s not helping us understand. beautiful allegory that would flies right over Q’s head a 6.5, leaving me to explain what it means to have to leave your country and why a tree is growing from a teacup. Which I’m not really equipped to do. poetic and lovely, but I’m no sure it’s for young kids. very reflective and surreal. doesn’t destigmatize refugees, but not quite validating either, since it’s basically a fairytale that erases the trauma of it. I’m actually not sure what message we’re supposed to get from this. Feels like the makers used someone else’s experience to ‘try on’ a dramatic story, and I’m wondering if they consulted with any actual refugees about how this comes off.
- We Came To America – faith ringgold. celebrates diversity of immigrants and how they add to american culture. 2+, very simple book, but fun to discuss with K-ages too. “Some of us were already here before the others came. And some of us were brought in chains, losing our freedom and our names.” – addresses both Indigenous americans & slavery. each line has a painterly illustration of diverse familie sand genders and ages and faiths. HOWEVER – while discussing with LFBC, Gloria noticed this book shows the enslaved people in chains SMILING. Yikes. Apparently I missed that despite reading it with my kids twice. Good thing she caught that! #SlaveryWithASmile.
- Dangerously boring/bland/unengaging
- Stepping Stones – Unfortunately I lost my notes on this, but I do remember being surprisingly underwhelmed, given how many people recommended I read it. Maybe I’m missing something, I read it several months ago. Anyway – it didn’t make it home into the pile of books worth screening with the Earthquakes, because I find unengaging stories make them resent the subjects.
- Four Feet, Two Sandals Williams. Shows (supposed?) life in refugee camp, but it feels like a missed opportunity, and the maker is trying to do too much in one book. (Sharing, making friends, compromise (a terrible one, btw), etc.) Most interesting part was short reference to what happened to her old shoes (worn out on journey fleeing from home, carrying her baby brother) and mention the family members they lost (parents, siblings). Main character has it better off than her friend – more of her family survived, she gets picked to come to America (which is unrealistic since America takes in less refugees than pretty much everyone, and it reeks of white supremacist American exceptionalism. Both Q and I were perplexed and more than a little pissed by the ending, when the character leaves for America (wearing new shoes her mom saved up for), and the girl left behind gives her a sandal to remember her by. Like seriously, let the girl keep the sandal so she can walk around. What kind of illogical BS is this? Only the the America-destined girl matters – she’s the one who has the right to keep memories of their friendship while the one left behind doesn’t get anything but a single useless sandal. Are we supposed to believe she would FORGET the ordeal of living in a freaking refugee camp once the magic of McDonalds fries heals her trauma? PLEASE. Instead of throwing the sandal out the bus window at the end like i am hoping, (or better yet, the new leather shoes), she shouts that she’ll see her when her friend gets to America too, which is BS because most people DON’T get to leave the camps, and certainly not for our immigrant-phobic country. The only worthwhile reason Q found it engaging is that we have donated clothing to refugee camps (which I have issues with in itself) and it was nice to show Q what a difference that small donation makes. Main character is from Afghanistan, camp is in Peshawar Pakistan. Q asked me NOT to read this again, and I’m thankful for that.
- The Roses In My Carpets – this was surprising. I’m in love with pretty much anything this author creates, but this was a miss. Somehow managed to be both boring and horrifying (the protagonist’s sister gets hit by a truck, also they are living in poverty in a refugee camp, also his life is miserable). To her credit, Khan maintains her signature ending without full closure. Unfortunately it gives the reader nothing to do with that misery, just a sense of hopeless despair that makes you want to give up and die.
- One green apple – bunting – Muslim – Girl suddenly on an apple picking field trip with white kids and doesn’t know how to speak the language. Not interesting, images boring af. Skip it. ESL
- Shy mama’s Halloween– broyles – russian immigrants. Mom is shy, but realizes best part of halloween is everyone is invited, even if they don’t know English. // to use of halloween as a holiday autistics know the script to. Sadly ‘only in America’ line is a little jingoistic, and story and illustrations boring. boring, not even good for halloween. ESL
- Foreigner stranger-danger – stories that portray kind and generous good-hearted, moral protagonists offering to help out a dangerous predatory character (ie. mice helping a cat) only to have the predator grow strong again and eat them. This whole nonsense feeds into anti-immigrant fear and all-or-nothing myths.
- If you must choose stories about stranger danger, pick stories such as Doctor De Soto, in which a mouse helps a fox, but sets healthy boundaries and safeguards before climbing into the Fox’s mouth.
- Who Will Bell The Cat? (the McKissack & Cyr retelling) – Coded anti-immigrant story. The mice take pity and nurse a cat to health, and once it’s better, it tries to eat them.
- Hot House Flowers (John H. Wilson) – The author was a NYC judge, BTW, which is terrifying. he defended his book by claiming he’s not calling immigrants ‘weeds’ and THEN goes on to say there is a big difference between documented immigrants and (his phrase:) illegal immigrants. So…he is calling undocumented immigrants weeds. How reasonable (/sarcasm) Just read the book description on amazon: “The flowers which grow in the wild outside are jealous of the flowers who live in the hot house, so one of the flowers from the outside sends its spores into the hot house to grow there. The flowers of the hot house are wary of the new plants, but some of the flowers castigate the others, telling them to welcome the strangers. Pretty soon, it is obvious that the new plants are weeds, taking over the water and soil of the hot house flowers; however, some of the flowers are still trying to make the weeds feel “welcome.” Before the flowers are all choked off by the weeds, the master of the hot house comes home, clears out the weeds, reminds the flowers of all the good He has given them, and charges them with the defense of their hot house.The next time the outside flowers send spores into the hot house, the flowers are ready.”
- A Bear sat on my porch today – yolen – nah. lots of animals show up, ignor her saying go away (problematic for consent), break the porch NOPE. this story feels like a it’s written by an anti-immigrant author with a reductive view of what it means to be pro-immigrant.
- My mom is a foreigner, but not to me – julianne moore – ‘foreigner’ is coded for strange, weird, and gross. ugh.
- American Melting Pot/ Nation of Immigrants
If you consider America a ‘Nation of Immigrants’ and Indigenous folks as just slightly-earlier-immigrants, then okay sure, EVERY country outside Africa is a freaking nation of immigrants. Beverly Slapin succinctly explains how this nonsense phrase is used to justify violent colonization.
- How Many Days To America, A Thanksgiving Story – Skip this. The title centers the pilgrim & ‘nation of immigrants’ narrative that erases Indigenous perspective of the US Thanksgiving myth. The characters are all 1-dimensional, pathetic victims. Aside from the dated illustrations, Bunting has been expounding some subtle (and therefore more dangerous) racism in her books for a long time. Plus – there are better books out there that cover this topic.
- W Is For Welcome – Herzog – Not just bland, but feeds into narrative justifying European invasion by centering colonization as just another type of immigration and propagates the increasingly dubious theory that Indigenous Americans migrated here over an ice bridge (modern data shows human remains dating from way before the ice bridge formed). The Bering Land Bridge theory is based on debunked science but it’s really helpful to claim Indigenous folks arrived just a little bit before Europeans, and therefore don’t have much claim to the land. “America, in particular, is made up of immigrants and their descendants. Everyone is here because their ancestors once “migrated” (moved from one place to another). Some of them, such as the ancestors of Native Americans, migrated to North America very long ago.” It goes on with some more white-centered notion of America as a place primarily based in whiteness, with fun token BIPOC adding spice. Note the passive language refusing to say WHO enslaved and forced Africans to come here: “Many others arrived against their will. For instance, hundreds of thousands of Africans were forced to come here and were enslaved.” Such a MYSTERY!
- Chee-Kee – sujean rim – oh YIKES. american-born (brooklyn) 2nd generation south korean AAPI maker. parents were immigrants, wrote this to reflect thier story learning to assimilate and carve a space for themselves in the US. but this is SO FUCKING PROBLEMATIC for white folks to read. even points out how pandas are chinese and she’s korean so she did like a pan-asian thing full of all the orientalist stereotypes you can imagine – lots of bamboo, rice paddy hats, korean characters on boat sails, lucky cats, rickshaws, paper lanterns, tea sets. attempted moral similar to ‘where oliver fits’ but in a clumsier way. eventually the immigrant panda makes herself useful by building a pole vault out of bamboo (on for fuck’s sake.) and rescues a ball from the tree. so he wins his acceptance because he’s helpful! (yay model minority stereotypes!). And they cheer his name and does this …. i can’t even, ugh… ‘Hooray! Chee-Kee Loo! Wu! Wu!” (claims Wu Wu translates into “Peace and happiness” is that a thing?). worth noting that the author’s other books feature a white girl, because apparently the only time she can portray asians is by coding them as pandas. what the actual fuck. in the end, the brown american-born bears start wearing rice paddy hats, fish with bamboo poles, and use korean kites in some kind of melting-pot endorsement. yay? AAPI women makers of color, problematic, orientalism, whitewashing, racial coding (asian pandas). Worth nothing – I am like 80% sure Pandas aren’t from Korea, but Black Bears are. So the coding doesn’t even make any sense.
- Bootstraps Are all Ya Need!
- Irving Berlin – The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing – Churnin – falls right into the myth of the American Dream AND somehow still paints him as a sad, pathetic, and ignorant immigrant. Story plays out with pity, followed as if a bit of talent (and basically no effort) will automatically polish any poor immigrant into a millionaire. In this version, Berlin seems like he almost falls into the jobs, or they’re handed to him simply because he loves music. ) Myth of the american dream
- Yasmin’s Hammer – malaspina – basic boring bland blurry impoverished refugee story. Yasmin pulls herself up by her bootstraps by working extra hard, and the man who exploits child labor gives her extra coins (yeah, right), which she uses to buy a book. her parents decide she needs to go to school. this is all ridiculous, rich white nonsense. set “in the noisy streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh…Compassionately told and inspired by contemporary news articles, Yasmin’s Hammer offers a frrsh perspective on th evalue of education.” Really? what about this is fresh? did she talk to ANY of the people who live through this experience? acknowledgements list Bengali translators, academic lecturers, directors of linguistics and asian studies and relief workers and educators. no acknowledgement for the actual biock chippers, but thanks to people “for their research on young brick chippers in Bangladesh.” Written in 2010 and it’s stale AF. the white lady author bio: “Her interest in equal rights and social change often leads her to write about people struggling on the margins of society to improve their quality of life.” Coded us/them language – people on the margins – outsiders – not like those of us who the world revolves around. BOOTSTRAPS!
- Picturing America, Thomas Cole and the birth of American art (Talbott)- environmentalism, super boring biography of an artist. English american immigrant, industrial revolution. weird picture of what i assume is supposed to be an Irish man (George(?) Bruen) who looks like a leprechaun. the fuck? it’s all very bootstraps with him moving to america and working his way up to being a famous painter and none of the obstacles or challenges that POC or women would face. so boring. “People often said that his art showed what it meant to be American.” HAHHAHAHAHHA. no mention of colonization or anything. obvs. everyone is white in the story
- Implying all immigrants are refugees from broken, violent countries
- Mustafa – Gay – Cute book that attemps to center a refugee and isn’t SO problematic, but dangerous because of it. Since the maker never specifies that Mustafa is a refugee, or where he comes from – feeds into the stereotype that all Muslim immigrants are coming from violent, war-torn countries. MAAAYBE could be validating, (but why bother with so many better ones already out, by ACTUAL people with lived experience?) Definitely not for us. In fact, it’s been 24 hours since I read it and I can’t remember anything about it other than the mild white savior friendship at the end and him feeling invisible for reasons unexplained. Takes place in Northern America (Halloween scene), with illustrations implying that he came from some war-torn, violent Muslim country (him drawing some pictures of his house in flames). Talks about how he feels invisible, but never really addresses that beyond feeling seen when a white girl notices him. The author is from Montreal, Canada. Is this just a white lady idea of what it’s like to be an immigrant? Did she tap any actual refugees to clarify her book?
- Playing war (Beckwith) – The characters in this book say a LOT of really violent stuff (beyond what’s necessary for the lesson) that the author doesn’t address, “Pick up sticks for guns, and pine cones to use for grenades and bombs.” and “I’m going to blow their heads off!” The implied idea is that the kid is being too casual in his play-violence, but with young kids, we need the story to spell this out way better, and the author is assuming a cognition level closer to kids in the 12+ range. There’s also agonizing detail on choosing sides and organizing and glorifying war, again, way more than necessary. I get that the maker was trying to show how one oblivious kid glorifies war until he learns what impact it really has, but no, it’s just too poorly executed. Eventually he realizes his brown immigrant friend had his house blown up and his family killed in a war. Which is convenient. Way to make a brown character a learning opportunity for the white lens. UGH. Like all of these types of books, the onus of providing free education lies squarely on the character of color, and this is accepted as normal and acceptable. The entire thing feels manufactured and icky, and it speaks to a level of privilege on part of the author beyond what they intended. This is some problematic fake white ally nonsense.