A project of

Elementary School

Cuban Kids

By George Ancona
Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2000

Level: Grades 3-5 (ages 8-11)

As the title implies, this book introduces readers to life in Cuba as it is experienced by children…where they live, what they do to have fun, what school is like.  Photojournalist George Ancona offers a rare glimpse into life in this country while the text quite subtly raises some political issues.

César: Yes, We Can!/César: Si, Se Puede!

By Carmen T. Bernier-Grand
Illustrated by David Diaz
Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2006

Level: Beginning Reader (ages 4-8)

This book recounts the story of the life and character of migrant farmworker and activist César Chavez. The emphasis of this work is on Chavez’ ethics and values, all of which made him an outstanding role model for children. The work is a lyrical success in both its poetry and its illustrations by Caldecott Medal winner, David Diaz.


By Arthur Dorros
Puffin, 1997

Level: Beginning Readers (ages 3-7)

In the imagination of a child, almost anything is possible. Rosalba is able, thanks to her vivid imagination, to fly over New York City with her abuela, her grandmother. The interplay of images and language is quite lyrical. This vibrant, colorful book is written in English with Spanish words sprinkled throughout.

Speak English for Us, Marisol!

By Karen English
Illustrated by Enrique Sanchez
Albert Whitman & Company, 2000

Level: Kindergarten to Grade 3 (ages 5-8)

As Marisol tries to make her way home from school, she is stopped repeatedly by various relatives and neighbors who ask her to translate for them from Spanish to English. Although just a little girl, she serves an important role in the community as translator of languages but also as interpreter of culture.

Sarah’s Story: A Children's Story of Sarah Winnemucca of Nevada

By Georgia Hedrick
Byte Me! Ebooks Inc Nonprofit, 2007

Level: Grades 3-6 (ages 8-12)

Based on a true story, this book recounts the life of Native American activist, Sarah Winnemucca. Her struggles and her triumphs—testifying before US Congress, meeting President Rutherford B. Hayes, and publishing the first book by a Native American woman—make for an exciting and inspiring read for adults and children alike. As an added bonus, Sarah’s Story is a bilingual book: one side appears in English while the cross page is in Spanish.

Letters from Rifka

By Karen Hesse
Puffin, 1993

Level: Grades 4-8 (ages 9-14)

Readers follow the touching, story of twelve-year-old Rifka, who escapes Russian soldiers who have taken control of the Jewish community where she lives in the Ukraine.  Her harrowing tale doesn't end there.  She must endure separation from her family, disease, and a storm at sea before making her way to the United States. Although set in 1919, the story vividly recounts the frightening circumstances that immigrants often must face in their efforts to find safety.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea

By Amy Hest
Illustrated by P.J. Lynch
Candlewick, 2003

Level: Grades 2 to 4

From her poor village in Eastern Europe, Jessie travels to New York City to make a living as a lacemaker. Jessie's story is representative of the experiences of many immigrants to the United States at the turn of the 20th century in its account of the agony of leaving loved ones and the hard work that life in the new homeland entails.

I Was Dreaming to Come to America: Memories from the Ellis Island Oral History Project

By Veronica Lawlor
Puffin, 1997

Level: Grades 4-6 (ages 10-12)

Graphic designer Veronica Lawlor's stunning illustrations grace this children's book. However, its real beauty is found in the poignant recollections of children, now grown, whose stories became part of the Ellis Island Oral History Project and have been selected by Lawlor for inclusion here.

I Hate English!

By Ellen Levine
Illustrated by Steve Bjorkman
Scholastic Paperbacks, 1995

Level: Grades K-2 (ages 5-7)

“I hate English! Mei Mei said in her head in Chinese,” and with that begins the story of the young girl's cultural adjustment. Having recently arrived in New York from Hong Kong, Mei Mei struggles to adapt to a new school, a new language, and a new way of life. When her teacher reaches out to her, the young student begins to realize that she can not only adjust, but she may actually find moments of real joy again.

Coming To America: The Story of Immigration

By Betsy Maestro
Illustrated by Susannah Ryan
Scholastic Press, 1996

Level: Pre-K to 4 (ages 4-9)

Maestro's work provides a clear and extensive introduction to the history of U.S. immigration. Topics include the mistreatment of Native Americans at the hands of European immigrants, the forced immigration of Africans, and the history of Ellis Island and the glory and pain associated with it. Illustrations by Susannah Ryan are animated and colorful.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King

By Jean Marzollo
Illustrated by J. Pinkney
Scholastic Paperbacks, 2006

Level: Beginning Readers (ages 3-7)

Graced with striking illustrations by J. Brian Pinkney, this book introduces young readers to the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., dwelling on his accomplishments and how these changed the lives of African Americans. The work is eloquent in its simplicity and offers suggestions concerning how to broach the more difficult topic of Rev. King's murder with young children.

The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee’s Story

By Pegi Deitz Shea
Illustrated by Anita Riggio and You Yang
Boyds Mills Press, 1996

Level: Grades 2-4 (ages 7-10)

With the help of her grandmother, Mai learns to embroider the pa'ndau, a traditional story cloth. The two have made a refugee camp in Thailand, their home, following the murder of Mai's parents in Laos. Hope and horror, beauty and anguish, beautifully combine in this poignant tale.

Annushka’s Voyage

By Edith Tarbescu
Illustrated by Lydia Dabcovich
Clarion Books, 1998

Level: Grades K to 3

Although based on the story of the author's mother and aunt and their immigration to the United States, this is a fictionalized account of the journey of two young Russian girls destined for New York. This stirring tale begins in the homeland where Anya and Tanya say goodbye to their grandparents and prepare to travel to the U.S. to be reunited with their father. This is a stirring tale that takes readers through the emotions of leaving behind everything that is familiar, to an often arduous journey, to the scary arrival at Ellis Island, to the joyous reunion with their father. The book also contains a discussion of the persecution of Jews in Russia in the late 1800s.

Going Home, Coming Home/Ve Nha, Tham, Que Huong

By Truong Tra
Illustrated by Ann Phong
Children’s Book Press, 2003

Level: Pre-School to Grade 3 (ages 4-8)

Eight-year-old American Ami Chi really isn't particularly happy about spending time in her parents' homeland of Vietnam until she makes a friend and grows closer to her grandmother. Not only is a generational gap bridged, but so is a cultural one.  Ami realizes that “Home is two different places, on the left and right sides of my heart.” This bilingual picture book is aimed at beginning readers, but those who are slightly older will appreciate it as well.

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Middle School/High School

How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story

By Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Beth Peck
Clarion Books, 1990

Level: Grades 5-8 (Ages 9-12)

A family is forced to flee its island home in search of safe haven. The small boat in which the family members travel together brings them to a shore in the U.S. on Thanksgiving Day. The story is touching and accessible for young readers, and it serves as a reminder to all of the hardships all refugees face in a quest for freedom, from the first Thanksgiving Day on through to the present time.

Journey of the Sparrows

By Fran Leeper Buss
Puffin, 2002

Level: Grades 5-8 (ages 9-12)

Buss' gripping tale recounts the escape of Maria, her brother and her sister from El Salvador and their arrival in the United States after having been smuggled into the country in crates. Although the author recounts the horror that drove the three from their rural village and the poverty and despair that they face in their new home of Chicago. This is also a story of hope and the indomitable human spirit.

American Immigration: A Student Companion (Oxford Student Companions to American History)

By Roger Daniels
Oxford University Press, USA, 2001

Level: Grades 6 and up (Ages 12 and up)

This outstanding text is a comprehensive study of immigration to the United States beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing to the present time.  In addition to providing a thorough and thoughtful overview of immigration to this country, American Immigration also explains key terms related to demographic movement and provides leads to other resources on the topic.

Immigrant Kids

By Russell Freedman
Puffin, 1995

Level: Grades 5-8 (Ages 9-12)

This non-fiction book will fit well into a teacher's history or social studies curriculum. Photos that date to the late 1880s and early 1900s are accompanied by text that describes the lives of immigrant children—at home, at school, at work, and at play—during that era.

If Your Name Was Changed At Ellis Island

By Ellen Levine
Illustrated by Wayne Parmenter
Scholastic Paperbacks, 1994

Level: Grades 5-8 (ages 9-12)

This book serves as a wonderful introduction to the one of the most active periods of immigration to the United States, from approximately 1892 to 1914. Straightforward responses to a number of questions—Why did people come to America?...How did people learn English?—are effectively combined with personal stories in an effort to give young readers a sense of this historical era in particular and the immigrant experience more broadly.

Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl’s Story

By Pegi Deitz Shea
Clarion Books, 2003

Level: Grades 6-8 (ages 12-14)

Tangled Threads continues the story of Mai that was begun in The Whispering Cloth. After ten years in the refugee camp, Mai and her grandmother arrive safely in the United States. As she begins to settle in, her ability to adapt to the new homeland is in sharp contrast her grandmother's isolation and resistance to assimilation. The experience of bridging two cultures is one that will surely be familiar to immigrant students who read this book.

Something About America

By Mary Testa
Candlewick, 2007

Level: Grades 6-10 (ages 12-16)

Written in poetic free verse, Something About America tells the powerful story of a 13-year-old girl who has fled Kosovo in order to settle in Lewiston, Maine with her parents. In addition to issues of cultural and linguistic adjustment, the young teenager also endures the emotional and physical scars sustained as a result of war in her homeland. Her sense of belonging in the adopted home is shaken by an act of racism in the community. The story is based on real events in Lewiston, Maine.

Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan

By Mary Williams
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Lee & Low Books, 2005

Level: Grades 5-8 (Ages 9-12)

The harrowing tale of the more than 30,000 southern Sudanese boys, forced by civil war to walk more than 1,000 miles to find safety, is told through the eyes of one eight-year-old boy named Garang Deng. The gripping story is accompanied by exquisite illustrations.

American Born Chinese

By Gene Yang
First Second, 2007

Level: Grades 9-12

Three plots fill the pages of this one book, but in a way one theme is central, namely that of accepting oneself. Added to the usual adolescent angst about fitting in is the theme of reconciling one's ethnicity, in this case that of being Chinese American. The book's illustrations will also appeal to the adolescent reader.

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