Sometimes, when it’s hard to imagine what other people are going through, reading a book can deepen your understanding.
Some of the best stories are about challenging journeys, and stories about immigrants and their experiences are no exception: they serve to not only inspire us and capture our hearts and imaginations, but they also help to expand our world view.
The good thing is that more and more writers are looking into the lives of immigrants, providing us with beautiful stories that challenge misconceptions and lead to a greater understanding between people of different backgrounds.
Books About Immigrants for Adults
Here are some insightful books about immigrants that we’ve managed to scour up:
The Good Immigrant (Edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman)
This collection of essays, which shares the candid thoughts and stories of 26 people who migrated to the United States, lends a voice to the complicated and varied issues that many immigrants face across the country.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
This lyrical reflection tackles issues of love, migration, and xenophobia while following the story of Nadia and Saeed, two clearly different people who come together during a tumultuous time: they must leave a war-torn home and move from country to country in search of a better life.
Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora
This reflection on Zamora’s own immigration story, written in poetic form, is sure to give you a rawness unequalled by prose. When he was 9 years old, he crossed the border all by himself to meet his parents in the United States.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
This novel follows the story of a young British Pakistani woman named Isma, who has stepped into her mother’s role following her death. She gets a chance to migrate from England to the United States, which forces her and her siblings to face their father’s issues from his past.
Call Me American: A Memoir by Abdi Nor Iftin
This memoir traces Abdi Nor Iftin’s life in Somalia during the Somali Civil War of the mid-2000s, when he was forced to flee his homeland without his family. As a child, he had idolized everything American, but now he faces the struggle of entering the country as an adult seeking asylum.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
The book follows the life of Ana Cancion, a 15-year-old girl who never thought of going to America—until Juan Ruiz proposes to her and promises a move to New York City, and she finds herself saying yes, despite not being in love with him, because she sees this as a chance for her whole family to migrate.
Refuge by Dina Nayeri
This novel explores the life of an Iranian woman who migrated from Iran as a child and only saw her father four times in the 20 years since she left.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This contemporary selection of stories explores the themes of dual cultural identity that migration creates. Spanning two decades, this collection includes stories set in Vietnam and in America.
Children’s Chapter Books
Non-immigrant children can learn a lot about their immigrant friends through books. Children who have immigrated can also learn to process their emotions and their experiences by reading stories of other people’s lives. These books should help both you and your child better understand the experiences of immigrants.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
This young adult historical fiction novel traces the experiences of Esperanza, daughter of a wealthy landowner in Mexico whose father is murdered the day before her 13th birthday.
This causes a chain reaction of events that force Esperanza to flee to the United States with her mother and some of her family, a move that challenges Esperanza’s perception with their new state of poverty.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
In this middle-grade book, Mia Tang mans the front desk of the Calivista Motel, which is also her home. Her parents clean the rooms of the motel and also hide illegal immigrants.
Mia wants to be a writer, but her mother discourages her because English is not her first language. The book explores the issues that Mia faces as an immigrant wanting to reach her own dreams.
The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
Young Guatemalan Jaime needs to leave his home country amidst danger, and he makes the perilous trip to the United States.
This story will offer you a glimpse of the struggles that hundreds of thousands of displaced people across the world face everyday.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
This middle grade book tells the story of Jude, a young Syrian girl moving to America with her mother. Jude needs to navigate a strange new school alongside an unfamiliar culture, while trying to establish her identity and home in a foreign land.
Picture Books About Immigration
Learning about the lives of immigrants is not limited to chapter books. Picture books can also help you share the inspiring stories of immigrants with children.
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say (Ages 4-8)
This paperback book tells the story of one Japanese-American’s grandfather, who migrated to the United Staes. Later, the narrator goes on a similar journey himself, and explores the feelings he has of being torn between two countries he loves.
From North to South by René Laínez (Ages 5-8)
This picture book, illustrated by Joe Cepeda, tells the story of a Mexican-American family that loses their matriarch to deportation.
The story revolves around the stress and insecurity that families undergo when someone is deported. Written in both Spanish and English, the book can help children process the uncertainty caused by the possibility of deportations.
Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim (Ages 3-7)
Danbi starts her first day at her new school in America struggling to comprehend her classmates’ games, as well as the teacher’s instructions. Over lunch, Danbi creates a new game to join her two cultures together.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi (Ages 6-8)
This picture book is told from the point of view of a young Vietnamese immigrant boy. He and his father go on a fishing trip, and his father tells him about another pond back in Vietnam.
Through this poignant tale, the author explores many themes that children of immigrant parents wrestle with regularly, including the struggle of acquiring a new language.
Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña (Ages 4-8)
The story starts with Carmela finding a dandelion: what wishes should she ask for? Her thought process takes us through simple childlike wishes, like a candy machine, but also brings up wishes distinctive of immigrant children, such as having her father’s papers done so he can come home at last.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee (Ages 4-8)
This allegorical tale follows a knight who thinks he is safe on one side of the wall—which stands in the middle of a book. But danger attacks him, and an ogre comes from the other side of the wall to rescue him, challenging his preconceptions about places and people he didn’t know.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (Ages 4-8)
The Name Jar follows the experiences of immigrants who acquire a new name that’s unfamiliar and leaves them feeling like they don’t belong—until someone brave or kind extends an offer to include them.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (Ages 4-8)
This poignant memoir, told in picture book form, follows Yuyi’s migration to America with her baby. Although they must start over in their new home and have left so much behind, they still have their family, dreams, talents, and history no matter where they go.
Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago (Ages 4-7)
Illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, this story follows a father and his daughter who migrate from Central America to the U.S., revealing the danger they face while seeking out a better life. This is a great book to read for non-immigrant adults and children to deepen their understanding of what immigrants face on their journeys.
Broaden Your Perspective with Books
One of the most important benefits of reading is that it can broaden your perspective by letting you walk in the shoes of people who are different from you, if only for a few chapters.
Similarly, reading about the struggles and experiences of others can make you feel less alone throughout your own journeys.
Do you have a favorite story about immigration? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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