As media coverage has intensified around the events of children crossing the U.S. border, many educators and families are wondering, “What should we tell our students?” For some children, this may be the first time they are learning of these countries. But for many others, these events may involve their own heritage or depict their families’ experiences. Using books to talk about the recent events can be an opportunity to learn about a new region and help children see the cultures and people beyond these events.
We’ve put together a list of 11 books (many of which are bilingual English/Spanish) that teach about the emotional journey families and children must undertake along with the physical journey. These stories allow children to see each other and themselves in characters who are living life to the fullest and refusing to let any obstacle stand in their way.
Whether you are looking to explore the themes of the DREAM Act, learn more about the journey of one’s own family, or see America from a different angle, these books reveal the complexities, challenges, joys, and surprises of coming to a new place. Join these characters as they share their challenges and excitement in moving to a new culture and new school, helping their families adjust, and juggling their home culture with a new culture.
Poet Jorge Argueta evokes the wonder of his childhood in rural El Salvador, a touching relationship with a caring father, and his confusion and delight in his new urban home.
Amelia longs for a beautiful white house with a fine shade tree in the yard, where she can live without worrying. In this inspirational tale, Amelia discovers the importance of putting her own roots down in a very special way.
Chico and his family move up and down the state of California picking fruits and vegetables. Every September Chico starts at a new school again. Often other children pick on him, but Chico’s first day in third grade turns out to be different.
José loves helping Mama, but when Mama is sent back to Mexico for not having proper papers, José and his Papa face an uncertain future. Author René Colato Laínez tackles the difficult and timely subject of family separation with exquisite tenderness.
5. Home at Last
Ana Patino is adjusting well to her new life in the United States, but her mother is having a difficult time because she doesn’t speak English. After mama agrees to take English lessons, her sense of confidence and belonging grow.
Amada overhears her parents whisper of moving from Mexico to the other side of the border—to Los Angeles. As she and her family make their journey north, Amada records her fears, hopes, and dreams for their lives in the United States in her diary.
The award-winning team of Lucia González and Lulu Delacre have crafted an homage to Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Latina librarian. Through Pura Belpré’s vision and dedication, the warmth of Puerto Rico comes to the island of Manhattan in a most unexpected way.
Juanito is bewildered by the new school and everything he does feels upside down. But a sensitive teacher and loving family help him to find his voice and make a place for himself in this new world.
It is Danilito’s first day in America and he is scared. He has heard that some Americans are not friendly to foreigners. In addition, he does not speak any English. Danilito’s worries disappear when Papa leads him on a magical trip of discovery.
Miles away from their home in El Salvador, Xochitl and her family make a new home in the United States, but nothing is the same. It is not until her family decides to start a flower nursery in its backyard that Xochitl begins to learn the true value of community in their adopted country.
Poet Juan Felipe Herrera shares the story of his migrant farmworker childhood. The farmworker road was the beginning of his personal road to becoming a writer.
For further reading:
Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.