In these troubled times (when aren’t they troubled times?), it’s as important and relevant as ever to remind your kids that everyone in this great nation was, at one time or another, from some other nation. As you stuff your face full of turkey and football, remind your kids that the original purpose of Thanksgiving was to celebrate the arrival, survival, and, uh, thrive-al of some of the first American immigrants … and then feel free to go back for seconds. In the likely scenario that the kids’ table descends into full-tilt jungle madness before you’re able to impart your old man wisdom, here are 9 books about the immigrant experience you can read to your kid in the coming days to remind them of where they — and everyone else — came from.
Grandfather’s JourneyThe 1994 Caldecott Medal winner remains the gold standard for teaching kids the immigrant experience of simultaneously yearning to be a part of old and new homes, in this case Japan and California (and Japan again). “The moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other,” Grandfather says. Like when your kid picks yogurt but immediately wishes they’d gone granola bar. As they say, “Home is where the snacks are.”
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say ($8)
Naming LibertyIn this book, facing pages depict 2 journeys fueld by a passion for freedom: Gitl’s Russian-Jewish family is escaping the Czar’s pogroms and hoping to reunite with her older brother in America, where she must choose a new name, while French artist Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi dreams of building a monument to freedom and sharing it with the world. One is a lady named Liberty, and the other is a big statue in New York Harbor.
Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen and Jim Burke ($12)
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s TaleThis book is a classic fable for modern times that depicts the hardships families are willing to endure in search of a better life in America. Pancho Rabbit’s treacherous journey to the carrot and lettuce fields of the north to find his papa, guided by a scheming coyote (who will still gladly eat a rabbit, even in an allegory), should remind your kid how good they have it.
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh ($14)
All The Way To AmericaAuthor Dan Yaccarino begins his family history by introducing his great grandfather as he arrives at Ellis island with nothing but some parental well-wishes for the ages — “Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and never forget your family.” — and a little shovel. Four generations later, the author abides and his kids are still shoveling away. (Artisanally grown fruits and vegetables on a New York City terrace, naturally.)
All The Way To America by Dan Yaccarino ($15)
My Name Is YoonFor young Korean immigrant Yoon, her new name isn’t a government agent’s error but her choice. Struggling to learn English and make friends, she tries different options at school, each depicted as an escape fantasy. As “CAT,” she could hide in the corner. As “BIRD,” she could fly back to Korea. As “CUPCAKE,” well, everyone loves cupcakes. Ultimately, she realizes it’s now how her name is written but who she is that matters.
My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits and Gabi Swiatkowska ($7)
Beautiful YettaThe titular chicken escapes from a delivery crate to find herself lost and homesick in Brooklyn, replete with nasty pigeons, rats, and oblivious buses. Oh, and she speaks Yiddish. By chance, she saves a green parrot’s life and his parrot brethren adopt her as their mom. Oh, and they speak Spanish. Your kid will be too entertained by the loony story, not to mention your bilingual reading, to realize they’re being schooled in “Melting Pot 101.”
Beautiful Yetta: The Yiddish Chicken by Daniel Pinkwater and Jill Pinkwater ($15)
Here I AmNever has the overwhelming buzz of big city life been depicted with so few words. Actually, it’s the lack of words that allows you and your kid to step into the shoes of the little immigrant boy at the center of this story and empathize with his and his family’s experience. Most if it will feel unfamiliar, which is sort of the point, although everyone can relate to being totally baffled by the subway system.
Here I Am by Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez ($14)
My Name Is Sangoel
A young Sudanese immigrant has a familiar problem: no one can pronounce his name (“Sun-Goal”). Rather than change it, as his mother suggests, he wears the pronunciation to school on a shirt. His classmates follow suit, turning their own names into rebuses and welcoming Sangoel into the fold. It’s a good lesson in owning your heritage and giving your kid a name that can be turned into a handy comic.
My Name Is Sangoel by Karen Williams, Khadra Mohammed, and Catherine Stock ($15)
Azzi In BetweenThis Amnesty International-endorsed book is a tender look at a heavy topic, the hardships experienced by displaced war refugees. Young Azzi is able to help her family’s transition from home the never-specified “new country” thanks to a helpful teacher and classmate, but it’s still lonely without her grandmother, who she hopes to see again. It’s a poignant reminder not to get too upset about having to see your kid’s grandmother once a year for dinner.
Azzi In Between by Sarah Garland ($16)