This is a simple, but informative introduction to immigration that is geared towards elementary-aged children (roughly grades 2-5). Click on either image to download the two-page file. Please distribute freely as you see fit.
©2017 Emily Kowalski Schroeder
I am a firm believer in the power of education to advance empathy and understanding between people of different ethnicities, religions, and cultural backgrounds. This week, I've assembled a list of children's picture books that tell immigrant stories. Most of these books talk about the immigrant experience through the eyes of a child; they speak to the physical, emotional, and psychological experiences of immigrants. Some of the books address what life was like in their homelands, some focus on the journey itself, and many of these stories focus on the everyday struggles faced by immigrants as they start their new lives in America (or Australia and Canada, in the case of a few of these stories.)
Immigration is a huge part of the collective, but still deeply personal, American-family history. No matter where your ancestors came from and no matter when they came to America, chances are they all experienced the SAME feelings and challenges in their new adopted homeland. Speaking with children about those similarities can help them develop compassion and understanding for present-day immigrant families.
This list is by no means comprehensive, and there are also many wonderful immigrant-story chapter books for more advanced readers. Each title is linked to its WorldCat entry, so hopefully you will be able to find a copy at your local library. I've also found free discussion and teacher guides for some of these books, so I've included links to those as well. Happy reading!
40 Picture Books About the Immigrant Experience
Marianthe's Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories by Aliki Teacher Guide
Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story by Eve Bunting
How Many Days to America: A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting Lesson Plan
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi Discussion Guide
Good-bye Havana! Hola, New York! by Edie Colon
Carmen Learns English by Judy Cox
Kai's Journey to Gold Mountain by Katrina Saltonstall Currier
This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From by Jamie Lee Curtis Educator's Guide
The Little Refugee by Ahn Do Teacher's Guide
Lailah's Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi Educator's Guide
The Seeds of Friendship by Michael Foreman
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland Teacher's Guide
Sofie and the City by Karima Grant
When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest Sample Lesson
The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman
I'm New Here by Bud Howlett
Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald
Waiting for Papá by René Colato Laínez
I Hate English! by Ellen Levine Book Guide and Lesson Plans
Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson
Coming to America: The Story of Immigration by Betsy Maestro
From Far Away by Robert Munsch Lesson Plan
I'm New Here by Anne Sibley O'Brien YouTube Discussion Author Interview
My Diary From Here to There by Amada Irma Pérez Teacher's Guide Lesson Plan
The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco Teacher Guide
Fiona's Lace by Patricia Polacco
My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits
Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say
Anna & Solomon by Elaine Snyder
Angel Child, Dragon Child by Michele Maria Surat
Mary's First Thanksgiving: An Inspirational Story of Gratefulness by Kathy-jo Wargin
A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts
My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed Teacher's Guide
The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff Lesson Plan Family Program Guide
All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel by Dan Yaccarino
Hannah Is My Name: A Young Immigrant's Story by Belle Yang Lesson Plan
Coolies by Yin Lesson Guide
©2016 Emily Kowalski Schroeder
Over the past 30 years or so, author and illustrator Patricia Polacco has created some amazing and poignant works of children's literature, many of them surrounding historical events and some of them based on her own family history. The Keeping Quilt and The Blessing Cup are two of my favorites, and are based on the lives of her Russian Jewish ancestors.
In The Keeping Quilt, we meet a young girl, Anna, whose family has just immigrated to the U.S. from Russia. We hear about the family's struggles in adapting to new life in a big city and learning a new language, but we are also witness to the important roles of community and family in immigrant life. The book follows the journey of a handmade quilt passed along through several generations and how it served family members as a tablecloth, wedding huppah, baby blanket, and even a play tent. This story is a charming example of how an heirloom can come to represent a family's history, people, and experiences. The Keeping Quilt is appropriate for all ages.
The Blessing Cup is a prequel to The Keeping Quilt. It tells the story of Anna's family before they came to America - about what life was like in Russia. This story is more intense than The Keeping Quilt from an emotional standpoint, because it does allude to the terror felt by the family and village people during the Russian pogroms, and about the hardships the family goes through on their journey out of Russia and eventually to America. However, it also demonstrates the kindness, generosity, and sacrifice of strangers. And through all of their ordeals, there is another heirloom that comes to represent the family's journey - a cup from a tea set given to Anna's parents as a wedding gift.
I would recommend The Blessing Cup for ages 7 and up. As mentioned above, the historical events within the story are more complex, and some younger children may not emotionally process it or understand it as well as older children. It is, however, a good story to help you initiate discussion with your children about immigration push-and-pull factors throughout history, particularly with respect to people of the Jewish faith.
I've written before about how important it is to introduce our children to family heirlooms at an early age. Heirlooms are concrete, tangible items that link us to the people in our family who came before us. After reading these books to your children or grandchildren, share some of your family's most cherished heirlooms with them, and better yet, share the stories and memories that accompany those heirlooms.
*This post does NOT contain affiliate links*
©2016 Emily Kowalski Schroeder
Today, October 6, is German American Heritage Day. On this day in 1683, the first group of German immigrants to settle in America sailed into the Port of Philadelphia. I do not have any German ancestry myself, but many, many of my husband's ancestors were from Germany, and so my children share in that German heritage.
I wanted to do a simple craft or hands-on activity to 'celebrate' the day with my kids - nothing too complex or too difficult to understand, especially for my four year old. One thing that both of them seem to understand is that different countries have different flags. They recognize the American flag when they see it, and during the Summer Olympics earlier this year, we looked at and talked about other nations' flags. So, I thought, why not do a craft involving the German flag?
Fortunately now, in the age of the Internet, it is super, super easy to look up what each country's flag looks like. There are also several free-access websites that allow you to print off blank black-and-white versions of world flags for coloring or other crafts. This website has eight pages of printable black-and-white flags for nearly every nation of the world (scroll down to see links to all eight pages of flags). This website is not as globally-comprehensive as the previous link, but for the countries that are represented, the coloring printables go beyond just the country's flag. It has maps, symbols, folklore pictures, and other cultural items related to that nationality.
I printed out two blank German flags. My daughter simply colored - ok, scribbled - one of the flags with crayons. I found a picture of the German flag on my phone and asked her to copy it. Then, we used a circular paper punch to make red, black, and yellow circles that she glued onto the other flag I had printed out. Her artistic interpretation was minimalistic, but that's ok! Let the children be creative with it and design the activity around what your child enjoys. You could color it by finger-painting, or maybe by gluing on small colored pompon balls. You could even use colored beads or candy, like M&Ms. You could tear off small pieces of paper, glue them on, and make a mosaic.
As you are doing this activity, be sure to show your child where the country is located, using either an atlas, globe, or a map on the Internet. Younger children who are still learning colors will benefit from identifying the individual colors within each flag. With older children, you can discuss the symbolism within the flag - what the colors and pictures represent. (In Wikipedia, if you type in 'Flag of (country),' the site will return a page that is all about the symbolism and history of that country's flag.) And, of course, be sure to mention who in their family tree has ancestral roots in that country. For younger children, it could be as simple as saying, 'Grandma and Grandpa S's ancestors came to America from Germany a long time ago.' As children get older, little by little you can start talking about specific years of immigration and names of ancestors.
Our children are fortunate to live in a time and place that recognizes the importance of ethnic diversity and celebrates different cultures throughout the year. Of course, you don't have to wait until a special month or day to celebrate your family's heritage, but it is a good idea to know when these months occur because your community or surrounding communities may have special ethnic celebrations to look out for. Here is a list of some of the common heritage months and days in America, as well as some traditional holidays still celebrated in the 'old countries.'
©2014, Emily Kowalski Schroeder
Today, April 17, is Ellis Island Family History Day, so I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to talk about a children's immigration book that I absolutely adore. The book is entitled When Jessie Came Across the Sea. It was written by Amy Hest and illustrated by P.J. Lynch.
Jessie is an orphaned 13-year-old girl living with her grandmother in a small, poor Jewish village, probably somewhere in Eastern Europe. Of all the villagers, the rabbi chooses Jessie to use a passage ticket to America that was sent to him from a family member. Jessie is to go help one of the rabbi's widowed family members in her dress shop in New York City.
The book follows Jessie at every point in her journey, from the sad goodbyes with her grandmother, to the interactions with other immigrants on board, to the questionings at Ellis Island. It touches on Jessie's work in the dress shop, and through letters sent home to grandmother, we are given some insight into some of Jessie's thoughts about living in the big city.
I love this book because it touches on SO many experiences and issues that were involved for immigrants who came to America in the late 19th/early 20th century:
- The positive perception of America to poor Europeans and the value of a passage ticket: Before the rabbi chooses Jessie, many other villagers plead with him for the ticket and talk of America as "the promised land."
- The emotional torment of the ones who stayed behind, in this case the grandmother - knowing that leaving the village was the only way to improve her granddaughter's life, but realizing that it would still break her heart to see her go.
- The poor weather, crowded living conditions, and short tempers on the ship, but also the comradery that developed between passengers.
- The experience of going through Ellis Island: the inspections, questions, and waiting, waiting, waiting.
- The culture shock of going from a small agriculture village to a large industrial city.
- The joys of finding success in America that they never would have found back in their native land.
- The difficulty in learning English.
- Saving enough money to buy a passage ticket for a loved one who is still back in Europe.
- The importance and meaning of family heirlooms, in this case, Jessie's deceased mother's wedding ring.
This book is probably best for ages six and up; the story is longer and more detailed than books for younger children. (I tried to read it to my 3 1/2 year old, but we only made it about 3/4 through until she became bored.) For older children, you could even read the book to them in parts and talk about each of the issues stated above in more detail before moving on to the next event in Jessie's life.
©2014, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder. All rights reserved.
In last week's post, I talked about how I used the children's book, Watch the Stars Come Out to introduce the concept of immigration to my children. Today, we went a step further and did a little map exercise to help them put a more visual component to the concept.
I found a world map that came free with one of my National Geographic subscriptions, and I pinned it to a wall, making sure that it was at a height at which the kids could see and interact with it. The rest of the supplies consisted of different colored yarn or string, tape, scissors and pushpins.
First, I helped the kids identify the United States on the map, and we found the city in which we live. Because we watched some of the recent Olympics, they sort of understand what a different country is, and I explained that, on the map, the countries are shown in different colors. Then, I pointed out Europe, we got out our pushpins, and talked about where each grandparent's ancestors came from. (To introduce the concept of an ancestor to your child, see this post.)
We put pushpins on each European country where their ancestors came from - Germany, France, Italy, Croatia, and Poland. (Supervise the kids closely with the pushpins; you could even use small stickers instead, if you are worried about them getting hurt.) My kids are pretty much European mutts, but even if your family's ancestors originated from one nation, this is still a fun and educational activity to do with kids. At one point, my son asked me, "Why aren't we putting any pins here (*points to China*) or here (*points to Russia*)," and I explained to him that if our family HAD come from those parts of the world, we WOULD put them there, but that's just not the case for us.
The next step was to place pushpins in America as the ancestors' "final destination." If you want to keep it simple, you can place one pin in America and that is fine. However, I wanted my kids to understand that the ship couldn't land in the middle of the country (Ohio) where our ancestors ended up - I wanted them to realize that it had to stop at the coastline. So, we put pins in the port cities where the ships landed - New Orleans, Baltimore, New York.
Then, we connected the European push pins to the American push pins with yarn. We used a different color to represent the different 'branches' of our family. We divided it up by their four grandparents. I created a map 'key' so we would know which color matched which grandparent. (My 6yo can read this key, but I think I may add small photos of each grandparent, so my 3yo can know which color represents which grandparent, too.) This portion of the exercise was a bit more ambitious than it needed to be, and it is not necessary to go into such detail, especially with younger kids. Using just one color of yarn for all ancestors will work just fine, if you want to keep it simple.
And, finally, I cut out little paper ships and attached them to a couple of the yarn strands. As my son said, we made little "zip lines" for the ships. I included one sailing ship and one steamship, and explained that, "Daddy's ancestors came to America on sailing ships and Mommy's ancestors came here on steamships, because they came at different times." He was actually pretty interested in the details of ship technology, and wanted to know a bit more about it than I could tell him just off the top of my head!
At this point, I don't expect my kids to remember where Poland or Germany is the next time they look at a map, BUT even just getting kids to look at maps and to realize that they represent much larger spaces and land masses is an important step in geography education. The activity got my son interested in historical travel, and I think it's important for young kids to realize that people didn't always travel long distances by airplane, like they do today. I'm going to leave the map up indefinitely, so they can look at it and 'play' with it whenever they feel like it. (I put it up it next to our family history wall that I created last year, so, hopefully, as the kids get older, they will transition right from this little world map to the more detailed maps, books, and postcards that tell our family's story.)
Within my map stash, I also found a larger wall map of just the United States. At some point, I'd like to hang that one up, too, and maybe talk with the kids about HOW and WHY our family ended up in Ohio. We could again use push pins and yarn to connect the port cities to Ohio, and talk about the different types of transportation people used before cars, and even before trains, in the case of several of my husband's ancestral families.
©2014, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder.
Whether your ancestors came to America with the conquistadors, or on the Mayflower, or as late as the early 20th century, chances are that some part of your family history involves taking that long boat ride over from the 'Old World.' Recently, I've been thinking of ways to introduce this concept to my kids (ages 6 and 3 1/2). I have a few ideas that I am going to try and then share in a series of blog posts.
Over the weekend, as a simple introduction to the subject, I read them a book entitled Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson, illustrated by Diane Goode, published by Puffin. The book tells the story of a young girl and her brother who travel across the ocean to America, where their mother, father and older sister are already living.
I read the book first to my 3.5 year old daughter, and then separately to my 6 year old son. The book is short enough that my daughter was able to sit through the whole thing, and she actually did a good job of listening and paying attention. She really enjoyed the illustrations, which suit the story well. They are detailed enough to give children a good sense of what the difficult journey was like, but not threatening. The peoples' faces show a lot of emotion and expression, but there is still a sort of child-like quality in which they are drawn that makes them easier for kids to relate to.
When I finished reading it to my daughter, I told her, "My grandma came on a boat like this when she was a little girl. She was Italian and from a country called Italy." My daughter then asked me if she came to visit me, and I told her she came a long time before I was born. Time and thinking of events in the distant past are SUCH difficult concepts to get little kids to understand, so her questions were normal for her age, I think. Interestingly, my husband later asked her if she knew where our family came from and she said, "So Italian." So Italian is the name of a local restaurant that we sometimes eat at. I got a good chuckle out of that, but it also means that she actually listened to at least part of what I was talking to her about.
Obviously, my older son was better able to understand the story and could read a little more into some of the hardships that the book introduced. The children in the story traveled without their parents, only an 'old lady' who was asked to watch over them. (The old lady later falls ill and dies on the trip. We talk about death pretty openly in our house, but if you don't think your child is ready for that much realism, you can just say that she gets sick and can no longer care for them.) I asked my son, "Do you think you'd like to travel that far without your mom and dad?" Of course he said no, but I pointed out that some children had to do that. The story mentioned how long it took to make the voyage (23 days), and we actually looked at his calendar and counted out the days. He definitely had a better sense of time than my three year old. There is a scene where the immigrant children are being examined by a nurse, and I told him that they made the sick people stay in special buildings until they got better. He also recognized the Statue of Liberty in one of the illustrations and told me that they had talked about it in school (he is in Kindergarten).
One question my kids did NOT ask was WHY people came to America. I find this incredibly ironic because they typically ask 'Why?' when it comes to nearly every other aspect of life. Anyway, I think even little kids can understand reasons like, "They needed to find a job," or "There wasn't enough to eat," or "They already knew people who lived here." Next time we read this book, I will address the subject with my kids, if they don't ask again.
The next step in this investigation is to pull out the maps. If you are ambitious and think your child could handle it, you could probably use an atlas while reading this book and talk more specifically where YOUR family emigrated from. I have decided to go in smaller steps and just read the story first. So, look for at least one (probably more) map-related blog post from me in the near future. :-)
©2014, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder. All rights reserved.
Emily Kowalski Schroeder
Founder and Author of Growing Little Leaves
Partnering with the Indiana Historical Society to create educational programming for children and their caretakers.