Monday, November 23, 2020

Five Picture Books About Immigrants, Refugees, Migrants

If you are looking for some new books about immigrations, refugees, and migrants that are inspiring, hopeful, and empathic, look no further that these new books. Each has a different story to tell with one thing in common - seeking refuge, safety and a welcoming smile to those who have left their homeland.

The Suitcase 
written and illustrated by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
HMH BFYR, 2020, 32 pages
After a long, arduous journey over mountains and across a sea, a sad odd-looking teal colored creature arrives in a new land carrying a big suitcase. He is met with suspicion and skepticism by a red bird, an orange fox and a yellow rabbit. What is in the suitcase, they want to know. The teal creature tells them there is a teacup, a table to sit at and chair to sit on while drinking tea, and a little kitchen to make the tea in a cabin on a hillside with a clear view to the sea. Of course, bird, fox, and rabbit don't trust the new creature, and while he sleeps, they decide to break open his suitcase. Inside, they find a shattered teacup and an old photograph. Meanwhile, the creature dreams about running away, hiding, climbing mountains and swimming in the sea to safety. When he wakes up, he sees what the bird, fox, and rabbit have done to his suitcase, but he also sees a mended teacup sitting on a table with chair in front of a little house. Surprised and touched, the creature turns to his new friends and tells them there is just one problem - they are going to need more teacups. What looks to be a story about animals not welcoming refugees, turns out to be one of welcome and friendship. You can download an activity pack that includes discussion suggestions and story activities for The Suitcase HERE
Sugar in Milk 
by Thrity Umrigar, Khoa Le
Running Press Kids, 2020, 48 pages
A young girl emigrates from India to New York by herself to live with her aunt and uncle. They try their best to make her feel at home, but she's still sad, missing her family, her friends, and her cats. One day, her aunt takes her for a walk and tell her a story about a group of people who were forced to leave their homes in Persia and find refuge elsewhere. Arriving at an Indian kingdom, the king tell them they are not welcome, his land is already too crowded and the refugees "look foreign and speak a strange and different language I do not understand." Not speaking the same language, the king pours a glass of milk to indicate his land was full like the glass. The leader of the tired travelers takes the milk and adds a spoonful of sugar to it, indicating to the kind that though different, both people could live in peace, and "just like sugar in milk, we will sweeten your lives with our presence." Convinced, the king allows the refugees to remain in this kingdom. The story changes the young girl's outlook, helping her to realize that her new home is a welcoming place if she is willing to embrace it. The story the aunt tell has its roots in Parsi folktales. The illustrations that accompany the aunt's tale are just exquisite with a feel of ancient India, while the illustrations that frame the tale and much more modern. This is such a beautiful book about what immigrants bring to a new country with a message of hope and acceptance. It is a wonderful addition to any library.

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story
written and illustrated by Thao Lam
Owlkids, 2020, 40 pages
In this wordless picture book, a young girl and her mother are forced to flee their country (Vietnam) because of war. As the family is eating a meal, the young girl rescues ants which the adults are swatting at. Later, when she and her mother leave their home, they are accompanied by the rescued ants. Mother and daughter must first hide from the officers hunting down refugees. Eventually, the ants lead them to where they must wait for a boat to take them away. The story switches to the ants sailing away in a paper boat at this point. Their journey is filled with hardships - a too hot sun beating down on them, thirst, seagulls overhead attacking and looking for food, an ant that drowns, and a thunderstorm that destroys their boat, sending all the ants into the water. Eventually they find land and are met with many more refugee ants. The story switches back to the girl and her family now living in safety in what looks like an city full of refugees from other parts of the world. Lam uses the ants to represent the difficult journey made by the mother and child. Lam's cut paper collages and the wordlessness of the story really capture the danger faced by many refugees when they are forced to leave their family and their home. She used simple colors - orange, pink, blue, and black to create these emotional illustrations. This is a story of bravery and hope despite hardship. You can find a detailed discussion and activity guide for this book HERE Kids can make their own origami paper boat with these instructions from the publisher, Owlkids
Click to enlarge

The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo,
illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel
Blue Dot Kids Press, 2020, 32 pages
Saida, a newly arrived immigrant, has just begun school and is immediately befriended by a girl in her class who thinks Saida has lost her words because she doesn't speak. She searches everywhere to find them but to no avail. Then her father explains that Saida comes from Morocco where they speak Arabic, a language different from her own. And so the two new friends decide to teach each other their language. Together, they experience the joys and difficulties of learning a new language, as well as experiencing each other's culture through stories, poems and food. And their future plans? Why, a trip to Morocco someday (a place that is on my own bucket list). The language is beautifully lyrical and full of playfulness and emotion. The stylized illustrations are hand-painted in a combination of bold and soft colors and done in acrylic paint and crayons. This celebration of friendship, empathy, and respect is one you will want to share with your young readers - again and again. The English and Arabic words are scattered throughout the text, including a phonetic pronunciation of the Arabic words. You can find an extensive Teachers' Guide for this book HERE 
Click to enlarge

written and illustrated by Issa Watanabe
Gecko Press, 2020, 40 pages
This is one of those books that just moved me in a way that surprised even me. It is a wordless book, with different very colorful, very individualized animals traveling together set against a very black background in which you can see the leafless forest through which the animals are walking. The animals are followed by death in the form of a skeleton, and a blue ibis, a bird that symbolizes life and death, past and present, according to the author. The story follows their journey from the time they enter the forest, as they sit together and share a meal, then their journey over water in an overcrowded boat, and finally landing in a new country, where readers will notice that colorful flowers in the background begin to replace the leafless muted forest. Their journey may have been successful, but they did suffer one loss on the way that affected all the travelers and probably most readers. This is a picture book for older readers that is sure to generate some interesting and much needed discussions. The publisher, Gecko Press, has posted an informative interview with the author that I would highly recommend reading, and you can find it HERE. You can also find a useful guide for lessons that can be used in a classroom HERE
This is one of those illustrations where wordlessness
speaks louder than words.
What am I reading this week? The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel and The Circus of Stolen Dreams by Lorelei Savaryn and lots of picture books. 
What are you reading?
It's Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kidlit focused meme hosted weekly by Jen at Teacher Mentor Texts and by Kellee at Unleashing Readers. Its purpose is to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. #IMWAYR


  1. This is a great list of titles. I have a student who recently moved to the US from Kenya, and her complaints about the cold reminded me of Kashmira Sheth's Blue Jasmine, which the student checked out. I had a friend who came from Congo for grad school, and all of her hair fell out her first winter in Ohio! Hope you are staying warm, and that your daughter is staying safe.

  2. I just got The Paper Boat from my library, Alex & am waiting for Migrants and The Suitcase! I've noted the others, love your description of Sugar in Milk. It is outrageous the way those who come into our country have not been welcomed or supported. I hope much will change next year! Thanks for a beautiful post. We are fortunate to have these books being published! Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. What a truly awesome post! Every single one of these books looks absolutely gorgeous! The Suitcase and Migrants look like great ways to introduce the struggles of immigrants to young readers, and The Paper Boat and Sugar in Milk look wonderful as well! I've also seen a lot of praise for The Day Saida Arrived. Thanks for the wonderful post!

  4. Thanks for this amazing list of books. I enjoyed Paper Boat and shared it last week. I appreciated reading your thoughts on it. I didn't know about the discussion and activity guide.

  5. Sugar in Milk is a story about the sweetness of diversity and the blessing that those who “appear” to be different only enhance our own lives . While it is a “children’s” book, it transcends age and serves as a powerful lesson of acceptance, love, and the universal power of dreams and the desire to better our lives

  6. Wow at that cover and page spread of Sugar in Milk. This books looks lovely -- I'm adding it to my list right away! And I've been looking forward to reading The Paper Boat. Thanks for these shares, Alex. I hope you're having a wonderful holiday weekend!


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