My all-time favorite Thanksgiving book is How Many Days to America? by Eve Bunting. It tells the story of refugees who come ashore in the US on Thanksgiving day. It’s a book about all the things I’m most proud of about my country–the way we have in the past welcomed refugees; the way our culture makes space for new cultures, shifting and growing and changing; the way individuals can make new and better lives for themselves and their children. How Many Days to America? will always be Thanksgiving reading at our house, but there are lots of other new great books about immigrants and refugees, too.
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers (Chronicle: 2017) has a wonderful, funny voice, but it makes a compelling, heart-driven argument based on a tiny detail on the Statue of Liberty. Don’t be scared away by the hefty page count (104 pages!). It is very readable, with not that many words per page. In spirit it feels more like a picture book than a middle grade book.
Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick Press: 2017) tells the story of five refugees who tried to flee violence in boats on the sea. The stories are raw and have ugly turns in them–a boat of Jews was sent back to Germany, for example, and many of the refugees ended up dying in concentration camps–but give vivid glimpses of what it must feel like to be a refugee. And each refugee who is profiled is one who survived, and we hear what became of him/her. This book has lots of text and is appropriate for middle schoolers or older.
The Banana Leaf Ball by Katie Smith Milway (Kids Can Press: 2017) is the fictionalized story of a Burundi refugee who is separated from his family in a sometimes-violent refugee camp. But he forms community with a group of fellow refugees as they play soccer and as he teaches them to make soccer balls out of dried banana leaves. The back matter has a photo of the man who inspired the story, as well as of the banana leaf balls and American kids who sell them to raise money for refugees. It’s a very kid-friendly book that doesn’t pretend refugee camps are wonderful but will empower rather than scare young readers.
I ended up in the US because of ancestors who immigrated here in the 1600s and the 1800s. Some of my ancestors were refugees; they found in America a safe place to make a life. I hope our country can continue to be accept “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”