Cover of book shows refugees crowded on a small boat.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 Cover of book shows the right foot of the Statue of Libertycompelling, 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.

Cover of book shows refugees on a small boat on the oceanStormy 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 Cover of book shows boys reaching for a soccer ball made from dried banana leavesrefugee 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.”

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

newworldThis fascinating book, about emigration from Germany, immigration to the US, and genealogical research, was originally published in Germany. Charlesbridge Publishing has brought the English translation out this year. The design of the book feels different than other American books–it’s a narrative story but it’s laid out on the page more like a Dorling Kindersley book, where tiny packets of text explain small, detailed illustrations. I can’t imagine how it would work as a read-aloud but it’s certainly an engrossing read for an independent reader.

In this story, we see the Peters family pushed by economic conditions in 1869 to leave Germany. We follow their preparations and their complicated transportation path all the way to Nebraska. We watch them set up a new household and make friends. In a wordless spread, we see their farmhouse and prosperous farm once they have been in America a few years.

The next spread shows the same farmhouse (but with modern updates, like a swimming pool) and many more outbuildings and motorized farm equipment. Now we follow the descendants of the original Peters family as they research their ancestors and make a trip back to Germany to try to find their ancestral home.

This is a fascinating story of immigration and of family connectedness.

In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries, by Christa Holtei, illustrated by Gerda Raidt, translated by Susi Woofter. Charlesbridge: 2015.



This is a family history book, based on Meg Medina’s experience with her own aunt. It’s a snapshot of an immigrant experience–extended family living together, working menial jobs, trying to navigate a new culture, sometimes using a child as the guide to that new culture. It’s also a triumphant, feel-good story about dreams, family love, and making a new place home.

Medina organizes the story around two refrains: “Tía Isa wants a car” in the first half of the book, and “Tía Isa bought a car” in the second half. The final spread concludes joyously:

“Tía Isa and I bought a car. To carry us all to the sea.”

The copyright page includes a photo of “the real Tía Isa.”

Tía Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina, illustrated by Claudia Muñoz. Candlewick: 2011.

Anna and Solomon     I firmly believe that every family has a story that its children need to know, and I love nonfiction picture books that grow from those stories. This delightful book came about when the New Yorker artist, Harry Bliss, finally convinced his mother-in-law to put her family story on paper. It is a beautiful collaboration.

The story itself, as with so many family stories, is simple and not heavy-handed: Solomon moves from Russia (to escape pogroms) and works to bring his wife to the New World, too. But Anna feels an obligation to her extended family and over and over sends other family members in her place. We feel Solomon’s deep love and longing for his wife, and his wife’s strong sense of loving duty. The story ends in a beautiful celebration of family.

Snyder uses page turns brilliantly over and over to build up suspense: will it be Anna getting off the ship this time?

I also admire the adroitness with which the  historical context was handled:

Shortly after Anna and Solomon’s marriage, a calamity befell the Jews of Vitebsk. The ruler of the land, called the Czar, sent his soldiers on horses to the streets where the Jews lived. The soldiers entered their homes, broke their windows and furniture, stole their brass candlesticks, and destroyed their holy books. Solomon decided that he no longer wanted to live in a place where his people were persecuted and harm might come to Anna.

In four sentences, Snyder explains what a pogrom is, shows us how wrenching it is, and makes it clear why Anna later in the book will feel obligated to help rescue her extended family members. This is historical scaffolding at its best.

It’s a heart-warming story and may inspire you to call up your grandma so you can hear the story of your family, too.

Anna & Solomon, by Elaine Snyder, illustrated by Harry Bliss.  Farrar Straus Giroux: 2014.