Immigration Stories

  Curator Rebekah K.

Curator Rebekah K.

Why I Wrote This Guide

My name is Cutke Ecko; but, everyone calls me Rebekah. My family first immigrated to North America from Asia. Men and women crossed the Pacific Ocean and grew their families far from home. I often wonder who those first people were, what their life had been like at home, and why they chose to come here. I wonder what they thought and felt as they left their homes and first saw the mountains, deserts, plains, rivers, forests, and lakes of North America. I am enamored with maps and wonder what routes they took and which paths they created. I wonder if they missed their homes and families. When I hear the immigration stories of my friends and students' families and read the immigration stories of many people, I begin to understand why my family immigrated and how they felt throughout their journey. Below are some of the books about immigration that I enjoy sharing.

Did you Know?

  • Immigrants first came to North and South America from Asia across a northern land bridge.
  • Immigrants from Europe quickly followed Spanish and French explorers.
  • Not everyone who immigrated to North and South America chose to leave their homes to come here. Over 12.5 million men and women were sent as slaves from Africa to North and South America and islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women were sent as slaves from Europe to North America and islands in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Annie Moore from Ireland was the first immigrant to come through Ellis Island. Today, her descendants include men and women of numerous ethnic groups, an example of how families are enriched through immigration.

Immigration Today

Talk about the challenges and joys for today’s immigrants. Who has moved to your city or neighborhood from another country? How does their culture enrich your community and your family? Life can be difficult for the thousands of people who have recently left their homes to move to a new country. Finding work can be challenging, facing new schools can be scary, and making new friends and adjusting to new customs and a new language can be frustrating. Life can be exciting for those same people who are building new lives and turning a new country into their home. Reuniting families, merging family customs with new traditions, making new friends, and accomplishing goals are worth celebrating together.  

Check out the stories of these five young immigrants. Use their immigration stories, BrainPOP, and the fiction below to spark discussions about immigration with your child.

Magazines and newspapers provide historical and current information about immigration. Look for magazines at your public or school library.

Kids Discover Magazine Immigration issue covers migrations, the immigrant experience, and immigrants around the world. Use the articles to start discussions about your family’s immigration stories and to make connections with the stories below.

TIME For Kids recently had an article about immigration, as well. Talk to your children about what you read in the news. “What do you think about immigration?” “Do you agree or disagree with the things you’ve read in the news?” “Why or why not?”  

Before Reading

The following stories talk about the ways we can share our stories and feelings. Remind your child that you welcome hearing his or her feelings like Hassan’s parents and Marianthe’s parents and that you want to provide ways to help the whole family share stories, experiences, and feelings. Then, examine the cover of the book asking, “What does this book cover tell us about this story?”


The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman

Hassan, a refugee from Somalia, has experienced the traumatic events of losing family to violence and fleeing his home. After depicting his sorrow in a painting in his new school in America, Hassan’s teacher and a translator sit down to listen to Hassan’s story. (Zoobean)

Interactive Reading

Check for Understanding as you read by setting the book down for short conversations about the character’s feelings and experiences. When a topic comes up that your child needs to talk about, follow his or her lead, keeping it safe for your child to share by asking him or her what he or she thinks about this topic and what he or she wants other people to know or understand about their own story. For tips on talking about the fears your child has about violence in our world and reassuring him or her that there are people in place to help keep us safe, explore PBS Parents Talking With Kids About Violence.

Questions to get conversations started:

  • Why did this family have to leave their home?
  • How did this character feel leaving their home?
  • Have you ever felt the way he or she feels?
  • What would you say to this character about their feelings and story?
  • What is more difficult for the characters, being the new child at school or having trouble telling other people their experiences and feelings?
  • What would help this character feel better about these changes?


Marianthe’s Story: Painted Words Spoken Memories by Aliki

Aliki presents two equally moving sides to Marianthe's story, the first as a new arrival to a foreign America, and the second the explanation of why she came. A third-person narrative describes the girl's first days of school; Mari struggles with English until she realizes that art translates to all languages. One day, as Mari prepares to tell her story through her paintings, the sympathetic teacher announces that "there is more than one way to tell a story. Someday Mari will be able to tell us with words." (Publishers Weekly)


The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland

When she is forced to leave Vietnam, a young girl brings a lotus seed with her to America in remembrance of her homeland. “Exquisite artwork fuses with a compelling narrative--a concise endnote places the story effectively within a historical context--to produce a moving and polished offering.”--Publishers Weekly

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

“My brother believes he is being chased by a certain demon.... It’s a demon that makes things vanish. That’s why we had to leave Mongolia.” The very real fear of every refugee child is waiting for officials to come take them away. Every time the officials come, people vanish. To protect himself and his brother, Chingis calls his brother Nergui (no one), takes him home a different route every day, makes him wear a hat and coat in hot weather, teaches him to play soccer to blend in with the other children in Liverpool, England, and finally runs away. (Zoobean)

Extend the Reading

Work together to share your stories and emotions. If you and your child identified specific ways to share your stories, pull out the supplies you need to begin sharing.

  • Share through art with art paper and water color pencils.
  • Share through photography with a digital camera or your 35 mm camera.
  • Share through words and poetry with a journal or storybook.
  • Share through pictorial narrative with google docs or a family blog.
  • Share through drama with skits, plays, and charades.
  • Share through video and audio with your digital camera or computer.
  • Share through comics with paper and drawing pencils.
  • Share through sculpture with clay.

Get started by asking

  • “What describes you?”
  • “What’s the biggest part of your story?”
  • “What do you want to help other people  feel and understand?”
  • Pull out family photos and ask, “What was the best part of this day?” and “How did we feel?”
  • “What are our favorite things?”
  • “What are our favorite feelings?”

Before Reading

The following books, ask your child, “What is our day like?” “What do you suppose would be different in our day if we lived in Mexico (or China, Sri Lanka, Argentina, or Ukraine)?” “What would be the best part of moving to another country?” “What would be the hardest part of moving to another country?” and “What do you think is the hardest part of moving to the United States for people from another country?” Introduce one of the books by saying something along the lines of “Let’s see how the characters in ‘When This World Was New’ felt about moving away from their home.”


A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting

Francisco’s grandfather has just arrived from Mexico and needs a job. Like many men, abuelo and Francisco wait in a parking lot to be hired as day laborers.  Francisco, translating for his abuelo, tells an employer that his grandfather is a fine gardener although he’s a carpenter. After it is discovered that Francisco and his grandfather have ripped out the plants instead of the weeds, Francisco admits that he lied to the employer about his grandfather’s skills. What lesson will Francisco learn from his grandfather’s integrity and from the employer’s willingness to give them the opportunity to fix the damage done by their gardening?


When this World Was New by D. H. Figueredo

When his family leaves their warm Caribbean island to come to the United States, Danilito is apprehensive. Everything is new- the cold weather, the heavy clothing, the language. But the first morning in his new home brings the wondrous discovery of snow, “millions of white rose petals floating downwards,” a magic that turns parked cars into polar bears and silences all sounds. ... Danilito may worry about the unknown, but he accepts and embraces his new world so that even his greatest fear, falling on ice, becomes one more marvel, as readers see him on the last page ice skating while his smiling parents watch. (School Library Journal)


One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

On her "second day in the new school in the new country," Farah, who cannot speak English, joins her class on a field trip to an apple orchard, where she enjoys the sunny day but feels desperately isolated, "tight inside [herself]." Though Farah wears a headscarf and knows that there are "difficulties" between her native and adoptive countries, specifics of religion and politics never distract from the child's experiences: the hay smelling of "dry sunshine," the spark of optimism kindled when classmates accept her help at the cider press. Young readers will respond as much to Bunting's fine first-person narrative as to Lewin's double-page, photorealistic watercolors, which, though occasionally stiff, plainly show the intelligence behind Farah's silent exterior… (Booklist)

I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora

On Friday, Mom and I will go with . . . great-aunt Lobo to a special place . . . where she will say the Pledge of Allegiance and . . . become a citizen of the United States, exclaims Libby, the young narrator of this family story. Libby vows to practice saying the pledge with Lobo in the week leading up to the ceremony, providing an easy opportunity for the authors to integrate both lines of the pledge and discussions of its meaning into the text. Likewise, the inclusion of Spanish text not only introduces readers to potentially new vocabulary words but it also helps them understand the importance of Lobo's Mexican heritage as well as her American citizenship. (Booklist)

Extend the Reading

Explore the geography of the characters in the story you have read.

What you will need:

  • A map
  • A measuring tape

What to do:

  1. Locate the home country of the characters on the map
  2. Estimate the distance from that country to the United States
  3. Measure the scale on the map for accuracy
  4. Measure the distance from the home country of the character to the United States
  5. How close were your estimates?
  6. Look at the map again to discover the challenges there are in traveling from this country to the United States.
  7. What route would you need to take to get from this country to the United States?
  8. Does that route change the distance traveled? Why or why not? Measure again to verify.
  9. What forms of transportation would you need to take to get from this country to the United States?

Before Reading

The following books, about name and identity, share with your child how you chose his or her name and the meaning of it. Ask your child, “What does your name mean to you?” “Does anyone accidentally say your name wrong or give you a nickname?” If this is something your child has to deal with, help him or her practice asking people to call him or her by a preferred name.


My Name Is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada

Maria Isabel bravely faces her first day at a new school, a new classroom, and a new teacher. “Why don’t we call you Mary instead?” her teacher sug­gests. Maria Isabel’’s inabil­ity to respond to “Mary” leads to more prob­lems. Finally, an assignment entitled, “My Greatest Wish” gives Maria a chance to reclaim her name, and allows her teacher to make amends. Sim­ply told, this story com­bines the strug­gle of a Puerto Rican family’s efforts to improve their life with a shared sense of pride in their her­itage. (Publishers Weekly / Zoobean)


My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits     

Yoon doesn't want to learn new ways. Her simple, first-person narrative stays true to the small immigrant child's bewildered viewpoint, and Swiatkowska's beautiful paintings, precise and slightly surreal, capture her sense of dislocation. … In a classroom scene many children will relate to, everything is stark, detailed, and disconnected -- the blackboard, the teacher's gestures, one kid's jeering face -- a perfect depiction of the child's alienation. ...(Booklist)


The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

As Unhei rides the school bus toward her first day of school in America, she is embarrassed when the children on the bus find her name difficult to pronounce. Unhei decides to choose an American name so she can be like her classmates. When the day arrives for Unhei to announce her new name, Joey reminds her of the beauty of her own name. Choi draws from her own experience, interweaving several issues into this touching account and delicately addressing the challenges of assimilation. (Kirkus/Zoobean)

Interactive Reading

Look at the pictures to discover how the characters are feeling as you read by asking, “How does this character feel about his new school / home / country?”  “What do you think about someone changing their name to fit in?” “How would you feel if you were this character?” and “What would you ask this character if you could ask him or her a question?”

Make connections between stories by asking, “How is this person’s story like our family story?” or “Which other character that we’ve read about does this character remind you of?”

Extend Reading

Do a word search. PBS Kids offers a word search using many of the words we use in discussing immigration.

After Reading

Make your own name stamp

What you will need

  • Cork
  • Scrap paper
  • Tape or a glue stick
  • Pencil
  • A safe carving tool
  • An ink pad

What to do

  • Draw a symbol to represent your name or write your name on the paper
  • Tape or glue the paper over the cork
  • Use your carving tool to cut the design into the cork
  • Remove the paper then scrape or cut away the cork outside of your design
  • Ink your stamp and try it out to see where the edges need to be smoothed out

Meet and Welcome new immigrants in your community

One of the pictures of immigration that inspires me to be aware of the immigrants around me who need a welcome to my neighborhood is this image that hangs on my living room wall. Lewis Hine’s “Italian Madonna,” taken in 1905, reminds me that “we are more alike than unalike” as Maya Angelou wrote in Human Family.

Who is new to your community? How can you meet your recently immigrated neighbors and welcome them to your neighborhood?

Here are some ideas to help you welcome new neighbors to your community.

  • Introduce yourself and remember their names
  • Invite them to a community or school event
  • Take them some flowers
  • Invite them to walk around the neighborhood so you can introduce them to the community
  • Invite them to go to the library with you so they can get a library card

Immigration Yesterday

You may be interested in reading a short biography to inspire your own family history exploration. “Good Fortune: My Journey to Gold Mountain” by Li Keng Wong recounts her story of immigration through Angel Island in the 1930’s, of reuniting with her father in Oakland Chinatown, of her younger siblings who are paper sons and daughters, and of decades of teaching in California. Today, Li Keng Wong connects with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Angel Island immigrants as she visits California schools and encourages them to learn and understand their own family stories.

Before Reading

Talk about immigration. Share your family’s and your friend’s immigration stories. If you can, ask grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends to join you for a meal to share what they know of the family immigration story.

Some questions to ask include:

  • What countries have our family members lived in?
  • When did they leave those countries for the United States?
  • Why did they leave?
  • What did our relatives hope to find in the United States?
  • What was the hardest part of life in the United States?
  • How has our family changed in the United States?
  • How has our family stayed the same in the United States?


All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino

Michele Yaccariono immigrated from Italy with a shovel and his parent’s advice to work hard. Each generation uses the same shovel and the same good advice for a variety of purposes showing how roots and traditions shape each family. (Zoobean)


The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff

An immigrant boy's tattered woolen coat helps secure his entrance to America in this thoughtful picture book. Grisha, whose parents have died, now lives with his cousin Rachel's boisterous family in a Russian shtetl. Grisha misses his parents terribly, though he finds comfort in playing storytelling games with Rachel (""they were the best of friends"") and in wearing the now-ragged coat sewn by his mother. But after cossacks terrorize the Jews of the shtetl, Rachel's family flees to America. At Ellis Island an inspector notes a scratch on Grisha's eye and marks his coat, indicating that he is rejected. Luckily, quick-thinking Rachel turns Grisha's coat inside out, allowing him to pass with the rest of the family. (Publishers Weekly)

Pie-Biter by Ruthanne Lum McCunn

Pie-Biter was the nickname given to a young Chinese immigrant whose love for pies became legendary when he worked as a laborer building railroads. This is the true story of Hoi, who grew from a skinny adolescent into a strong young man, successful in his own business. This tale is written in the folk tradition of John Henry, Paul Bunyan, and Pecos Bill and is complemented by wonderful color illustrations. (Bloomsbury)

Extend the Reading 

Explore Ellis Island through a virtual tour

As you explore the website “Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today”  read about the stops in the Ellis Island journey and then hit the “Photos” tab. As you look at the photos, watch the videos, and listen to the recordings, really look at and listen to the the individuals and the families who immigrated and talk about their stories. You can begin by asking questions. For example, in the photos for Stop 1: The Passage, look at the first picture of a group of people walking while carrying their belongings and ask questions such as, “What are these people carrying?” “What do you suppose they had to leave behind?” “How hard would it be for us to decide what to take and what to leave?” and “How do you think each of these people felt in this picture?”

Examine the data in Explore Immigration Data, choosing one or two questions from the page to analyze the data. You can also choose a time period or country to research and discover more about the reasons people chose to immigrate to the United States at that time or from that country.

About Rebekah K.

An insomniac since 1979, Rebekah has filled her nights with books & history. Rebekah's earliest memories are of watching documentaries, reading books, and playing Candy Land late at night with her dad. Is it any wonder that she doesn't consider being a librarian and teacher a job? During her fifteen years, in college and K-12 libraries and 10 years in English, ESL, and History classrooms, she has spent her days talking about books and history, sometimes at the same time. Rebekah says, "I love pairing readers with books that are a perfect fit. I feel like I have won a war when a reluctant reader returns to tell me they hated reading; but, after reading a book I recommended, they stay up with a flashlight to read until the page is blurry."