Books That Feature Immigrants and Refugees: Understanding Experience through the Power of Story


Today is July 4. It is a day to celebrate our country; however, for us, it is also a day of reflection. We have spent a great deal of time reflecting about our country, and part of that reflection involves being empathetic and listening to the stories of others. For today’s post, in light of the recent events and in support of our neighbors, we want to feature some powerful books we loved that share the stories of immigrants and refugees. We feel that sharing these stories will help readers understand those who have immigrated or are finding refuge in the United States.

Not all of the texts are connected with the United States of America, but all of the characters resonated with us and taught us a great deal. They all share stories that have become a piece of us and have added to our understanding of the immigrant or refugee experience. Please share your favorite stories about immigrants or refugees in the comments below. We’d love to hear about the books that have made a great impact on your lives.

As always, while the books are divided by the audience they are marketed toward, each of the books listed transcends reader age. Adults, for instance, will likely find all of these books to be compelling.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina

Migrant: The Journey of a Mexican Worker by José Manuel Mateo

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote by Duncan Tonatiuh

A Thirst for Home by Christine Ieronimo

Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago

The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition by Reyna Grande

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Kiki and Jacques by Susan Ross

La Linea by Ann Jaramillo

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood

Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai

Trino’s Choice by Diane Gonzales Bertrand

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos

The Border by Steve Schafer

Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Illegal by Eoin Colfer

A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

The Milk of  Birds by Sylvia Whitman

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams

Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Water in May by Ismée Williams

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Which books are we missing? Which books made a great impact on you?


5 thoughts on “Books That Feature Immigrants and Refugees: Understanding Experience through the Power of Story”

  1. It’s a marvelous list. Thank you! I’ve read many, and like you both, will continue to read about other’s experiences that I need to know about. Enjoy your Independence Day! Shaun Tan’s books are favorites, I read A Long Walk to Water one year to my class, an eye-opening book for them, and Migrant is quite an amazing feat of creativity and hope.

  2. Such a great list! I have more to add to my reading pile now. Not that it is a problem by any means! Thank you for putting this together as such a great resource for not only teachers and students, but also for humans of gracious heart who seek understanding through text! You gals rock!!

  3. Wow, Kellee and Ricki- you really pulled together an excellent list. One of my favorite books fits well here, THE RED UMBRELLA, a middle grade novel about the “Peter Pan” rescues from Cuba, by my friend Christina Gonzalez. Now available in Spanish and English.

  4. Thank you for this great list, Kellee and Ricki! I just finished reading Cristina Henriquez’s novel The Book of Unknown Americans and definitely recommend it for the list, for both teen and adult readers. It’s published for adults, about the Latin American immigrant families that live in an apartment complex in Delaware and new arrivals seeking treatment for a teenage daughter with a traumatic brain injury. And may I nominate my own historical novel, Gringolandia? It was published for teens by a small press that sadly closed, though the book received multiple distinctions and is still available through Northwestern University Press and appropriate for both teens and adults. It portrays a refugee teen and his family fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile; among other things, it touches on is the reasons refugees come to the US from Latin America and the role of US foreign policy in that migration. If you’re looking for other historical novels for teens on the topic of immigration, one I recommend with an activist theme is Audacity, Melanie Crowder’s verse novel about the life of feminist labor organizer and Russian Jewish immigrant Clara Lemlich.

  5. What a fabulous list! Thank you so much for putting this together. There are a number of these I haven’t read, yet, and I really want to. I’d also add Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate and one I just read this week: When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest. It’s comforting to see so many titles available to help children along with empathy and understanding. <3


Leave a Comment