migration & immigration stories, part ii

one world, from above. link

World Refugee Day was last week, on June 20th–a strange and horrifying irony set amidst our current political hellscape. We know that reading makes us more empathetic, better able to understand or to sympathize with other people1—so what better way to mark the passage of World Refugee Day than by reading?

You can start out right here, from your computer, or your tablet, or your phone, with the New York Times’ Pulitzer Award-winning comic chronicling the experiences of Syrian refugees in the U.S., “Welcome to the New World.” Wondering how anyone could leave? Check out “Madaya Mom,” a collaboration between Marvel and ABC. And, because maybe you’re a fan of the graphic format, we can move from here to other graphic renderings of refugees. Vietnamerica chronicles the lives of a family of Vietnamese refugees, as seen by their first-generation American son; Eoin Colfer’s Illegal is a children’s graphic novel, a tale of a young boy’s journey from Ghana to Europe. (Thus far, it’s gotten starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weeklyas well as a strong review from School Library Journal.) Follow Marjane through revolution-era Iran, and learn some of the reasons why people flee, in Persepolis, then bump between countries in The Arab of the Future.

Follow a young Russian refugee in New Jersey as she tries to decide who she is and where she’s bound in Invitation to a Bonfire. Stumble across a Germany decimated by the Nazis with fleeing Prussians, their Scottish POW, and a young man in a Wermacht uniform who is actually a Jewish refugee in Chris Bohjalian’s Skeletons at the Feast, then visit a family who put their lives on the line to save—and fight with—their Jewish neighbors in The Zookeeper’s Wife. (Oh, and that’s a movie too, in case you hadn’t heard.) Share a story of worship and of defiance with your children with The Grand Mosque of Paris and its tale of Parisian Muslims working to save their Jewish neighbors. I’ve mentioned these before, of course, but now’s a good time to re-read Ruta Sepetys’ work, from Salt to the Sea, the anguished story of refugees fleeing for their lives onto a doomed ship, to Between Shades of Gray, the tale of death—and life—in Soviet gulags. And, of course, Americans have fled death in their own country: for just one example, see Years of Dust, a quick read, geared towards young teens. Step into the world of the Berlin Wall with the award-winning2 A Night Divided, where a young girl must decide whether to attempt to cross the wall and reunite with her father in the West, and The Lives of Others, a tale of spies and death in East Berlin. Travel between past and present in a tale of intertwined families and long-hidden tragedies in The Bastard of Istanbul, in a tale that moves from contemporary America (and Turkey, or the Turkey of a few years past) to the Ottoman Empire and back.

Now let’s move forward, away from the Second World War, towards our dark present. Mahindan thinks that life will finally get better when the ship carrying him and other Sri Lankan refugees docks in Vancouver—but all are detained and he is separated from his son as the country debates their lives and fates in the award-winning The Boat People. Flee for your life alongside Nadia and Saeed in Exit West, then follow a contemporary Syrian refugee and a medieval mapmaker’s apprentice in The Map of Salt and Stars. Step into the deadly world of Generalissimo Trujillo’s Dominican Republic alongside Haitian-born maid Amabelle in The Farming of Bones, then follow a young Iranian refugee in America—and her father in Iran—in Refuge. Step into the worlds of Vietnamese refugees with the short-story collection The Refugees, then visit a world of refugees and of spies with The Sympathizer. A group of attorneys, translators, and activists come together to try to protect a refugee in Live from Cairo, then revisit another book I’ve suggested before as Fabiola, a young Haitian immigrant, must struggle to cope with a new world after he mother is detained upon entry to the U.S. in American Street.

Follow two teens from very different backgrounds—Australian-born Michael, whose parents are the face of an anti-immigration party, and Afghan refugee Mina—as they meet at school and grow close in the face of rising xenophobia in The Lines We Cross, then follow Nisha and her family as they flee violence after Partition in The Night Diary.  Travel alongside Afghan refugees in The Kite Runner, then travel from Trujillo’s Dominican Republic to the Bronx with the García girls in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (this one gets challenged a lot, so you’ll be getting up on your banned book reading, too!). Visit the Cuba of the Revolution, as people decide whether to stay or to go, and then return years later, with Next Year in Havana, then follow a family as they make the difficult decision to come to the U.S. in The Book of Unknown Americans. Travel from Saigon to Alabama with Hà in Inside Out & Back Again, then follow along as a young Vietnamese-American girl returns to the country of her parents’ birth as her grandmother searches for her husband lost in the war in Listen, Slowly.

Share a story of separation—and of a mother’s love—with the picture book Mama’s Nightingale, then read of traveling to the U.S. with Two White Rabbits and Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote. Ready to move away from fiction and towards memoirs and sociological texts? For a concise understanding of American interventions3 throughout Latin America, try America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on TerrorStep into a world of U.S. citizens on the move from one world to another with When I Was Puerto Rican and Down These Mean Streets, both the tales of Puerto Ricans, one born on the Island, one from New York. Actress Diane Guerrero tells the story of her separation from her parents—and of growing up American—in In The Country We Love, then follow immigrant teens through a school year in The Newcomers. Explore the refugee experience with authors who are themselves refugees in The Displaced, then travel the border alongside a former Border Patrol agent in The Line Becomes a River.

Learn about young Latin Americans without papers in Tell Me How It Ends, then step into tales of survival with The Girl Who Smiled Beads and How Dare the Sun Rise. Revisit the Rwandan genocide with We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, travel to contemporary Europe with Cast Away: True Stories of Survival from Europe’s Refugee Crisisand step into the world’s largest refugee camp in City of ThornsThe New Odyssey tells the story of the contemporary refugee crisis, at a time when more people are living as refugees than at any time before (even during the Second World War). Travel with Central American refugees in Flight to Freedom and Seeking Refuge, then ride a deadly train in The Beast. Share stories of refugees and refuge with your little folks with Where Will I Live?This Land Is Our Land (it’s a great pick for the Fourth of July, too!), and Stormy Seas, among others. (I’ll have more for you later, rest assured.)

Did you know that without soldiers from elsewhere, including a gay Prussian aristocrat, soldiers from France and Spain, Haitian soldiers, and more, we would not have a country at all? So, as we draw close to that day on which our forebears declared themselves a nation, let us remember our own roots that so often come from elsewhere, and seek to serve humanity with grace and compassion.


1 And here’s some citations for that claim:

2 One of the awards A Night Divided won is the 2018 Rebecca Caudill Children’s Choice award—which means that young folks really, really like it.

3 I’ve very briefly covered the very start of our interventions here.


Young Adult Fiction About Migration, Immigration, and Refuge(es), I