Immigrant Stories: Family Keepsakes

When families made the long journey to America, they usually left most of their possessions behind. The things they brought had special significance, even more so as they settled into their new lives here. Those precious possessions and the stories that went along with them were frequently passed down from generation to generation as a reminder of the sacrifices that had been made on behalf of future generations.

These stories, many of which are based on real family histories, capture the importance of protecting a family's heritage, and remind us that even the most special possessions mean nothing if their stories are lost.

Chachaji's Cup

Illustrated by: Soumya Sitaraman
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Neel loves listening to Chachaji's stories over steaming cups of tea. Chachaji's tales of great Hindu gods and demons, and of his adventures in the Indian Army, leave Neel openmouthed. But it is the tale of his great-uncle's favorite teacup that teaches Neel the most, for Chachaji's cup holds far more than sweet, spicy masala chai. It holds the story of a family and a country split in two during the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan. When the precious cup and Chachaji's health both prove to be more fragile than they look, Neel knows what he must do.

In America

Age Level: 6-9

Many years ago, Walter's grandfather left Lithuania and his brother Herschel to come to America. It was a difficult decision, he explains to Walter, but one that he felt he had to make as a Jew. Walter's questions allow his grandfather to share the story of that decision and his journey — as well as the wonderful ways he and Herschel keep in touch after so many years. Snapshots painted in watercolor lend a feeling of looking a family album, bridging the traditions of the old country with opportunities of the new. Out of print but used or library copies may be available.

Miss Bridie Chose a Shovel

Illustrated by: Mary Azarian
Age Level: 6-9

When Miss Bridie left her homeland in 1856, she could have brought any number of things on her journey — but she chose a shovel. With the shovel, she creates a new life for herself filled with gardens, orchards, ice skating, and a family. The story provides an opportunity for students to think about what they would take if they were moving to a new country, as well as the ingenuity and hard work of our nation's immigrants.

The Cat from Kosovo

Illustrated by: Tamara Thiébaux-Heikalo
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: One day Olsa and Bashkim opened their doors to a small brown-and-white striped cat, they opened their hearts too. But the rather ordinary happiness of their lives was threatened as the war in Kosovo grew nearer. Forced to leave their home, they gathered all their courage and the few things they simply could not leave behind, journeying first to Macedonia and then to Canada.

The Keeping Quilt

Age Level: 6-9

Anna's mother made a quilt to help the family remember their life in Russia. It has since passed from one generation to the next, used to chronicle as well as remember family members and their stories. Readers will empathize with the handsomely illustrated story from the author's own experience in which Polacco uses both color and and black and white contrast to focus children's attention on this special keepsake.

The Memory Coat

Illustrated by: Michael Dooling
Age Level: 6-9

Meet Rachel and her cousin, Grisha, two Jewish children living in a small town in Russia. When soldiers begin to attack their town, the family decides that they must set sail for America and their grandmother offers Grisha a new coat instead of his old, tattered coat so that the family will make a good impression at Ellis Island. Grisha insists, however, on keeping the coat that is so special to him — a decision that ultimately helps keep the family together in America.

The Morning Chair

Illustrated by: Marcia Sewall
Age Level: 3-6

When Bram comes to America, he misses everything from Holland — his brick house and friendly neighbors and walks to the sea. Most of all, though, he misses his time with Mama in the morning chair. Will Bram ever begin to feel at home in America? Illustrations done in soft colors are the perfect match to this touching story about starting over from a child's point of view, which is based on the author's husband's experience of emigrating to the U.S. shortly after World War II.

The Remembering Stone

Illustrated by: Claire B. Cotts
Age Level: 6-9

Each morning in the early fall, Ana and her mother watch the blackbirds fly away. "One day I will return like you," Ana's mother tells the birds. Ana knows that her mother is thinking of her homeland, Costa Rica, and Ana'a grandparents. When Ana holds a special volcanic stone that her mother brought with her, she is certain that someday they will return together. A tender depiction of the nostalgia and dreams of an immigrant family.

The St. Patrick's Day Shillelagh

Illustrated by: Ben F. Stahl
Age Level: 6-9

When young Fergus left Ireland to set sail for America, he brought with him a branch from his family's blackthorn tree. That branch became a shillelagh, which he whittled on the ship crossing the Atlantic. Fergus' shillelagh and the story of his journey pass down through generations of his family every St. Patrick's Day, until it is finally forgotten. When young Kayleigh discovers the shillelagh, however, the story is reborn for a new generation. A lilting and lyrical text is enhanced by lovely paintings that evoke the different experiences of Fergus' descendents.

The Turtle of Oman

Illustrated by: Betsy Peterschmidt
Age Level: 9-12

This accessible, exquisite novel shines with gentle humor and explores themes of moving, family, nature, and immigration. It tells the story of Aref Al-Amri, who must say good-bye to everything and everyone he loves in his hometown of Muscat, Oman, as his family prepares to move to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Aref does not want to leave Oman, his elementary school, his friends, or his beloved grandfather, Siddi. Finally, his mother calls Siddi for help so that Aref will pack. But rather than pack, Aref and Siddi go on a series of adventures.