Immigrant Stories: Home at Last

When does a new home feel like "home"? When you can speak a new language? When you make friends? When you realize that your neighbors share the same traditions from your native country?

These stories explore what home means to immigrants, from celebrations in the streets of New York City to realizing that you may have more in common with someone from a different country than you had thought. The stories give a poignant voice to children who are often homesick, which may be a helpful basis for discussion in ELL classrooms as students see the characters move towards a hopeful conclusion.

A number of related stories about immigrant children learning English are included in our ELL Stories booklist.

A Chair for My Mother

After a fire destroys their home and possessions, Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother save their money to buy a big comfortable chair. Suffused with warmth and tenderness, A Chair for My Mother celebrates family love and determination. A Caldecott Honor book. Spanish version also available.

A Movie in My Pillow: Poems

Illustrated by: Elizabeth Gomez
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Young Jorgito lives in San Francisco's Mission District, but he hasn't forgotten his native El Salvador. He recalls the volcanoes, the tasty cornmeal pupusas, and his grandmother's stories. As he changes from timid newcomer to seasoned city dweller, Jorgito's memories and new adventures form a patchwork of dreams — the movie in his pillow — that is perfectly suited to his new bicultural identity.

All for the Better: A Story of El Barrio

Age Level: 9-12

"In 1933 the Great Depression had hit Puerto Rico as hard as it had hit the United States. Evelina Lopez, then 11, left her mother and sisters to live with an aunt in New York City. Her journey to Spanish Harlem, El Barrio, and the life that followed there make up this simple biography. When she learned that food packages were available to those who presented the proper forms, but that most of her neighbors were too ashamed to apply, she found a solution.

Angelina's Island

Age Level: 3-6

Every day, Angelina tells her mother she wants to go home. Not to their new city home, cold and gray and unfamiliar — but their old island home, sunny and colorful and filled with rainbow-colored fruits and birds. Angelina believes she'll never feel at home in this new place, until her mother finds a wonderful surprise in the newspaper. A beautiful tribute to the traditions of the West Indies, Carnival, and the longing for home that young immigrants will recognize immediately.

Arrorró, Mi Niño: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games

A selection of nursery rhymes and games from different countries are presented in this book in both Spanish and English. The rhymes are accompanied by gentle illustrations. Music appears with lyrics (again in both languages) at the end of this pleasing book.

At Home in a New Land

Age Level: 3-6

Carl Erik and his family have finally arrived in Minnesota! They are ready for a new set of adventures, including learning English, planting new crops, and getting to know their Obijway neighbors. This Easy Reader sequel to "The Long Way to a New Land" encourages beginning readers to think about what it really means to feel at home.

Cora Cooks Pancit

Illustrated by: Kristi Valiant
Age Level: 6-9

Cora wants to learn how to cook, but she's too young to do the jobs her older siblings do. One day, however, after the older kids have all gone out together, Cora asks her mother what they can cook together. To her surprise, Cora's mother asks her what she would like to make, and Cora chooses her favorite Filipino noodle dish, pancit. This family story about the importance of sharing tradition is brought to life by Kristi Valiant's charming illustrations and includes a bilingual glossary of Tagalog words.

Dancing Home

Product Description: Mexico may be her parents' home, but it's certainly not Margie's. She has finally convinced the other kids at school she is one-hundred percent American — just like them. But when her Mexican cousin Lupe visits, the image she's created for herself crumbles. Things aren't easy for Lupe, either. Mexico hadn't felt like home since her father went North to find work. Lupe, as much as Margie, is in need of a friend. Little by little, the girls' individual steps find the rhythm of one shared dance, and they learn what "home" really means.

Erandi's Braids

Illustrated by: Tomie dePaola
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: The yellow dress Erandi wants for her birthday will look beautiful with her long, thick braids. But Mama's fishing net is full of holes, and there isn't enough money to buy both a new net and a birthday dress. The only solution lies with the hair buyers from the city. But Mama's hair isn't nearly as beautiful as Erandi's. Will Erandi have to choose between her birthday present and her braids? This touching tale of love and sacrifice is sprinkled throughout with Spanish words and expressions.

From North to South

Illustrated by: Joe Cepeda

When Mamá is sent to a detention center in Tijuana because she doesn't have the right immigration papers, José must get used to life without her. He and his father visit Mamá at the center, where they talk about the future in which they will be together. Based on the experiences of René Colato Laínez's students, both he and illustrator Joe Cepeda strike the right balance of honesty and hope in depicting this difficult yet common situation for families along the border.

Good Night Captain Mama

Illustrated by: Linda Lens
Age Level: 6-9

A little boy is walking to his bedroom when he notices his mother in an olive-green military flight suit. His curiosity about the colorful patches on her uniform evolves into a bedtime conversation between a military mother and her child about why she serves and what she does in the unusual KC-135R aerial refueling airplane. He drifts off to sleep with thoughts of his mommy in the airplane and the special surprise she gives him. This unique book was written by a Latina military officer and former aviator. Bilingual text.

Good-Bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong

Illustrated by: Yangsook Choi
Age Level: 6-9

"My heart beats in two places." So begins the tale of Jangmi, a young girl who is preparing to leave her home in Korea (382 Shin Dang Dong) for a new home in Massachusetts (112 Foster Terrace). Jangmi can't bear the thought of leaving her house, her favorite willow trea, the monsoon rains, and most of all, her best friend Kisuni. Jangmi's story and its hopeful conclusion will resonate with children who have left a beloved home or friend behind.

Good-bye, Havana! Hola, New York!

Illustrated by: Raúl Colón
Age Level: 6-9

It is 1960 in Havana, and young Gabriella doesn't understand what the changes she sees around her in Cuba will mean until she boards a flight to New York to start a new life with her parents in the Bronx. New York is cold and busy; she doesn't speak any English, and she misses her grandparents. Slowly, however, she adapts to her new life, making friends and learning English along the way. The story is based on the childhood of Edie Colón (now an ESL teacher) and illustrated by her husband, Raúl.

Grandfather's Journey

By: Allen Say
Age Level: 6-9

A young man travels from his native Japan to the vast country called America before returning to visit his home with his bride. The exquisite watercolors give the appearance of a family photo album as it relates this autobiographical but universal story of immigration.
Country of origin: Japan
 

Home at Last

Illustrated by: Felipe Davalos
Age Level: 6-9

When Ana's family comes to the U.S., she can tell that her mother misses their life and family in Mexico terribly. In addition, she doesn't want to learn English, and she relies on Ana and her husband to translate. Soon, however, Ana's mother realizes that English may be the key to finally feeling at home in her new country. A touching tribute to the children — and their parents — who have come to the U.S. for a better life.

How Far Do You Love Me?

Age Level: 3-6

A warm portrait of universal parental love begins on a beach when a boy asks his mother, "How far do you love me?" Lyrical responses combine with stunning double page illustrations in places around the globe until the boy is tucked into bed with his response: "I love you to the moon!" A world map and the query in each language conclude this tender book based on a bedtime game Lulu Delacre played with her young daughters.

Hush! A Thai Lullaby

Illustrated by: Holly Meade
Age Level: 0-3

A loving mother asks animals from a water buffalo to a lizard to "hush" so her baby can sleep. Once the noises stop, the mother herself sleeps — and the baby is now awake! Textured illustrations evoke the Thai setting and convey the understated humor of this unique bedtime book.

I Hate English!

Illustrated by: Steve Bjorkman
Age Level: 6-9

Mei Mei loves to think and write and talk…in Chinese. But at her school in New York City, everything happens…in English. Mei Mei is afraid that if she starts speaking in English, she will lose all that she loves in Chinese, including her friends at home in Hong Kong. Will Mei Mei always hate English as much as she loves Chinese? A humorous and touching story about the difficulty of accepting a new language and home.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

Illustrated by: Marc Simont
Age Level: 9-12

Meet Shirley Temple Wong, a delightful heroine who has come from China and arrived in Brooklyn in 1947 — the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. Based on the author's own experiences, the story captures the highs and lows of coming to live in a new country, learning English, and falling in love with the Brooklyn Dodgers during moments that are both heartbreaking and hilarious. A must-read for teachers working with ELLs and newcomer students.

Just Like Home

As a young girl begins to get used to her new life in the U.S., she compares everything around her to life back in her country. Some things — like sharing a big meal with her family — are just like home. Other things, however, like not being able to speak to her classmates easily, are not like home. The simple structure and colorful illustrations of the story provide an interesting model for immigrant or new students to compare one home to another. Bilingual text.

Lights for Gita

Illustrated by: Alice Priestley
Age Level: 6-9

Gita is ready for the Hindu celebration of Divali, but she is afraid that it just won't be the same in her new home in Canada. When icy rain prevents the celebration they had planned, Gita becomes even more miserable, until she finds a way to light the darkness and remember Divali's true meaning.

Love to Mamá: A Tribute to Mothers

By: Pat Mora
Illustrated by: Paula Barragan
Age Level: 6-9

Thirteen poems rejoice in Latina women, their diversity, and their roles. This short, illustrated collection celebrates Spanish-speaking countries as well as bilingualism in the United States. Illustrations swirl across each page, combining computer generated and traditional art with energetic results.

Love You Forever

Every night, a mother sings to her child, "I'll love you forever/I'll like you for always/As long as I'm living / My baby you'll be." A lifetime of love makes for a beautiful and moving conclusion to this children's classic when the child grows up and returns to take care of his mother. "A humorous, sentimental page-turner that rarely — let's say never — leaves a reader with a dry eye." — Gayle MacDonald, Globe and Mail.

Mamá and Me

Illustrated by: Rudy Gutiérrez
Age Level: 3-6

Product Description: For a bilingual girl and her mamá , a loving bond is about being together…and independent. Arthur Dorros's skillful and subtle blend of English and Spanish narrative, illustrated with bold, striking paintings by award-winning artist Rudy Gutierrez, offers readers a poignant reminder that every day with Mamá is sweet.

Mama Had to Work on Christmas

Illustrated by: Robert Casilla
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: In this short chapter book, we meet Gloria, who always spends Christmas with Papi, Mama, and Nana. But this Christmas, Papi is away picking oranges and Mama has to work at the hotel where she is a maid. Gloria soon discovers that the lavish decorations and foods piled high on the tables are only for the guests. How Gloria moves from disappointment to understanding makes for a poignant story that honors the true spirit of the Christmas season.

Molly's Pilgrim

Molly, an immigrant, is teased in school for her accent and seemingly odd customs. Horrified when her mother makes a "pilgrim" for Thanksgiving who looks like them — eastern Europeans — Molly finds that she, as well as her teacher and her classmates learn what Thanksgiving really means.

Mother Bridge of Love

By: Anonymous
Illustrated by: Josee Masse
Age Level: 6-9

This poem, submitted by an anonymous adoptive mother to the Mother Bridge of Love charity in London, tells the story of a birth mother and adoptive mother who never meet but are connected by their love for a little Chinese girl. Exquisite paintings illustrate the many ways in which the two women's lives, dreams, and hopes are intertwined, as well as the limitless love they each feel for the little girl.

My America: Home at Last

Age Level: 9-12

In the second book of Sofia's "My America" stories, Sofia and her family arrive in Boston following her detention at Ellis Island. There is much to explore, and many mysteries to solve. How much should Mama charge for the tortellini she is making? Where is her little brother's pocket money coming from? And will she ever hear from her beloved friend Maureen again? Filled with adventure, humor, and many surprises, readers will find themselves cheering Sofia on as her Italian family adapts to their new life in Boston.

My Chinatown

By: Kam Mak
Age Level: 6-9

It's a New Year in Chinatown, but one little boy from Hong Kong wonders, "How can it ever be a good year thousands of miles from home?" As he moves through the seasons, however, New York finally begins to feel like home. Told in verse, these poems capture the challenges of adapting to a new life from a child's point of view. Vivid paintings with a photograph-like quality bring the poems to life.

My Mom

"She's nice, my mom." Through a child's words, we meet a mom who can sing like an angel and roar like a lion while taking care of her family in so many different ways. She is indeed a Supermom! Young readers will recognize some of their favorite things about their mothers in the imaginative illustrations of this simple, loving tribute.

My Name Is Maria Isabel

Illustrated by: K. Dyble Thompson
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: For María Isabel Salazar López, the hardest thing about being the new girl in school is that the teacher doesn't call her by her real name. "We already have two Marías in this class," says her teacher. "Why don't we call you Mary instead?" But María Isabel has been named for her Papá's mother and for Chabela, her beloved Puerto Rican grandmother. Can she find a way to make her teacher see that if she loses her name, she's lost the most important part of herself?

Owl Babies

When they find their mother gone from the nest, three owlets worry that their mother won't return, but of course she does. Stunning illustrations combine with repeating text for a reassuring story.

Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born

Recommended by Latrice – I love this book because it beautifully tells the story of adoption in a way that tells adopted children that: you were chosen and special; you were a part of this family from the beginning; and your birth parents are wonderful people who loved you enough to allow you to become a part of our family. Spanish version also available.

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 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 Trip Back Home

Illustrated by: Bo Jia
Age Level: 3-6

Based on the author's experience, a child visits the village in Korea where her mother lived before immigrating to America. The simplicity of the text provides rich details of everyday life in the small Korean village, enhanced by realistic illustrations.

The Ugly Vegetables

By: Grace Lin
Age Level: 6-9

In a neighborhood of flower gardens, a Chinese-American girl and her mother plant what the child considers to be ugly vegetables. The ugly vegetables, however, become attractive and help build community when made into a delicious soup! A recipe is included.

Together in Pinecone Patch

Age Level: 6-9

"Not long ago, the people of Ireland and the people of Poland knew very little of each other." So begins a tale of young Keara Buckley and Stefan Pazik, who are brought together in a small mining town in Pennsylvania. Both the Irish and Polish families insist that each child have nothing to do with each other, but as time goes on, the two young people realize they have quite a bit in common. Yezerski conveys both hardship and hope through his detailed text and illustrations.

When This World Was New

Danilito is excited about coming to America, but he is also scared — it is so different and cold, and he doesn't speak any English. Then he experiences his first snowfall. After feeling the snowflakes on his cheek and leaving footprints in the snow, he begins to feel a little more confident in this new country. Warm illustrations bring an immigrant family's journey, and their first snowfall, to life. Spanish version available.

Xochitl and the Flowers

Illustrated by: Carl Angel
Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: Though Xochitl and her family have put down new roots in the United States, Xochitl still misses the garden and flower shop they left behind in El Salvador. But when Xochitl's family decides to start a nursery and sell their flowers on the street, the sense of community they find makes them feel connected to their neighbors, and their decision to start a nursery and flower shop in their backyard helps the Flores family finally feels at home in its adopted country.