Best 47 Books About Immigrants and Immigration for All Ages

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Books can transform, transport and inspire. Whether you’re a teacher trying to expand your classroom library, a parent looking to introduce their child to diverse perspectives or an adult who just wants a rich, interesting novel to read, you are bound to find something on this list that’s for you.

We’ve curated this list of books that are good reads and represent many facets of the immigrant experience, with an emphasis on books by authors who are immigrants themselves. We’ve also divided our selections by age groups, into picture books, elementary and middle grade books, young adult books and books for adults 

If you’re more interested in finding a TV show, film or documentary, check out our collection of recommendations hereWe hope you find something transformational, transporting or inspirational below! 

Picture Books:

A Different Pond

by Bao Phi and Thi Bui

Prose | Fiction

Caldecott-winning A Different Pond follows a Vietnamese father and son who go fishing for a day. It’s a simple, relatable premise that the author uses to explore cultural differences and connections within the family. The author emphasizes the affirming connection between father and son while still gently acknowledging the challenges both face.

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel

by Dan Yaccarino

Prose | Fiction

All the Way to America follows a simple shovel as it’s passed down through many generations of an Italian American family. Each generation finds a new use for the tool, tracing the evolution of their immigration journey. The book is a wholesome embrace of a family tradition. 

Dreamers

by Yuyi Morales

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Dreamers is a great story for reluctant readers. The book beautifully depicts how Morales and her son see a world of opportunities appear for them when they find a library near their new home. The story is told from the mother’s perspective but is still accessible to a child.

The Keeping Quilt

by Patricia Polacco

Prose | Fiction

Beloved children’s book author Patricia Polacco tells her own family’s immigration story in this picture book. After immigrating to the United States, Great Grandma Anna turns her dress and babushka into a quilt in order to hold onto her heritage. The quilt gets passed down through the generations to the author, who discovers and shares the heirloom’s story. 

Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story

by Reem Faruqi and Lea Lyon

Prose | Fiction

Faruqi based this book on her own childhood experiences navigating Ramadan as a new immigrant to the United States from India. Lailah is fasting for Ramadan for the first time, but she doesn’t know how to explain it to her friends or avoid food in the cafeteria. She learns that adults can be more helpful and peers can be more accepting than Lailah expects.

The Little Black Fish

by Samad Behrangi

Prose | Fiction

This picture book has the distinction of being banned for more than 20 years in Iran for its pro-immigration messages. It’s also one of the few translated picture books to achieve widespread recognition. Told through allegory, The Little Black Fish follows a fish who dares to literally swim against the current to explore a wider world. 

Mango, Abuela, and Me

by Meg Medina and Angela Dominguez

Prose | Fiction

This story flips the usual angle on the immigrant language barrier, exploring the perspective of a child who already speaks English and wants to reach out to someone who doesn’t. Mia wants to talk to her recently immigrated abuela (Spanish for grandmother), but her abuela is still learning English.

My Diary from Here to There/Mi diario de aqui hasta alla

by Amada Irma Perez and Maya Christina Gonzalez

Prose | Fiction

Perez uses a diary as a framing device, following a child who shares the hopes and fears of her journey to the United States. My Diary from Here to There/Mi diario de aqui hasta alla is bilingual, making it a strong choice for empowering Spanish-speaking students and widening the viewpoints of students who only speak English. 

My Name Is Sangoel

by Karen Lynn Williams, Khadra Mohammed and Catherine Stock

Prose | Fiction

My Name Is Sangoel follows a Sudanese war refugee child as he adapts to a new life in the United States. Young Sangoel is proud of his name but struggles to get his classmates to pronounce it correctly. The story can gently introduce children to the concept of refugees while steering clear of any heavy, explicit discussions of violence or conflict.

Name Jar

by Yangsook Choi

Prose | Fiction

In this sweet book by a Korean immigrant, a Korean child wrestles with her “foreign” name in a United States classroom. Her well-meaning classmates encourage her to pick a new name, prompting a journey toward self-acceptance and embracing her culture.

Two White Rabbits

by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng

Prose | Fiction

Two White Rabbits follows a father and daughter making a perilous journey to the United States. It offers a child’s eye view of the difficult events, softening the subject matter. More advanced readers may pick up on symbolism in the things the daughter spots on her journey.

Elementary and Middle Grade Books:

90 Miles to Havana

by Enrique Flores-Galbis

Prose | Fiction

Flores-Galbis highlights a little-known chapter of immigration history in 90 Miles to Havana. Cuban-born Julian is sent to the United States by his parents as part of the “Operation Pedro Pan” that brought thousands of unaccompanied Cuban minors to the United States.

Esperanza Rising

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Prose | Fiction

Ryan touches on migrant labor, the Great Depression and the Mexican Repatriation Act without ever making this story too challenging for young readers. Esperanza and her family are forced to flee Mexico after her father is murdered and she has to learn how to start over as a farm laborer in California.

Front Desk

by Kelly Yang

Prose | Fiction

Many immigrant children may be able to relate to the story of Mia Tang, who helps with her immigrant family’s business after school. In addition to minding the front desk at the family motel, Mia dreams of being a writer and worries about the undocumented immigrants her parents hide in the motel rooms. This book earned the 2018 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature. For a book about immigration for teens, check out Yang’s YA novel Parachutes in our Young Adult section below. 

Grandfather’s Journey

by Allen Say

Prose | Fiction

This Caldecott-winning book tells the true story of the author’s grandfather. Grandfather’s Journey bucks convention by giving its main character, a Japanese immigrant, wanderlust and a yearning to return to Japan. This story could introduce children to a more complicated immigrant narrative.

Inside Out & Back Again

by Thanhha Lai

Poetry | Fiction

Lai fictionalizes her own childhood as a Vietnamese immigrant to the southern United States to create this novel in free verse. Her poignant depiction of a Vietnamese girl growing up in the South won her a Newbery Honor and National Book Award.

My Chinatown

by Kam Mak

Poetry | Fiction

Mak wrote and illustrated this collection of poetry, based on his own childhood spent in Chinatown. This book is a great option for introducing elementary school kids to both poetry and the immigrant experience.

My Family Divided

by Diane Guerrero

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Diane Guerrero, best known for her roles on Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, turned her successful acting career into a platform to speak about immigration reform. She draws on her own experience as the daughter of two undocumented immigrants who were deported when Guerrero was just 14 years old. My Family Divided is a child-friendly version of her memoir, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided (see Books for Adults, below).

One Good Thing About America

by Ruth Freeman

Prose | Fiction

The story is structured by nine-year-old Anaïs’ letters to her grandmother about “one good thing” she discovers about her new home in the United States. Many American customs and expressions become fresh and funny through her eyes. Freeman balances Anaïs’s longing for her old country with her growing excitement about her new community.

The Orphan of Ellis Island: A Time Travel Adventure

by Elvira Woodruff

Prose | Fiction

Woodruff takes the idea of transporting her readers into another world seriously. The story centers on a contemporary U.S.-born child who is magically sent back in time to join a group of boys travelling through Ellis Island. This book works as a good introduction to early 20th century European migration.

Sea Prayer

by Khaled Hosseini

Prose | Fiction

Hosseini is best known for his books on the Afghani and Afghan American experience for adults (see The Kite Runner in the Books for Adults section), but he was inspired to write an illustrated book that would be accessible to children after the tragic drowning of Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi in 2015. The story is written as a letter from a father to a son, focused on their shared hopes for the future.

When Stars Are Scattered

by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Jamieson tells Mohamed’s story of caring for his little brother in a Somali refugee camp with vivid, colorful illustrations. Telling the story visually could help young people imagine themselves in Mohamed’s shoes.

Young Adult Books:

American Street

by Ibi Zoboi

Prose | Fiction

In American Street, Fabiola has to adapt to life in the United States alone after her mother is deported to their country of origin, Haiti. Her solitude compounds the struggles of being a new immigrant and a teenager. American Street highlights immigrant resilience.

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card

by Sara Saedi

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Discovering their lack of documentation in their teens is a depressingly common and devastating experience for undocumented young people. Saedi shares how this struggle played out in her tight-knit family of Iranian refugees.

Denied, Detained, Deported: The Dark Side of American Immigration

by Ann Bausum

Prose | Nonfiction

For teens who are interested in learning the history of immigration, this sweeping nonfiction exploration of immigration to the U.S. could be a great entry point. Bausum uses illustrations to enliven the subject matter. 

The Good Braider

by Terry Farish

Poetry | Fiction

Farish uses free voice poetry to tell the story of Viola, the teen daughter of a family of Sudanese refugees. Her close-knit community of Sudanese Americans in the United States is both supportive and stifling, a conflict that many young people, both foreign-born and U.S.-born, might relate to.

Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Changed a Town

by Warren St. John

Prose | Nonfiction

This is a great option for young adults interested in a nonfiction immigration narrative. Clarkston, Georgia, made headlines for resettling a large number of refugees from all over the world, some of whom formed a soccer team called the Fugees. Outcasts United follows them and their coach as they adapt to their new lives.

Parachutes

by Kelly Yang

Prose | Fiction

Claire Wang is a “parachute” kid, a teenager sent from China to the United States to stay with a host family and gain an American education. Parachutes follows her and her new host-sister as they manage cross-cultural conflict alongside the normal turmoil of a high school year. The story also deals with sexual violence and harassment, so it might be more suitable for older and more mature readers. For a book by Yang for children, see Front Desk in our Elementary and Middle Grade Books section above. 

Persepolis

by Marjane Satrapi

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

While it grapples with complicated themes of sexuality and life under an oppressive regime, the graphic novel format makes this memoir a short, accessible read. Satrapi recounts her adolescence in turbulent Iran and the eventual freedoms and challenges of reaching the United States. The novel was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film, which you can learn more about in our blog post What to Watch: 32 Films, TV Series and Documentaries Featuring Immigrants.

The Sun is Also a Star

by Nicola Yoon

Prose | Fiction

New York Times-bestselling author Nicola Yoon writes the story of Natasha Kingsley, who meets a boy and starts to fall in love with him a day before she’s scheduled to be deported to Jamaica. The book follows the two teens over a single, meaningful day. To learn more about the movie adaptation, check out our list of films and TV shows about immigration.

This Land is Our Land

by Linda Barrett Osborne

Prose | Nonfiction

Osborne organizes her history of immigration to the United States into waves of immigrants, making it an excellent resource for highlighting parallels in the immigrant experience through time. Using illustrations and language accessible to younger readers, she gives an excellent broad perspective on the topic through its 2016 publication date.

We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults

by Susan Kuklin

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Anonymous young writers share their stories of being undocumented. The collection includes people from a variety of countries, including Korea, Colombia and Ghana. These stories can reflect the experiences of undocumented teens or build empathy in citizen and authorized immigrant teens alike.

Welcome to the New World

by Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan

Prose | Nonfiction

Jake Halpern met the Aldabaan family after they fled Syria and came to the United States as refugees. He visited and interviewed the family for years, chronicling their refugee story in a New York Times comics series in collaboration with illustrator Michael Sloan, which they later expanded into the book Welcome to the New World. The ILC has created a free curriculum based on the novel for Social Studies and English teachers of grades seven through 11. Explore it here.

Books for Adults:

Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child

by Elva Treviño Hart

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Hart recounts her childhood as a migrant farmworker. She includes form-breaking elements, featuring poetry and a newspaper article alongside a more conventional memoir narrative.

Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa

by Rigoberto González

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

González recounts a childhood spent as a migrant worker slowly awakening to the realization that he’s gay. He wrestles with a culture of machismo that’s hostile to his gayness and an American culture that’s hostile to his race. His wrenching and ultimately encouraging memoir earned the American Book Award.

Call Me American

By Abdi Nor Iftin

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Iftin recounts growing up obsessed with American pop culture and life from afar in Somalia. He didn’t get his chance to come to the United States until extremists forced him to flee his homeland and apply for a visa to immigrate. His love and his fears for both his country of origin and his newfound home are shared beautifully in this book. His story was first documented in an episode of the popular radio show This American Life.

Exit West

by Mohsin Hamid

Prose | Fiction

Exit West explores immigration through a magical realism lens, following a young refugee couple from an unnamed country as they wander the globe in search of a safe place to call home. Their ability to use special doors to magically traverse continents gives this story a complex, unusual dimension. Hamid won the first-ever Aspen Words Literary Prize for his lyrical work.

How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents

by Jimmy O. Yang

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Yang brings a light, funny touch to his story of breaking free of his parents’ expectations to pursue a career in stand-up. Both the highs of his comedy success and the lows of his citizenship struggles offer a unique spin on a classic “making it big” Hollywood story.

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided

by Diane Guerrero

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Diane Guerrero, best known for her roles on Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, has achieved fame and success as an actor, but this memoir chronicles her difficult, pre-fame adolescence. When she was just 14 years old, she came home to discover that her parents had been detained and would be deported. Guerrero, a U.S.-born citizen, was left to fend for herself.

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

Prose | Fiction

This classic novel follows four Chinese women who have immigrated to the United States and explores the effects their journeys have on them and their children. The story explores many dimensions of the Asian American and female migrant experience. The popular film adaptation made our list of 32 Films, TV Series and Documentaries Featuring Immigrants.

The Kite Runner

by Khaled Hosseini

Prose | Fiction

The book opens with the adventures of two Afghan boys who face sharply diverging paths, one immigrating to the United States while the other is left behind. Hosseini, himself an Afghan American, explores the effects of immigration on relationships and families as he follows the two boys into adulthood. 

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger

by Matthew Yglesias

Prose | Nonfiction

Yglesias tackles immigration from the unusual angle of how it could benefit U.S.-born people. He argues that dramatically increasing the U.S. population via immigration could spur innovation and economic prosperity for everyone. It’s a provocative argument that could help start discussions.

Pachinko

by Min Jin Lee

Prose | Fiction

Lee became a National Book Award finalist for her sprawling depiction of several generations of a Korean family that moves to Japan. The family struggles with the loss of their homeland and cultural estrangement. This book is a great exploration of an immigration narrative that doesn’t center the United States.

The Refugees

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Prose | Fiction

If you enjoy short stories, The Refugees is a good choice. Pulitzer-winning writer Viet Thanh Nguyen’s collection uses short narratives set in both Vietnam and the United States to explore the many facets of Vietnamese American migration.

The Son of Good Fortune

by Lysley Tenorio

Prose | Fiction

Our colleagues at the Institute for Immigration Research have partnered with the literary arts not-for-profit Fall for the Book to create the New American Voices award for immigrant authors of immigration stories. Tenorio, their 2020 awardee, writes beautifully about an undocumented Filipino family at a crossroads.

Unaccompanied

by Javier Zamora

Poetry | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Zamora uses poetry to share his extraordinary story of traveling 4,000 miles by himself at the age of nine to reunite with his parents in the United States. This story is especially resonant while unaccompanied minors routinely make the news.

The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You

by Dina Nayeri

Prose | Nonfiction | Autobiography

Nayeri wrote her memoir to challenge U.S.-born readers’ ideas of what refugees should believe or say. Her story of fleeing Iran for Oklahoma with her family as a child complicates conventional narratives about asylum-seekers and how the United States receives them.

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