Immigrant and Refugee Narratives from 2016

By Lauren Freedman

This week, I will be sharing four new books from 2016. These four books speak to the most current issues facing us if we want to continue to be a welcoming nation in 2017 and beyond: refugee safety, immigration, undocumented Americans. The first two books are picture books that tell refugee stories. One provides a general sense of the refugee experience, the other is about a specific refugee family from Syria. The third book, also a picture book, is a compilation of United States’ immigrant stories told in sparse, lyrical text accompanied by many moving photographs of individuals and families from many different countries around the world. The fourth book is an academic text for adults that shares and discusses the experiences of undocumented teens living in America.


The Journey written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna (2016)
While the book is narrated by one young refugee, it is actually a collage of stories the author heard in refugee camps over the course of several years. The story begins with the young narrator happily living her life until the war takes her father and she, along with her mother and siblings, must flee. She says, “We don’t want to leave but our mother tells us it will be a great adventure. We put everything we have in suitcases and say goodbye to everyone we know.” They then travel a long, long distance via many means of transportation through many dangerous situations. The illustrations deepen the emotions surrounding the longing for the life that was as well as the hardships and dangers that comprise most of “The Journey.” The book is endorsed by Amnesty International as “…it reminds us that we all have the right to a safe place to live.” Additional resources to be used with this story as well as other refugee/immigrant stories can be found at

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs with artwork by Nizar Ali Badr (2016)
As the Foreword to the book explains, the story began with the author contacting the artist who is Syrian because she was so moved by his detailed and stunning illustrations done exclusively with stones he collects on the beach. She then contacted the founder and president of Orca Book Publishers who put her in touch with a Syrian refugee family that was being sponsored by a group he and his wife belonged to. The story is told in a poetic format in both English and Arabic. The poetry and stone artwork are both magnificent, but knowing this is a true story makes the power of it even more beautiful. Part of the proceeds from the book will be donated to resettlement organizations. For more information visit,

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, Illustrated by Wing Young Huie (2016)
This stories of the 21st Century refugees/immigrants presented in this book are told primarily with the photographs, but the lyrical text provides a framework for vicariously living their experiences. The photos vary in composition, some in black and white, some in color, some portraits, some action shots, some of individuals, some of families and other groups. In the back of the book, both the author and the illustrator share their “arrival stories.” The author also shares how the book came to be.

Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America by Roberto G. Gonzales with a foreword by Jose Antonio Vargas (2016)
While academic in nature, this book is a must-read for any adult wanting to understand and support the many young undocumented people living in their own towns and cities. It is a well-researched, documented and written non-fiction work based on twelve years of listening to and observing these young men and women.

“Their stories describe personal experiences of belonging and exclusion under contemporary US immigration system. Sitting on factory benches, living room couches, and folding chairs in community centers across the five county Los Angeles metropolitan area, I listened to personal narratives of belonging and exclusion and how these conflicting experiences often changed over time. Despite painful experiences of exclusion in their own lives, many of my respondents maintained faith in the American dream. And despite vitriolic public discourse and government practices designed to keep them at the margins, these young people found or fashioned ways to engage in the social and political life of their communities” (p. 7).

Roberto Gonzales writes the book in a way that enables the reader to feel as if they are listening to the respondents themselves and creates in the reader both empathy and immense respect for these young people.

Additional Resources:

Here is a video that gives an overview of the crisis in a very clear and concise terms.

Welcoming Refugees notes on their website: “Across the U.S., refugees and other immigrants are strengthening American communities. These individuals represent the very resilience that defines us as Americans, and our common desire to make a better life ourselves and our families. Our communities are enriched by the new businesses that refugee entrepreneurs are opening, and by the global perspectives and cultural vitality that newcomers add to schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Through a cooperative agreement with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Welcoming America helps organizations and communities across the United States to prepare their communities for successful resettlement over the long term by fostering greater understanding and support for refugees.” 

This interfaith organization stands with American Muslims to uphold American values. “Amidst a Wave of Anti-Muslim Sentiment, Faith Leaders Call for Solidarity & Action.”

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