Exploring the Latinx Immigration Experience through Children’s Literature

By Maria Leija, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

There are many children’s books that are now available to discuss immigration. Discussing immigration sheds light on the emotional and physical hardships that documented and undocumented immigrants face as they immigrate to another country and/or live in their new country. The impact of immigration status on teachers’ as well as students’ and their families’ lives continues to be important for understanding the need for changes in schools. For example, societal views on immigration affects families’ home life and children’s schooling experiences. Because immigration policies and practices affect the health, academic performance, and school attendance of undocumented students or students living in mixed-status families; teachers, administrators, and school communities are not exempt from dealing with the repercussions of immigration policies. The American Federation of Teachers encourages teachers to discuss immigration issues as a way to create a safe learning environment and so that students identify educators as allies who can provide important information.

The quality authentic children’s literature listed below explores the multiple reasons Latinx people immigrate, various examples of the process of moving from one country to another, and some of the barriers and challenges that people must overcome when living in their new country.

Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales
Publisher: Neal Porter Books
Grade Range: Preschool-3
Description: As immigrants, a mother and her infant travel to the United States and face many challenges. Eventually, they find a library where they are nurtured by books and share their dreams of resilience and hope for the future.

Friends from the Other Side/Amigos del otro lado, by Gloria Anzaldúa
Publisher: Children’s Book Press
Grade Range: 2-4
Description: Prietita becomes friends with Joaquín, a recent immigrant from Mexico. Prietita defends Joaquín one day when he is getting bullied by the local boys. One day while playing, they overhear that the migra is coming. Prietita and Joaquín go get his mother and they all go to the herb woman’s home, where Joaquín and his mother can hide from the patrol officers.

From North to South / Del Norte al Sur, by René Colato Laínez
Publisher: Children’s Book Press
Grade Range: 2-4
Description: José’s, who lives in California, mother is deported to Tijuana, Mexico for not being able to provide U.S. documentation at work one day. José visits his mother at the Centro Madre Asunto; where she, other adults, and children face similar struggles. Throughout the story, José shares the emotional toll that deportation has had on him as a young child and his family.

La Frontera: El Viaje con Papá/My Journey with Papa, by Deborah Mills & Alfredo Alva
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Grade Range: K-4
Description: Alfredo, a young undocumented child, shares the journey he and his father take through the guidance of a coyote (human smuggler). Alfredo shares the obstacles crossing the border and living in the U.S. Eventually, he and his father becomes citizens.

My Diary from Here to There/ Mi diario de aquí hasta allá, by Amada Irma Pérez
Publisher: Children’s Book Press
Grade Range: K-5
Description: One night Amada overhears her mother and father talking about moving from Juárez, Mexico to Los Angeles, California. Since her father will be the first to immigrate to the U.S.; Amada, her mom, and siblings have to live with relatives until they have their legal documents to join her father in the U.S. Amada writes about the challenges and emotional toll she experiences as she leaves her home and friends before joining her father.

My Shoes and I, by René Colato Laínez
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
Grade Range: K-4
Description: Mario, who lives in El Salvador, received new shoes from his mother in the U.S. Mario shares the journey he, his dad, and his new shoes take as they cross three borders to get to the U.S.

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote, by Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher: Abrahms Books for Young Readers
Grade Range: K-3
Description: Pancho Rabbit goes on a journey to find Papá Rabbit, While on this journey, he meets Señor Coyote, who promises to help find his dad and asks Pancho Rabbit for food to help strengthen his body. When Pancho Rabbit no longer has food to offer Señor Coyote, Señor Coyote tries to eat him but is saved by Papá Rabbit and his friends.

Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight, by Duncan Tonatiuh
Publisher: Abraham’s Books
Grade Range: 6-8
Description: Juan, an undocumented immigrant, narrates his experience of being exploited as a worker. A coworker and Juan seek legal action against their boss and eventually win the case.

Waiting for Papá/ Esperando a Papá, by René Colato Laínez
Publisher: Arte Público Press
Grade Range: K-3
Description: Beto and his mother were able to immigrate to the U.S. because of a war in El Salvador, but his father stays behind. Three years later, a radio host visits Beto’s class and reads the story Beto wrote about his dad. The radio host invites him to the radio station to read his letter on the air. When Beto reads his letter, an immigration lawyer takes interest in Beto’s situation and offers his family help. Beto’s dad later joins them in the U.S.

Xochitl and the Flowers/ Xóchitl, la Niña de las Flores, by Jorge Argueta
Publisher: Children’s Book Press
Grade Range: K-3
Description: Xochitl and her parents recently immigrated from El Salvador and are living with her uncle while they adjust to life in the U.S. Xochitl’s family begins to sell flowers on the streets of San Francisco and one Saturday her father shares that he has leased an apartment with a yard that can be converted into a nursery. When they clean the yard and prepare for the grand opening of their nursery, the landlord interrupts to let them know that he will report them to the authorities. The neighbors, who have become friends with Xochitl’s family, talk the landlord into allowing them to keep the nursery.

If you have other children’s books about immigration to recommend, please mention them in the comments! Check out last weeks

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