Tag Archives: migrants

Picture Books that Explore the Refugee and Migrant Experience in the Americas for World Refugee Day 2018

In honor of #WorldRefugeeDay2018 and in solidarity with the “20 people [who] leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror” every minute (according to the United Nations), I’m posting this list of several Picture Books that I’ve reviewed in the past few years that illuminate the plight of those who flee their homes to seek refuge and that give voice to children separated from their parents due to immigration issues.

The refugee crisis is global, and several empathy-building Picture Books explore the refugee experience. This list focuses primarily on the Americas, however, as the events on the US border are uppermost today on my mind, and, I believe, on the minds of many parents, teachers and children trying to make sense of a senseless situation. Note: all links are to my reviews, which include resources to explore and discuss these issues further.

Please share in the comments other picture books that you’re reading about the refugee and migrant experience.

9780525428091_p0_v1_s192x300Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

Written By: Edwidge Danticat

Illustrated By: Leslie Staub

Publisher/date: Penguin Young Readers Group/2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Opening: “When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice.”

Brief Synopsis: When Mama is arrested and held in a women’s correctional facility because she lacks the correct immigration papers, young Saya misses her terribly. Mama records stories from her native Haiti for Saya while Papa writes letters to politicians and the media without success. Saya also writes a story that Papa sends to the local media, and that leads, ultimately, to the resolution of the problem.

9781554988501_1024x1024Somos como las nubes, We Are Like the Clouds
Written By:
 Jorge Argueta

Pictures ByAlfonso Ruano

Translated By: Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-12

Opening:

Somos como las nubes

Elefantes, caballos, vaca, cuches,/ flores,/ballenas,/ pericos.

Somos como las nubes.

We Are Like the Clouds

Elephants, horses, cows, pigs,/ flowers,/ whales,/ parakeets.

We are like the clouds.

Brief Synopsis:

In this bilingual (Spanish and English) poetry collection, Argueta explores the hopes and fears that cause young people to leave Central America, the perils of the journey, and the arrival to the United States.

 

9781419709579_p0_v1_s192x300Migrant

Written By: José Manuel Mateo

Illustrated ByJavier Martínez Pedro

Translated By: Emmy Smith Ready

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/ 2014 (Mexican edition: Ediciones Tecolote/2011)

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Opening:

I used to play among the roosters and the pigs. The animals roamed free, because in the village there were no pens, nor walls between the houses. On one side of the village were the mountains; on the other side, the sea.

Brief SynopsisIn this bilingual (Spanish and English) picture book, a young boy recounts his journey with his mother and sister from a small village in Mexico to Los Angeles, after the men of the village, including his father, are forced to move to find work.

 

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Opening:

One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.

Brief Synopsis:

When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.

 

9780888999757_p0_v1_s118x184Migrant

Written By: Maxine Trottier

Illustrated ByIsabelle Arsenault

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2011

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes/Topics: Mennonites, Canada, Mexico, farming, migrant

Opening:

            There are times when Anna feels like a bird. It is the birds, after all, that fly north in the spring and south every fall, chasing the sun, following the warmth.

            Her family is a flock of geese eating its way there and back again.

Brief SynopsisMigrant is the story of Anna and her family, Mennonite farmers, who journey each summer to Canada to supplement their income by harvesting produce.

 

9780888995858_1024x1024Alfredito Flies Home

Written By: Jorge Argueta

Illustrated ByLuis Garay

Translated By:Elisa Amado

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books (House of Anansi Press)/2007

Suitable for Ages:4-9

Opening:

My name is Alfredo, just like my father, but everyone calls me Alfredito. I am as happy as a bird today because I’m going back home. Finally, after four whole years in San Francisco, my mother, Adela, my father, my grandmother Serve and I are going to climb on a plane tomorrow and fly back to El Salvador.

Brief Synopsis:

A young boy and his family who fled their home in El Salvador journey back to visit relatives and friends.

 

9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300Two White Rabbits

Written By: Jairo Buitrago

Illustrated By: Rafael Yockteng

Publisher/date: Groundwood Books, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-7 (per the publisher)

Opening:

When we travel, I count what I see. Five cows, four hens and one chucho, as my dad calls them.

Brief Synopsis: Like the two white rabbits of the title, a young girl and her father journey together trying to find a way to, and across, a border.

 

9781554518951_p0_v3_s192x300Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Written By: Mary Beth Leatherdale

Illustrated ByEleanor Shakespeare

Publisher/date: Annick Press Ltd/2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Opening:

At last, Ruth was free. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked up the gangplank of the SS St. Louis. After trying to get out of Germany for two years, her family had finally secured passage on a ship headed to Havana, Cuba.

Brief SynopsisStormy Seas is a collection of five true stories about young people who fled their homelands by boat from World War II until today.

 

PPBF – Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

It’s the last Perfect Picture Book Friday of April. I considered sharing a picture book of Poetry or about Jazz music/musicians, as both are celebrated in April. But given that funding for the Wall has been in the news so much this week, I just couldn’t resist sharing today’s Perfect Picture Book:

9781419705830_p0_v2_s192x300Title: Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale

Written & Illustrated By: Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher/date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Mexico, migrants, folk tale, journeys, coyotes, rabbits

Opening:

One spring the rains did not come and the crops could not grow. So Papá Rabbit, Señor Ram, and other animals from the rancho set out north to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields. There they could earn money for their families.

Brief Synopsis:

When Pancho Rabbit’s father is delayed on his return from the north, Pancho sets out to find him, “helped” by a coyote who befriends and guides him, until the food runs out.

Links to Resources:

  • Duncan Tonatiuh wrote a fascinating post about Pancho Rabbit & the plight of undocumented migrants;
  • As is indicated in the Author’s Note, the term coyote has two meanings in Spanish: it is the name of an animal, and it is slang for someone who smuggles people across the Mexican-US border. Interestingly, it is the name of the same animal in English. Try to think of words that are the same, or similar, in Spanish and English. For some examples, check here;
  • A Glossary defines other Spanish terms used in the story;
  • Pancho Rabbit packs his father’s favorite meal as he sets out to find him. What would you pack for your father, mother, sibling or friend? Is it similar to the meal of mole, rice, beans, tortillas and aguamiel packed by Pancho? If not, how does it differ?

Why I Like this Book: Although Tonatiuh wrote and illustrated Pancho Rabbit several years ago, it is, sadly, still such a timely topic. Migration, and the need to migrate, are difficult subjects to understand for kids and adults alike, as Tonatiuh comments in the Author’s Note. To make it more accessible to children, he sets the story as a modern-day fable, combines scenes every child can relate to, including a Welcome Home party, complete with Papá’s favorite foods, special decorations and musicians, peoples the story with animal protagonists, and illustrates it in his distinctive, colorful style that draws on the Mixtec Codex. This is a multi-layered picture book, perfect for home & classroom reading and discussion.

A Note about Craft:

I mentioned above that Tonatiuh includes “kid-relatable” occurrences in the fable of Pancho Rabbit and peoples the story with animal protagonists to render a difficult topic more easily understood. But where did the story come from? What can aspiring picture book writers trying to write about difficult subjects learn from this text? Note that Pancho packs a meal, loads it into a back-pack, the modern-day equivalent of a basket, and sets off on a journey to deliver the food to Papá. Sound familiar? I am indebted to Gordon West’s insight about Pancho as Little Red that appeared in an interview with Tonatiuh in Kirkus Reviews.

Pancho Rabbit was honored as:

  • Pura Belpré Author and Illustrator Honor book 2014;
  • New York Public Library’s annual Children’s Books list: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2013;
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2013;
  • Best Multicultural Children’s Books 2013 (Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature);
  • Notable Children’s Books from ALSC 2014;
  • Notable Books for a Global Society Book Award 2014.

For a companion read about migrants that also includes rabbits, see Two White Rabbits.

9781554987412_p0_v1_s192x300

You also may enjoy Diego Rivera: His World and Ours, Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011), about the famous Mexican muralist. Diego’s work, sadly, was rejected for Rockefeller Center in the 1930s for political reasons (not a focus of Tonatiuh’s book; for information about the Rockefeller Center mural, see this 2014 NPR article).9780810997318_s2

 

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Journey

Over the river and through the woods…

‘Tis the season for journeys – whether fighting cross-town traffic to bag bargains, purchase perfect presents, or track down tasty treats, or joining the millions of Americans journeying by plane, train or automobile to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. It’s also, sadly, a season when migrants, those fleeing violence and/or lack of employment, continue to risk their lives and undertake perilous journeys in hopes of a better life.

This is such a difficult subject for young children and even adults, but I believe we must try to understand it, to picture ourselves in the story, to discuss it with children, which is why I’ve chosen today’s Perfect Picture Book.

9781909263994_p0_v1_s192x300Title: The Journey

Written & Illustrated By: Francesca Sanna

Publisher/date: Flying Eye Book (Nobrow Ltd)/2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-7 and older

Themes/Topics: refugees, migrants, journey, birds

Opening: “I live with my family in a city close to the sea. Every summer we used to spend many weekends at the beach. But we never go there anymore, because last year, our lives changed forever…”

Brief Synopsis: An unnamed narrator and her family flee from a warn-torn region.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International and UNHCR;
  • Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring on a journey;
  • Discuss journeys you and your family have undertaken;
  • Learn about animal migration.

Why I Like this Book:

The refugee crisis is such a difficult subject, but one that is, sadly, so timely. With a fairy-tale, storybook quality, particularly in the graphic, fantastical illustrations, this “collage” of refugee stories will, hopefully, enable adults to discuss the refugee experience with children and build empathy for those who have made journeys like the one described in The Journey. Spoiler alert: It also ends on a note of hope, of a new story in a new land for the child narrator and her family.

A Note about Craft:

In this debut picture book by author/illustrator Francesca Sanna, she has chosen to not name the Main Character, the place from which the family flees, or the place to which they journey, thus providing an Everyman-type of story. She also weaves references to books, stories, and storytelling throughout the text and illustrations, bolstering a theme that the journey described is just one of many journeys being undertaken. In an Author’s Note, Ms. Sanna shares that the story is a collage of stories learned by interviewing refugees.

Ms. Sanna tells much of the story in illustrations only. Her use of light and darkness and her inclusion of birds and sea creatures that undertake long journeys, as well as scary forest creatures during the border-crossing scenes, act as metaphors of the journeying family and provide a way to help adults discuss the story with children. By ending the story with a reference to, and an illustration of, migrating birds, Ms. Sanna leaves us with an image of safe nests and a sense of hope.

The Journey received starred reviews in Kirkus ReviewsPublishers Weekly, and the School Library Journal. The New York Times Book Review also highlighted The Journey in an article about explaining the refugee crisis to children. To that list, I’d also add Two White Rabbits, which also uses animals as a metaphor for the migrating narrator.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!