Immigration and border-crossing has long been a subject of literature for both children and adults. I went looking for new titles and rounded up a group of favorites about kids who cross borders. Refreshingly these are all by own voices authors. I’ve included a few spoilers that I thought might be relevant to parents and educators.
Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros is an absolutely uplifting and heart-wrenching story of a young Latino boy whose mother is swept up in an immigration raid and deported leaving him and his dad to care for twin 6 year olds. Challenging. There is also a friendship story laced with all the usual MG drama plus Efren’s developing sense of responsibility to take leadership. The story is peppered with lots of words in Spanish, conveniently translated in a glossary in the back, but quite accessible to anyone who hears Spanish spoken regularly. *spoiler* this is one of those rare books with a satisfying but sad ending. The family is not reunited in the end. Your most tender-hearted readers may struggle with this. (Harper, March 2020)
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine takes us back more than 400 years to the era when the King and Queen of Spain expelled the Jews and engaged in many acts of cruelty including forced conversion. In this story Paloma makes an epic journey crossing political and cultural borders along the way….The author has based this story, in part, on her own family history. (Harper May 2020)
Catherine’s War by Julia Billet and illustrated by Claire Fauvel, translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger This graphic novel follows the travels of an orphaned Jewish girl in WWII France who travels constantly from one place of sanctuary to the next finding comfort in the courage of the French Resisters and in the art of photography. I’m always on the lookout for translated work this was originally a novel published in French by l’ècole des loisirs. (Harper Alley Jan 2020)
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park does much to both honor and interrogate the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In it a Chinese American girl crosses over from the urban west coast where most Chinese immigrants of the 1880s lived to a fictional stand-in for DeSmet SD where the last 4 Little House books were set. She faces down the prejudices of her town while attempting to finish her education and open a dress shop with her father. (Clarion March, 2020)
These books were published in 2018 and 2019
Orange for the Sunsets by Tina Athaide is a debut historical fiction about the changes that Edi Amin brought to Uganda in the 1970. An African boy and Indian girl find their friendship severed when Indians are forced to leave Uganda. Though the events of this era are nearly 50 years old, I think readers will find they resonate deeply with more current experiences. Sometimes it is easier to have a conversation about difficult issues when the story is set at a bit of a remove from the lived experience of students in a classroom. (Katherine Tegan Books, 2019)
Gürero, poems of a border kid by David Bowels Is a lively collection of poems about a child whose life both literally and spiritually crosses the US-Mexico border. The power of this book far out strips its size and it is an excellent choice for a classroom read together. If you are not familiar with Cinco Punto Press, they are an independent press in El Paso, TX publishing many books on the border and all it means for people on both sides. They have bilingual Spanish/English books and like many small and regional publishers they are brave and diverse in their offerings. (Cinco Punto Press, 2018)
Last of the Name by Rosanne Parry is the story of a brother and sister immigrating to New York during the American civil war. Orphaned in their crossing, Danny and Kathleen have to scramble to avoid the dreaded orphanage and equally lethal Civli War. Danny dresses as a girl to take a position as a domestic servant with his sister in the home of wealthy Protestants. Fortunately Danny’s love for the music and dance of his home country leads him and his sister to a better home and family.Their story intersects with the Civil War Draft Riots a piece of Civil War history woefully overlooked in the curriculum and an event which does much to illuminate our current state of race relations. (Carolrhoda, 2019)
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga just won a Newbery honor. It was my honor to be in conversation with Jasmine at the Portland Book Festival last year and I couldn’t be more thrilled for her. In her gorgeous novel in verse, a Syrian refugee Jude and her mother come to Cincinnati to live with relatives. Jude struggles to find her way in middle school and her American cousin comes to terms with her own struggles as an American-born Syrian feeling disconnected with both her cultures of origin. (Balzer & Bray, 2019)
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.