Miriam’s Top Ten Immigration Book Recommendations
October 22, 2013

Summer reading time is over, and school is back in full-swing. Thankfully, the Tenement Museum’s Director of Education, Miriam Bader, is taking to the blog to share a list of great reads for teachers. Her list of the 10 Best Immigration Books for students of all ages is below.

The Aguilar Branch of the New York Public Library on the Lower East Side, 1898. Photo courtesy of the NYPL.

Stories are powerful.  Whether we hear them at museums, in schools, or at bedtime, stories are central to our meaning making. In fact, it is actually a story that brought me to my work at the Tenement Museum. I can still picture my first grade teacher Mrs. Factor leaning on her heavy black desk reading aloud Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family, a book about five young sisters living on New York’s Lower East Side in the early 1900’s. I was riveted by the girls’ adventures and transported from our suburban Cleveland classroom to the bustling streets and tenement life of a century past – the very same streets that house the Tenement Museum today. Over the years, new literature has joined All of the Kind Family on my immigration book list. Below are my ten favorite books to teach immigration.

Immigrants at Ellis Island, 1900's.

All linked titles are available at the Tenement Museum bookstore!

1. All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Recommended Grade Level:  Elementary
Explore the lives of the All-of-a-Kind Family–Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie– who live with their parents in New York City at the turn of the century. Follow their adventures around the Lower East Side as you learn about immigrant family life through this classic children’s series.

2. The Arrival  by Shaun Tan
Recommended Grade Level:  All
In this unique wordless graphic novel, Shaun Tan captures the immigrant experience through clear, mesmerizing images. The reader enters a strange new world, participating in the main character’s isolation  – and ultimately his joy.

3. Beautiful Yetta: A Yiddish Chicken With Chutzpah by Daniel Pinkwater; Illustrated by Jill Pinkwater
Recommend Grade Level: Lower Elementary
Yetta, a Yiddish speaking chicken, manages to escape from the butcher’s shop and finds her way to the bustling streets of Brooklyn. This lively story follows Yetta as she tries to navigate her way through the city’s unfamiliar languages and animals. Hear the story read aloud on NPR. 

 

Orchard Street in 1898. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

4. Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone; Illustrated by Ted Lewin
Recommended Grade Level: Lower Elementary
Peppe becomes a lamplighter to help support his immigrant family in turn-of-the-century New York City, despite his papa’s disapproval. But when Peppe’s job helps save his little sister, he earns the respect of his entire family.

5. My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits; Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Recommended Grade Level: Lower Elementary
Yoon, a young Korean girl now living in the United States, struggles to adjust to her new life in America. Yoon, which means “Shining Wisdom” in Korean, tries out different names and identities like “cat”, “bird”, and “cupcake” as a way to feel more comfortable in her new school and new country.

6. Same Sun Here by Silas House
Recommended Grade Level: Middle School
Meena and River have a lot in common: fathers forced to work away from home to make ends meet, grandmothers who mean the world to them, and faithful dogs. But Meena is an Indian immigrant girl living in New York City’s Chinatown, while River is a Kentucky coal miner’s son. This unlikely pair become pen pals, sharing thoughts and, as their camaraderie deepens, discovering common ground in their disparate experiences.

African immigrants at Ellis Island, 1900.

7. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Recommended Grade Level: Middle School
This dynamic comic book tells the story of three characters all struggling to fit in. Jin Wang is the only Chinese-American student in his new school, Danny’s Chinese cousin Chin-Kee, who is ruining his reputation as the all-American boy, and the Monkey King, straight from the Chinese fables.  Their lives intersect and come together in this action-packed tale.

8. Out of the Shadow: A Russian Jewish Girlhood on the Lower East Side by Rose Cohen
Recommended Grade Level: High School
In this autobiography, Rose Cohen looks back on her family’s journey from Tsarist Russia to New York City’s Lower East Side. Her account of their struggles and of her own coming of age in a complex new world vividly illustrates what was, for some, the American experience. First published in 1918, Cohen’s narrative conveys a powerful sense of the aspirations and frustrations of an immigrant Jewish family in an alien culture.

 

Chinese schoolchildren, 1910.

9. What is the What by Dave Eggers
Recommended Grade Level: High School
What Is the What is the epic novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng who, along with thousands of other children —the so-called Lost Boys—was forced to leave his village in Sudan at the age of seven and trek hundreds of miles by foot, pursued by militias, government bombers, and wild animals, crossing the deserts of three countries to find freedom.

10. Interperter of Maladies by Jumpa Lahiri
Recommended Grade Level: High School
Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations.

Have a suggestion that you think belongs on the list? Please share your ideas on our Facebook wall or email Miriam Bader at mbader@tenement.org so that we can compile an even greater list for our teacher book section.

– Posted by Miriam Bader