Ingram Blog

Children's Books on the Immigration Experience

by Jill Andreasen and Wendy Rancier, Collection Development Librarians
It’s clear that authors, artists, and creators in the children’s publishing world feel a responsibility, an urgency, to raise a level of empathy and awareness in the newest generation around many issues our country is facing. In 2018, many are highlighting the plight of refugees and immigrants including those fleeing war, persecution, or poverty.

All of these narratives are important to our national conversation, but we wanted to share reviews of two picture books that especially moved us. Wendy chose to share her thoughts on La Frontera: El Viaje con Papa ~ My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills, Alva Alfredo, and illustrated by Claudia Navarro.

La Frontera, or “The Border,” is the setting for this moving bilingual tale based on Alfredo Alva’s journey from Mexico to Texas in the 1980s. Alfredo and his dad leave the only land they have known in hopes of finding a better life and future for their family. A difficult journey lies ahead for Alfredo as the coyote they paid to guide them swindles him and his dad, and they are then left to make their own way. Fire ants, rough terrain, fear, and exhaustion are gently handled in La Frontera, as Navarro’s expressive illustrations and use of deeply saturated colors highlight Mills’s and Alva’s recounting of the grueling journey.

Once in Texas, Alfredo’s experience is one that most immigrant and refugee children will relate to: having to learn a new language, and learning to fit in and make friends when everything is different and you feel alone. My heart swelled when Alfredo was reunited with his family years later; it brought hope and closure to a difficult journey. Back matter on the life of Alfredo Alva and further immigration information is discussed at the end of the story. There are a lot of jumping-off points for discussion at the end of this story, and even for young children, good lessons about kindness toward the new kid in class.

This moving yet gentle story of a harrowing experience is accessible for all children who are new to this country, or for all of us who need to better understand what many families sacrifice to journey here.

Nicola Davies’s and Rebecca Cobb’s The Day War Came, forthcoming from Candlewick this fall, is the title Jill wants to share. In it, the unnamed first-person narrator is an elementary-aged girl, perhaps six or seven, whose day starts with love and comfort with her family and school before tragedy and unimaginable loss comes by lunchtime.

What follows is a narrative told in both spare text and childlike, accessible illustrations done in colored pencil and watercolor of a terrible journey from the crater her home has become, across land and water amongst strangers to a refugee camp. She wanders the town close to the camp, seeing people turn away from her.

Finally, she happens upon a school, knocks, and is turned away by the teacher saying there is no room for her, no chair to sit upon. She thinks the war has followed her here, too. Despairing, she goes back to camp, hides under a blanket until a schoolchild knocks on her door to bring her a chair.

 

As the author’s note states, for Davies, the book started as a poem in response to several stories she read in the news about countries like the U.S. and the U.K. restricting the number of refugees they would accept despite their dire circumstances. At the same time, she heard a story “about a refugee child being refused entry to a school because there wasn’t a chair for her to sit on.” She ends with an expression of hope that her book will move people to kindness and acceptance of those in need; we share that optimism.

We also hope these titles will assist in making a powerful display, helping to open a dialogue in your community about the challenges and responsibilities we face as a people.

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