The best middle grade books on immigration highlight the challenges of moving to a different country. these often include dealing with feeling like an outsider and struggling to find one’s place in a new home, culture, and sometimes amid anxiety caused by parental deportation or other immigration crises. This list has been on my mind for a while, and I was tossing and turning about whether or not it was worth doing since I already have a list of books on moving (which includes moving house, moving to a new city, or moving to a New country). Consider this list of intermediate books on immigration as one that includes books on moving and the immigrant experience.
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best high school books on immigration
Drita My Homegirl
Drita, age ten, and her family flee war-torn Kosovo and move to the United States with dreams of living a typical American life. but with this hope comes the struggle to adapt and fit in. How can drita find his place at school and in his new neighborhood when he doesn’t speak English? Meanwhile, Maxie and her group of fourth-grade friends are popular in their class and make an effort to ignore Drita. So when Ella’s teacher rounds up Maxie and Drita for a class project, things get off to a rocky start. But sometimes, when you least expect it, friendships can blossom and bridge even a huge cultural divide.
esperanza thought she would always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in mexico. she would always have elegant dresses, a beautiful house full of servants, and mom, dad, and granny to take care of her. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. Esperanza is not ready for the hard work, financial struggles brought on by the Great Depression, or lack of acceptance that she now faces. When Mom gets sick and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot her new life, Esperanza must find a way to overcome her difficult circumstances, because Mom’s life and her own depend on it.
a place to belong
World War II is over, but even though the United States won the war, twelve-year-old Hanako feels lost. to her, the world, and her world, seems irrevocably broken. The United States, the only home she has ever known, imprisoned and then rejected her and her family, and thousands of other innocent Americans, because of her Japanese heritage, because Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. , hawaii.japan, the country they were forced to move to, the country they hope will be the savior of the family, where they were supposed to start a new and better life, is in ruins because the united states dropped its own bombs, a in hiroshima like no other in history. and hanako’s grandparents live in a small town on the outskirts of the devastated city. The country is starving, black markets are rampant, and countless orphans beg for food on the streets, but how can Hanako help them when there isn’t even enough food for her? Her own brother of hers? Hanako feels like she might crack under the pressure, but just because something is broken doesn’t mean she can’t be fixed. cracks can make room for gold, her grandfather explains when she tells him about the tradition of kintsukuroi: fixing broken objects with gold lacquer, making them stronger and more beautiful than ever. As she struggles to adjust to find her place in a new world, Hanako will discover that gold can come in many forms, and family can be hers.
backwards and backwards
hà has only known saigon: the excitement of its markets, the joy of its traditions and the warmth of its close friends. but now the vietnam war has come to his house. hà and his family are forced to flee when saigon falls and they board a ship that is heading towards hope, towards america.
This heartwarming story of a girl’s year of change, dreams, pain, and healing received four outstanding reviews, including one from kirkus, who proclaimed it “illuminating, moving, and unexpectedly funny.”
an author’s note explains how and why thanhha lai translated his personal experiences into the story of hà. This updated digital edition also includes an interview with the author, an activity he can do with his family, tips for writing poetry, and discussion questions.
kira-kira (kee’ ra kee’ ra): bright; bright
bright. this is how katie takeshima’s sister lynn makes it all look like. the sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but transparent at the same time. the sea is kira-kira for the same reason. and so are people’s eyes. when katie and her family move from a japanese community in iowa to the deep south of georgia, it’s lynn who explains to her why people stop them on the street to watch. And it’s Lynn who, with her special way of seeing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill and the whole family begins to fall apart, it’s up to Katie to find a way to remind everyone that there’s always something bright, Kira-Kira, in the future.
Luminous in its persistence of love and hope, Kira-Kira is Cynthia Kadohata’s stunning debut in middle grade fiction.
lowji discovers america
American is not so different from what we thought. I told you I wouldn’t see a single cowboy riding across the plain, and I haven’t.
I haven’t even seen a plain.
There are still some positives. they are:
- hunter and king, the cat and the dog that live in the apartment building. they are tender and undulating. however, I can’t play with them because they are supposed to catch mice and keep thieves away.
- ironman. he has a pig and he talks to me a lot. but he is an adult.
- children. I can hear them playing outside. Too bad they don’t want to play with me.
I wish you were here.
Would you like to be in India?
write me soon.
your friend, lowji
when the stars disperse
omar and his younger brother hassan have spent most of their lives in dadaab, a refugee camp in kenya. life is hard there: there’s never enough food, it’s painfully boring, and you don’t have access to the medical care that omar knows his non-verbal brother needs. So when Omar gets the chance to go to school, he knows it could be a chance to change his future. . . but it would also mean leaving his brother, the only relative he has left, every day.
Anguish, hope and gentle humor coexist in this graphic novel about a childhood spent waiting and a young man who is able to create a sense of family and home in the most difficult scenarios. It’s an intimate, important and unforgettable look at the everyday life of a refugee, as told by Omar Mohamed, the Somali man who lived the story, to New York Times bestselling author and artist Victoria Jamieson.
Efren Nava’s mom is his superwoman or superwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes that his mother usually prepares. Both Mom and Dad work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure that Efren and Ella’s younger brothers Max and mine feel safe and loved.
but efrén worries about his parents; Although he was born in the United States, his parents are undocumented. Her worst nightmare comes true one day when she loves not coming back from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, Mexico.
Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner superboy to help care for and try to reunite his family.
A glossary of Spanish words is included at the end of the book.
other words for home
jude never thought she would leave her beloved older brother and father behind, across the ocean in syria. But when things in his hometown start to get volatile, Jude and his mom are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.
At first, everything in the US seems too fast and too noisy. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her to start school in the United States, and her new “Middle Eastern” label, an identity she’s never known before.
But this life also brings unexpected surprises: there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical Jude could be in. maybe America is also a place where jude can be seen for who he really is.
it’s not that horrible, falafel
zomorod (cindy) yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block. . . for the fourth time. California’s Newport Beach is the last perch in his family, and she’s determined to shed his smart, reclusive personality and start over with a new name for the Brady group: Cindy. We are in the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes harder as Iran makes headlines with protests, revolution, and eventually the taking of American hostages. Even puka shell necklaces, pool parties, and flying fish can’t distract Cindy from the anti-Iran feelings that come too close to home. a poignant yet light-hearted middle-grade debut from the author of the best-selling Farsi-language comic.
something good about america
At home, nine-year-old Anaïs was the best English student in her class, but here in crazy America, she feels like she knows no English at all. nothing makes sense (chicken wings?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa.
anaïs misses home. she misses her little house under the mango trees, and the family she left behind: dad and grandmother oma and older brother olivier. she worries about the fight that led to her, her mom and little jean-claude leaving.
so he writes letters to oma and tells her about halloween, snow, macaroni and cheese dinners and princess sleepovers. she tells him all about the weird things crazy Americans do and how she might be becoming a crazy American herself.
Inspired by the author’s work with English learners, this sweet and often funny middle grade novel explores the differences and commonalities between cultures. Against a growing climate of fear and doubt, this story of a refugee girl navigating her new life restores hope and reminds us that America is, in fact, a nation of immigrants where we must accept our differences in order to survive. and that’s a very good thing.
kiki and jacques
Life could be better for twelve-year-old Jacques. His mother just died, his father is out of work, and his grandmother’s bridal shop is about to close. he at least he can look forward to football season; after all, he is a sure candidate for captain. But the arrival of Somali refugees shakes almost everything in his Franco-American city of Maine, even soccer.
jacques is no longer the only star: mohamed is as good as him, maybe better. school, church, sports. . . everything suddenly seems different. So Jacques is surprised to discover that he befriends Kiki, a smart, kind, and determined Somali Muslim girl with a mysterious scar.
can kids as different as jacques and kiki be friends? kiki and jacques offers a realistic and moving portrait of a town that learns to accept its changing face.
the land of the forgotten girls
soledad has always known how to escape the stories she creates. just like her mother always could. and loneliness has needed that escape more than ever in the five years since her mother and her sister died, and her father moved with sol and her younger sister from the philippines to louisiana. after her father leaves, all they have sun and ming is her evil stepmother, see. Sol has protected Ming all this time, but then Ming begins to believe that Aunt Jove, her mythical world-traveling aunt, will really come to their rescue. can sol protect ming from this impossible hope?
Acclaimed, award-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly masterfully writes about the challenges of finding hope in impossible circumstances, in this novel that will appeal to fans of Cynthia Kadohata and Thanhha Lai.
90 miles to Havana
90 Miles to Havana is a 2011 Pura Belpré Book of Honor for Narrative and a 2011 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year.
When julian’s parents make the heartbreaking decision to send him and his two brothers from cuba to miami via operation pedro pan, the kids are thrust into a new world where thugs run rampant and not always is clear what is the best way to protect yourself. .
Josef is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world. . .
Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and riots raging in her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America. . .
mahmoud is a syrian boy in 2015. with his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family embark on a long journey to europe. . .
The three children undertake harrowing journeys in search of refuge. everyone will face unimaginable dangers, from drowning to bombing and betrayal. but there is always hope for tomorrow. And though Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, shocking connections will tie their stories together in the end.
This action-packed novel tackles themes both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the search for home.
gaby, lost and found
Looking for: An amazing forever home for an amazing 6th grader. “My name is Gaby and I’m looking for a home where I can invite my best friend over and have a hot breakfast a few times a week. Having the newest cell phone or fancy clothes isn’t important, but I’d like to have a cat with him.” that I can talk when I’m home alone.”
gaby ramirez howard loves volunteering at the local animal shelter. she plays with the kittens, helps train the dogs in obedience, and writes adoption ads so that the strays who live there can find their forever homes: places where they will be loved and cared for, no matter what. Gaby has been feeling a little off lately. her mother has recently been deported to honduras and gaby is stuck living with her inattentive father. she’s sure her mom will be home soon so they can adopt gaby’s favorite shelter cat together. However, when the cat’s original owners show up at the shelter, Gaby worries that her plans for the perfect family are about to fall apart.
the boy at the back of the class
there used to be an empty chair in the back of mrs. khan, but on the third Tuesday of the school year it is filled by a new kid: nine-year-old ahmet, a Syrian refugee.
The whole class is curious about this new kid: he doesn’t seem to smile and doesn’t talk much. But after learning that Ahmet fled a very real war and got separated from his family along the way, a determined group of his classmates come together to come up with the biggest idea in the world: a grand plan to reunite Ahmet with your loved ones.
This accessible, kid-friendly story of the refugee crisis highlights the transformative potential of community as an ally and reminds readers that everyone deserves a place to call home.
summer of silver meadows
Eleven-year-old Carolina’s summer and life as she knows it are turned upside down when papi loses his job, and she and her family must move from Puerto Rico to her aunt Cuca’s house and his uncle porter in upstate new york. Now, Carolina must attend camp at Silver Meadows, where her bossy older cousin, Gabriela, rules the social scene.
Just when Carolina is worried about having to spend the entire summer in Gabriela’s shadow, she befriends Jennifer, a fellow artist. Carolina gets another pleasant surprise when she stumbles upon a long-abandoned farmhouse in the woods near camp and immediately sees its potential as a creative haven for making art. There, with Jennifer, Carolina begins to recapture the parts of life she loved in Puerto Rico and forgets how she has changed her relationship with Mommy and how distant Daddy has become.
But when the future of Silver Meadows and the Country House is in jeopardy, Carolina and, to everyone’s surprise, Gabriela devise a plan to save them. will it work?
cake in the sky
When jingwen moves to a new country, she feels like she’s landed on mars. school is torture, making friends is impossible because he doesn’t speak English, and he often gets stuck taking care of his (extremely annoying) little brother yanghao.
To distract herself from loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu for Pie in the Sky, the bakery her father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. the only problem is that his mother has established an important rule: brothers should not use the oven while she is at work. As jingwen and yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to come up with elaborate excuses to keep the cake a secret from mom.
In her hilarious and heartwarming high school debut, Remy Lai delivers a delightful mix of vibrant graphic art and flawless writing that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham’s true friends, Kelly Yang and Jerry’s Reception. craft. new guy.
the only way
12-year-old jaime makes the treacherous, life-changing journey from his home in guatemala to live with his older brother in the united states in this “powerful and timely” middle grade novel (list of books, review featured).
jaime is sitting on his bed drawing when he hears a scream. Instantly, he knows: Miguel, his cousin and best friend, is dead. Everyone in the small Guatemalan town of Jaime knows someone who has been murdered by the Alfas, a powerful gang known for violence and drug trafficking. Anyone who refuses to work for them is injured or killed, like Miguel. Without Miguel, Jaime fears he will be next. There is only one option: accompanied by his cousin Ángela, Jaime must run away from home to live with his older brother in New Mexico. Inspired by true events, the only path is the individual story of a boy who feels that he has to leave his home and risk it. everything is your only chance for a better life. the story is “told with heartbreaking sincerity,” he praised the book list, and will “bring readers face to face with the harsh realities immigrants go through in hopes of finding a better and safer life, and probably It will make them reflect on what it means to be human.”
after crossing mexico into the united states, jaime rivera thinks the worst is over. starting a new school can’t be that bad. except that it is, and not just because she can barely speak English. While Ella’s cousin Ángela de Ella adjusts quickly, with new friends and after-school activities, Jaime struggles with even the idea of calling this strange place “home”. her real home is with her parents, grandmother and the rest of the family; not here where cacti and cattle outnumber people, where he can no longer be himself: a boy from guatemala. When bad news arrives from his parents at home, feelings of impotence and guilt corrode Jaime. gang violence in guatemala means he can’t return home, but he’s not sure he wants to stay either. America is not the great place everyone said it would be, especially if you are undocumented, undocumented, like Jaime. when things look bleak, hope comes from unexpected places: a quiet kid on the bus, a music teacher, an old ranch hand. With his sketchbook always close at hand, Jaime uses his drawings to show what it means to be a true citizen. Powerful and moving, this heartwarming sequel to The Only Way explores overcoming nostalgia, finding ways to connect across the language barrier, and discovering what it means to start over in a new place that alternates between wonderful and downright unwelcoming.
mia tang has many secrets.
Number 1: You live in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the reception of the Calivista motel and attends to her guests.
number 2: their parents hide immigrants. and if the wicked motel owner, mr. yao find out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the tangs are doomed.
number 3: she wants to be a writer. but how can she do it when her mother thinks she should stick to math because english is not her first language?
It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will he be able to keep his job, help immigrants and guests, escape from mr. yao, and go for your dreams?
the way home from santiago
The coins in Santiago’s hand are for the bus fare back to his abusive grandmother’s house. except that he refuses to return; he will not be missed. His future is uncertain until he meets kind, motherly Maria Dolores and his young daughter, Joy, who help Santiago decide what’s next: he’ll accompany them to the other side, the United States of America. they embark with little, only backpacks with water and a little food. Traveling together will require trust from all parties, and Santiago is used to doing it alone. None of the three travelers realize that the trip through Mexico to the border is only the beginning of their story.
In the summer of 2001, twelve-year-old Fadi’s parents make the difficult decision to leave Afghanistan illegally and move the family to the United States. When her subway transport arrives at the rendezvous point, chaos ensues and Fadi is left dragging her younger sister, Mariam, through the crowd. but mariam accidentally lets go of her hand and is lost in the crowd, just as fadi is snatched from the truck. With Taliban soldiers closing in, the truck speeds away, leaving Mariam behind.
Adjusting to life in the United States is not easy for Fadi’s family, and as the events of 9/11 unfold, the prospects of locating Mariam in war-torn Afghanistan seem slim. when a grand prize photo contest is announced on a trip to india, fadi sees an opportunity for her to return to afghanistan and find her sister. But can a photo really bring Mariam home? based in part on ms. Senzai’s husband’s own experience fleeing her home in Soviet-controlled Afghanistan in the 1970s, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love and perseverance.
My Divided Family: A Girl’s Journey to Home, Loss and Hope
before landing a spot on netflix’s mega hit show, orange is the new black; Before wowing audiences as Lina in Jane the Virgin; And before her incredible activism and work on immigration reform, Diane Guerrero was a young woman living in Boston. One day, while Guerrera was at school, her undocumented immigrant parents were taken from her home, detained, and deported. The life of a warrior, which had been filled with the support of a loving family, was turned upside down.
Reflecting the experiences of millions of undocumented immigrant families in the United States, the story of a warrior in my divided family, written with Erica Moroz, is both heartbreaking and hopeful.
land of the cranes
nine-year-old Betita knows she’s a crane. Papi has told him her story, even before her family fled to Los Angeles to seek refuge from the cartel wars in Mexico. the aztecs came from a place called aztlan, what is now southwestern us, called the land of the cranes. They left Aztlan to establish their great city at the center of the universe – Tenochtitlan, present-day Mexico City. it was prophesied that his people would one day return to live among the cranes in their promised land. Papi tells Betita that they are cranes that have come home.
then, one day, betita’s beloved father is arrested by the immigration customs police (ice) and deported to mexico. Betita and her pregnant mother are left alone, but soon they too are detained and must learn to survive in a family detention camp outside Los Angeles. even in cruel and inhumane conditions, betita finds heart in her own poetry and in the community she and her mother find in the camp. The voices of her fellow asylum seekers fly above the hate that keeps them caged, but each day she threatens to bring them down lower than they ever thought they could be. Will Betita and her family be whole again?
Twelve-year-old Manuel leaves his small town in Mexico to join his older brother in Los Angeles. To cross the US border, he must become a “beast rider,” someone who gets on a train. the first time he tries it he is stopped by the Mexican police, who arrest and beat him. when he tries again, he is attacked by a Mexican gang and left for dead. Just when Manuel is ready to back down, he finds new hope. the villagers clothe and feed him, help him find work, and eventually push him back onto the train. when he finally makes it to Los Angeles and is reunited with his brother, he is elated. but the longer he is there, the more he realizes that something is not right. Thrilling and moving, Beast Rider is a coming-of-age story that reveals how a place and its people help define you.
Ahmed, fourteen, is trapped in a city that wants nothing to do with him. Newly arrived in Brussels, Belgium, Ahmed fled a life of uncertainty and suffering in Aleppo, Syria, only to lose his father on the perilous journey to the shores of Europe. Ahmed is now struggling to fend for himself, but with no one to trust and nowhere to go, he is beginning to lose hope.
Then she meets Max, a thirteen-year-old American boy from Washington, D.C. Lonely and homesick, Max is struggling at his new school and he just can’t seem to do anything right. But with a shocking discovery, Max and Ahmed’s lives collide and a friendship begins to grow. Together, Max and Ahmed will defy the odds, learning from each other what it means to be brave and how hope can change your destiny.
Set against the backdrop of the Syrian refugee crisis, award-winning Jepp author who defied the stars, Katherine Marsh, delivers a gripping and moving story of resilience, friendship, and everyday heroes. Barbara O’Connor, author of Wish and Wonderland, says “Move Nowhere Boy to the top of your book stack for immediate reading.”
the night diary
It’s 1947 and India, newly independent from British rule, has split into two countries: Pakistan and India. the division has created a lot of tension between Hindus and Muslims, with hundreds of thousands dying crossing borders.
Twelve-year-old half-Muslim, half-Hindu
nisha no longer knows where she belongs or what her country is. when dad decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now pakistan, nisha and her family become refugees, embarking first by train and then on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland as well. But even if her country has been shattered, Nisha still believes in the possibility of rebuilding.
Told through Nisha’s letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a moving story of a girl’s search for a home, her own identity…and a hopeful future.
almost american girl
For as long as he can remember, it’s been Robin and his mother against the world. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea wasn’t always easy, but it has brought them together fiercely.
then, when a vacation to visit friends in huntsville, alabama unexpectedly turns into a permanent move, following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married, robin is devastated.
Overnight, his life changes. she is taken to a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. she is completely isolated from her friends in seoul and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily and, worst of all, she’s furious with the person closest to her: her mother.
Then one day, Robin’s mom enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, opening the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.
This four-star-reviewed nonfiction graphic novel is a great choice for teens and fast-paced tweens alike, both for independent reading and for units on immigration, memoir, and the search for identity.
there they are: 30 of the best middle grade books on immigration! I’ve read a few on this list and love them. the others I have included based on recommendations from trusted librarians and other reviewers. I hope you find some good selections for your children. If you’re interested in that list of middle grade books on moving houses, cities, and countries, here it is.
Have you read any of these books? which ones would you recommend? What other high school immigration books did I miss?
more book lists for high school students
- 67 middle grade historical fiction books
- 58 great middle grade books by black authors
- 20 middle grade books with biracial protagonists
- best middle grade books with muslim protagonists
- 33 short middle grade books (all less than 250 pages!)