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Immigrants Belong Here: Books Helping Kids Advocate For Human Rights
[Image: Illustration from ‘Carmela Full of Wishes’ by Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson. A blue papel de picado features a Latinx girl reuniting with her father. Text on the page reads: “Imagining her dad getting his papers fixed so he could finally be home.”]
In this post: Age-appropriate children’s books that dismantle bias against immigrants and refugees, help you talk with your kids about family separation, and empower kids to advocate for immigrant rights.
CONTENT WARNING: Family separation, child kidnapping, imprisonment, neglect, abuse, and death.
From Despair To Action: Helping Kids Advocate For Immigrant Rights
What’s happening to kids at the US/Mexico border is overwhelmingly horrific. How can parents and teachers help kids who are suffering in cages while our hands are already so full?
If you’re immobilized with despair – know there are things we can do to help children being neglected, abused, and killed at under the US government’s inhumane Zero-Tolerance Policy.
Starting seems kind of…daunting. But I got you! We’ll start with three simple action steps to educate our kids (and ourselves), which makes every action from here surprisingly easy.
Seriously though – you can handle this.
The books in this collection help us start age-appropriate discussions with our kids about forced family separation and the challenges immigrants and refugees face.
Don’t look away. We need to raise human beings who are sensitive to – and advocate for – other human beings.
Decolonizing Childhood Coalition Joint Statement Condemning Imprisonment And Abuse of Immigrant Children
Raising Luminaries & Books For Littles have come together, along with a collective of child-centered organizations dedicated to race-conscious parenting, to form the Decolonizing Childhood Coalition (DCC). We are parents, caregivers, artists, authors, and educators.
We stand in solidarity with immigrant families and call on our communities to act. We condemn immoral US immigration policies, which have set off a humanitarian crisis and caused catastrophic harm to families crossing the US-Mexico border.
We are outraged by the mounting, evidence-based reports of inhumane treatment of families being traumatized after risking everything to cross the border — held in freezing temperatures; lights on 24 hours a day; no adequate access to medical care, water, or food; forced to sleep on concrete floors in dangerously overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Children separated from their families for weeks, months, or forever.
Parents who say they hear their children cry at night in their dreams. Children forced to care for other children.
Like many Trump administration policies, these actions are designed to demonize, target, and destroy communities of color.
In the face of these horrific, deadly policies, we cannot look away. We must act.
There are steps each one of us can take RIGHT NOW to raise our voices in protest and respond to critical needs of immigrant families. We tell kids the truth about systems of injustice, and help to bring about a more just and free world by activating young people as forces for change.
Click here to read the full joint statement from the DCC [Google doc] and learn more about our fellow coalition organizations.
Step 1: 3-Minute Action:
We’re calling on our members (that’s you, my friend) to join us in our first Coalition action – collaborating with Immigrant Families Together (IFT) in rescuing and reuniting immigrant families.
If you can afford the cost of a small pizza, please join us for this one. If you can’t – no hard feelings, skip to step 2.
IMPORTANT: Help us track our progress leave a comment when you donate mentioning Books For Littles on the IFT funding page, and/or comment at the end of this post.
In honor of the seven children killed in internment camps so far click here now to make a tax-deductible $7 donation to Immigrant Families Together –
Because if you do nothing – there will be an eighth.
Then come back here and share this collection with a friend in despair who is wondering where to start.
Update: As of July 13, 2019, our members have contributed over $1500 to help reunite families!
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Teach kids that inclusion is patriotic
America is not inclusive – but it can be. We have to create a vision for our kids of what our country could be like if we stopped whitewashing the past, stopped demanding immigrants assimilate, and started working towards inclusion.
- The Wall In The Middle Of The Book provokes kids to recognize ‘the other’ as ‘us.’ The main character is a jingoistic bigot, building a wall to keep out creatures they have unfounded fears about. My kids enjoyed the twist.
- Three Balls of Wool counters the narrative that assimilation and blending into the dominant culture is what good immigrants do. Instead – existing citizens can learn from immigrants, and new residents can find acceptance.
- Her Right Foot shows the beauty of what we aspire to be as a country. The foundations of our government that could make this such a great place, if we’re willing to work toward it.
You might also like: Kids Books Dismantling The First Thanksgiving Myth
Teach kids why people need to leave home
We teach the Little Earthquakes that there are many different reasons people uproot themselves and move to another country. Our ancestors came here reluctantly – as refugees from the Great Hunger in Ireland, from famine in China, from violent racial conflict in Malaysia.
If you are settlers here – do your kids know why you and their ancestors came here? Do they have an answer for bigots who tell immigrants to just go back where they came from? The following books focus on immigrants and refugees who are displaced against their will. We’ll focus on voluntary immigrants in the next section.
These will eat at your soul if you don’t come up for air. Pick 1-2 books to read over the course of a month before going back for more.
- The Cat Who Lived With Anne Frank – Religious & ethnic persecution
- The Journey – Violent conflict / terrorism / war. Click here for Amnesty UK’s guide to discussing this book.
- Pancho Rabbit And The Coyote – Climate change / drought-based famine / closed borders against cyclical migration. Click here for the Américas Educator’s Guide lesson plan & activities for this book.
- La Frontera Climate change / drought-based famine / closed borders against circular migration.
- Lubna And The Pebble – This vague and gentle to handle fragile readers. It’s okay for an introductory book to start, but not helpful for kids already versed in the concept of a refugee. Unspecified, fleeing either a natural or man-made disaster that killed or separated a girl and her father from the rest of their family. It’s a nicer, less problematic version of the popular Four Feet, Two Sandals.
- Adrift At Sea – Violent conflict
- The Garden of Peace – Religious persecution (Transparency: Saffron Press sent me a free copy of this for our Maker Spotlight on Saffron Press)
- A Place To Grow – Violence, poverty, exploitation, gently depicted in background images and described in gardening metaphors.
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Teach Kids that immigrants are regular people
Most of the books in this post are bummers. So we need to make sure we’re not painting a singular, two-dimensional narrative of what it means to be an immigrant in North America. Not all immigrants are fleeing home – some of them are seeking something exciting and new.
The following books show kids that immigrants and refugees are just regular kids. The following books add dimension. They are defined by more than just their status as immigrants.
I’d love to find more stories that focus on immigrants as valuable neighbors and friends, without having to contribute a positive net gain to the GDP and other reductive nonsense.
- Joseph’s Big Ride – Joseph’s status as a refugee isn’t erased – but it doesn’t define his entire existence. This is my 7-year-old’s most favoritest book, and the one he finds the most validating at this age. It’s the only book featuring a refugee that makes my kids belly-laugh.
- Tia Isa Wants A Car – A Latinx aunt and niece team up to earn enough money to buy a car – and to reunite their family. My 6.5yo pointed out how impractical it is that a kid could earn enough to save up for a car, and the book really did make it feel a little too easy, but okay, sure.
- Dreamers – Yuyi Morales didn’t intend to be a permanent citizen here – she got stuck here because of the nonsense regulations that ended healthy circular migration and couldn’t go back to her beloved Mexico. This story centers her experience coming to a new country, in honor of immigrants such as DACA recipients – young people who were brought here as children. #OwnVoices
- From Far Away – Saoussan Askar is an #OwnVoices child author who wrote about her experience getting used to a new life after facing traumatic experiences in her first country.
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Teach kids that undocumented immigrants live under anxiety and risk of exploitation
We teach the Little Earthquakes to recognize their privilege and understand that many people face hardships and challenges they don’t. One of the things we just don’t have to think of is the constant anxiety and fear that comes with living as an undocumented resident in the US.
With our birth-citizenship, we can get drivers licenses, jobs, and housing without fear of being suddenly separated from our families and deported. We don’t face the discrimination, stigma, and risk of exploitation that undocumented families face every day.
- Hannah Is My Name centers on a young girl whose family faces housing and employment discrimination, must work without documentation, and face the scary anxiety that comes from our complicated and stressful greencard system.
- Undocumented focuses on worker exploitation and fighting for labor rights. It’s for slightly older readers, but touches on racial bias, systemic discrimination from enforcement agents, and how business-owners often prey on immigrants.
- La Frontera – I include this book twice because it is GREAT. So many books tell this story of the risks and dangers of crossing the US border, but this is by far our favorite, particularly for younger kids. The first half focuses on why they have to leave home, and the risks of migrating. But the second half is where we want to focus on now – how this family has to take extra precautions and live with the risk of being suddenly deported over their heads every single day.
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Teach kids that children are being unnecessarily separated from their families
We use these books to touch on the scary reality that undocumented parents are separated from their children and detained or deported – leaving a wake of destruction for the children left behind. Since the topic of being separated from parents is scary enough, none of these books delve into the inhumane conditions and life-threatening experiences that parents face once detailed and deported.
There are no books yet about children being detained and imprisoned because HOLY CRAP WHO WOULD DO THAT. So I guess that’s a book we need to add to this list as soon as it’s written. Fuck.
The following books help kids empathize with (or find validation in) the experience of children whose parents have been forcefully separated due to the insipid and dangerous policies that hinge a human’s right to freedom on some ludicrous set of documents.
- Carmela Full of Wishes – Carmela’s story is about way more than her wish for her father’s papers to come through so he can come home. But it’s a poignant part of the story, as she thinks of all the things she wishes could come true.
- Mango Moon – A young girl wrestles with missing her father, who has been abruptly seized and imprisoned for not having documentation. In a logical cascading series of events, her mother is forced to support the family on her own, they lose their home, and the future of her family is left unsure.
- Mama’s Nightingale – A young girl misses her mother, an undocumented immigrant from Haiti detained at the border. This one is a little more surreal and my kids found it harder to engage with the story, but it alludes to more of what the detained parent is going through (gently.) Click here for the ADL’s reading guide for this book.
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Teach kids to be accomplices advocating for human rights
It takes courage to be an accomplice. Sticking your neck out to help people in peril can put you and the people you love at risk.
But there are many ways to help. You don’t have to start by climbing the Statue of Liberty and refusing to get down until kids are released from jail or subvert ICE by slashing their tires and slowing them down. (Although HIGH FIVE if you do.)
It takes all kinds of activism to fight injustice, but don’t be daunted. You don’t need to put your body and your freedom on the line on the first day. Baby steps, stop when you need to. Rest. Repeat.
For little kids, we can focus on what it means to see ‘the other’ as ‘one of us.’ We can create art. We can tell a friend. We can establish heroes who we aspire to be like.
- Shelter – Bears brothers seek refuge in a storm. Everyone suffers from a scarcity mindset – even though families with shelter have enough, they reject the brothers. A little kindness, making just a small sacrifice – goes a long way.
- Passage To Freedom – The true story of Chiune Sugihara, who, despite his ambitious aspirations and the risks to himself and his family, chose to aid Jewish people fleeing nazis. This book is a little dull, but there’s this one scene where they decide as a family, that it’s worth the risk.
- Coloring Without Borders – This is a coloring and activity book and IT IS AWESSSOMMMEEE! The profits benefit Families Belong Together, an organization that works to reunite immigrant families. Get it as a gift for your favorite human.
Ready to take action?
Even the action of our youngest children can make a difference. Click here to download our Immigrant Solidarity Family Action Toolkit [Google doc], created in coordination with April B. of the Student Ignition Society.
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Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Get Kids Out Of Cages
Because if you do nothing – there will be an eighth.