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The Immigrant Experience

by Miriam Downey 14. April 2014 07:52

Last Friday evening, we went to see our granddaughter in a play at the end of a vacation week day camp. The created and produced a play version of the charming book, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. I had forgotten what a remarkable story it is. It is about the experience of an immigrant girl named Wanda in the 1930s who brags to the kids at school that she has 100 dresses in her closet. The kids ridicule her for her name, her accent, and her "100 dresses." Today we would call this bullying. Too late the kids realize what they have done when Wanda's family decides that she doesn't need to suffer any more abuse and they move away.

The experience with The Hundred Dresses reminded me that the United States has always been about the immigrant experience. In the case of Wanda and her hundred dresses, the immigrants were from Poland. Before that, the immigrants were from Ireland. Now, the immigrants can be from almost anywhere. Imagine coming to a new town where no one understands you and no one can even pronounce your name. It's a scary situation.

Here is a list of classic children's books that explains the immigrant experience for this generation of children. Most of these books are appropriate for elementary school aged children, although I also included a list of adult books that are appropriate for high school students.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. Wanda is teased at school because she is an immigrant from Poland.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord. Shirley is an immigrant from China and is inspired to learn English so she can listen to baseball games on the radio.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. This is a Newbery Honor book. The novel is based on the author's experiences escaping Vietnam during the war and coming to live in Alabama.

Lowji Discovers America by Denise Fleming. Lowji moves from Bombay to an apartment in small town Illinois and faces all the problems children face when they move to a new place.

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park. Julia Song's family is the only Korean family in their town. She and a friend try to grow silkworms for the fair guided by her mother who raised them when she was a girl in Korea.

The Tia Lola Stories by Julia Alvarez. Tales of a Dominican girl in Vermont.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munos Ryan. A sudden tragedy forces Esperanza's family to move from Mexico to California during the Great Depression.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. A wordless book that tells the adventure and wonder of an immigrant's arrival in the big city.

Adult Books for High School Readers

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. A long closed hotel shelters the secrets of a group of interned Japanese residents during World War II.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. the classic story of an immigrant family in Brooklyn.

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. Deo's true story of coming from Burundi with only $200 in his pocket.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggars. A Syrian immigrant faces life after the New Orleans hurricane.

Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario. Enrique sets out from Honduras looking for his mother who has come to the United States to find work.

 

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