Home / Resources / Fiction for Elementary and Middle School Teachers

Fiction for Elementary and Middle School Teachers

This is a work in progress. Thanks to Noreen Naseem Rodríguez, Maddalena Marinari and Anna Pegler-Gordon for sharing resources. We would welcome suggestions for additional books. If you have suggestions, please contact mmarinar@gustavus.edu.

Home of the Brave

Applegate, Katherine (2007).

Kek, an African refugee, is confronted by many strange things at the Minneapolis home of his aunt and cousin, as well as in his fifth grade classroom, and longs for his missing mother, but finds comfort in the company of a cow and her owner.

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up.

Atkins, Laura and Stan Yogi (2017).

An account of the activism of Fred Korematsu, who resisted Japanese interment and challenged its legality in the Supreme Court.

Silent Movie

Avi (2003).

In the early years of the twentieth century, a Swedish family encounters separation and other hardships upon immigrating to New York City until the son is cast in a silent movie.

Little Cricket

Brown, Jackie (2004).

After the upheaval of the Vietnam War reaches them, twelve-year-old Kia and her Hmong family flee from the mountains of Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand and eventually to the alien world of Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story

Bunting, Eve (2000).

A young girl journeys from Ireland to America with her two younger brothers becoming the first immigrant into Ellis Island.

A Picnic in October

Bunting, Eve (1999).

An Italian-American boy finally comes to understand why his grandmother insists that the family come to Ellis Island each year to celebrate Lady Liberty’s birthday.

A Coal Miner’s Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska, Lattimen, Pennsylvania, 1896

Campbell Bartoletti, Susan (2000).

Spirited Anetka is only 13 when she leaves her Poland home for Pennsylvania mine country and a husband she’s never met. Anetka adapts to her strange new life, finding joy even under desperate circumstances.

The Honeysuckle House

Cheng, Andrea (2004).

An all-American girl with Chinese ancestors and a new immigrant from China find little in common when they meet in their 4th-grade class, but they are both missing their best friends and soon discover other connections.

Children of the River

Crew, Linda (1989).

Sundara is a Cambodian refugee living in Oregon who wants to fit in at her high school but must deal with the clash between her traditional parents and American culture.

The Story of Olympic Swimmer Duke Kahanamoku

Crowe, Ellie (2019).

Duke Kahanamoku, known as the Father of Modern Surfing, was an Olympic champion swimmer, surfer, and, for the last third of his life, sheriff of Honolulu, Hawai‘i. This adaptation of Ellie Crowe’s 2010 picturebook Surfer of the Century adds informational text about Hawai‘ian history, surfing, the Olympics, and Jim Thorpe to contextualize the life of this Hawai‘ian legend.

Behind the Mountains

Danticat, Edwidge (2002).

Writing in the notebook her teacher gave her, 13-year-old Celiane describes life with her mother and brother in Haiti as well as her experiences in Brooklyn after the family immigrates there to be reunited with her father.

The Journal of Otto Peltonen

Durbin, William (2000).

Otto Peltonen’s journal documents his daily descent down a Minnesota mine. He essentially gives his life to the Iron Mining Company in pursuit of his family’s dream for their own farm. The fictionalized journal includes historical notes and photographs that ground Otto’s journal in reality.

When this World Was New

Figueredo, D.H. (1999).

When his father leads him on a magical trip of discovery through new fallen snow, a young boy who emigrated from his warm island home overcomes fears about living in New York.

Barrio Boy

Galarza, Ernesto (1991).

In this memoir, Galarza tells the story of his life from his early experiences in Jalcocotán, a small village in Mexico, to his move to the barrio in Sacramento, California, in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. Before leaving for the United States, Galarza and his family move from their village to a nearby city in search of safety from the escalation of the Revolution. Here his family struggles to look for a job, provide him with an education, and keep the family intact in a war-torn country. Once in the United States, young Galarza and his family have to adjust to the life in the new country and deal with new experiences and influences that would forever change him.

Maggie’s Door

Giff, Patricia Reilly (2003).

In the mid-1800s, Nory and her neighbor and friend, Sean, set out separately on a dangerous journey from famine-plagued Ireland, hoping to reach a better life in America.

Bridge to America

Glaser, Linda (2005).

Eight-year-old Fivel narrates the story of his family’s Atlantic Ocean crossing to the United States, from its desperate beginning in a shtetl in Poland in 1920 to his stirrings of identity as an American boy.

Sofie and the City

Grant, Karima (2006).

When Sofie calls her grandmother in Senegal on Sundays, she complains about the ugliness of the city she now lives in, but her life changes when she makes a new friend.

How I Became an American

Gundisch, Karin (2001).

In 1902, ten-year-old Johann and his family, Germans who had been living in Austria-Hungary, board a ship to immigrate to Youngstown, Ohio, where they make a new life as Americans.

Katie’s Wish

Hazen, Barbara Shook (2003).

Soon after Katie wishes for her potatoes to disappear during dinner, the potato famine of the 1840s ravages her native Ireland, forcing her to leave for America.

The Castle on Hester Street

Heller, Linda (2007).

Julie’s grandmother deflates many of her husband’s tall tales about their journey from Russia to America and their life on Hester Street.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea

Hest, Amy (1997).

Thirteen-year-old Jessie journeys from a poor village in Eastern Europe to New York City at the turn of the century.

The Trouble Begins

Himelblau, Linda (2005).

Reunited with his family for the first time since he was a baby, fifth grader Du struggles to adapt to his new home in the United States.

The color of home

Hoffman, Mary (2002).

Hassan, newly-arrived in the United States and feeling homesick, paints a picture at school that shows his old home in Somalia as well as the reason his family had to leave.

Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America

James, Helen Foster and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh (2013).

Lee heads to America in search of opportunity as a “paper son,” an immigrant with fake papers seeking entry after the Chinese Exclusion Act. He prepares for the interrogation at Angel Island Immigration Station and hopes he can fool the interviewers so he no longer burdens his grandparents in China.

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh

Kelkar, Supriya (2019).

Harpreet expresses his feelings through the colors of his patkas, the turban commonly worn by Sikh boys. After his family moves across the country, Harpreet wears his white patka day after day. White is the color he chooses when he feels shy and wants to be invisible, and reflects Harpreet’s struggles to find joy in his new school. One day, Harpreet befriends someone who inspires him to return to his colorful self.

Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh

Krishnaswami, Uma (2017).

Maria Singh is “adha-adha”: half Mexican, half Indian. When her fifth grade teacher begins softball practice after school, her dreams of playing ball suddenly seem possible, if only Papi and Mamá will support her. This story, set in Yuba City, California during World War II, deftly weaves histories about alien land laws, immigration, and unequal access to citizenship into an engaging story about friendship, family, and softball.

How My Family Lives in America

Kuklin, Susan (1992).

A glimpse at how three recent immigrant families impart a sense of ethnic identity to their children.

In the Small, Small Night

Kurtz, Jane (2005).

Kofi can’t sleep in his new home in the United States, so his older sister Abena soothes his fears about life in a different country by telling him two folktales from their native Ghana about the nature of wisdom and perseverance.

Inside Out and Back Again

Lai, Thanhha (2013).

Ha describes her family’s experience during the Vietnam War and their journey to America. After living in a refugee camp in Florida, they move to Alabama. She and her brothers deal with their immersion in American culture and society in different ways.

Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home

Landowne, Youme (2010).

Mali had a happy childhood in Laos until the war begins and her family is imprisoned.

Dreams in the Golden Country

Lasky, Kathryn (1998).

New dreams and old traditions flourish and clash when a Jewish girl and her family emigrate from Russia to America.

I Was Dreaming to Come to America: Memories from the Ellis Island Oral History Project

Lawlor, Veronica (1995).

In 15 excerpts, young immigrants from various ethnic backgrounds recount their reasons for coming to America and describe their feelings about leaving their country.

Drawn Together

Lê, Minh (2018).

A boy isn’t looking forward to spending time with his grandfather, partly because they speak different languages, but then he discovers that they are both artists. Through stunning illustrations and an economy of words, readers see how through art the boy and his grandfather overcome what once seemed like an insurmountable chasm.


Lee, Milly (2006).

After leaving his village in southeastern China in 1915, twelve-year-old Sun is held at Angel Island, San Francisco, before being released to join his father, a merchant living in the area.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow

Lee-Tai, Amy (2012).

Mari’s family is forced to live in a camp in Topaz, Utah. In art class, she makes a new friend and finds a way to express her emotions about incarceration.

I Hate English!

Levine, Ellen (1989).

Mei Mei, a bright and articulate immigrant from Hong Kong, overcomes her difficulty adjusting to the new language and culture at school in New York City through the help of her teacher.

If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island

Levine, Ellen (1993).

This unique, interactive history book encourages readers to step into the past guided by a question-and-answer format in full color. It’s also packed with quotes from children and adults who passed through Ellis Island.

Drita, My Homegirl

Lombard, Jenny (2006).

When Drita and her family, refugees from Kosovo, move to New York, Drita is teased about not speaking English well, but after a popular student is forced to learn about Kosovo as a punishment, the girls soon bond.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

Lord, Bette (1984).

Set in 1947, Chinese-American Shirley Temple Wong becomes a part of her new American surroundings.

Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong

Mabalon, Dawn B. and Gayle Romasanta (2018).

The story of the Filipino leader and co-founder of the United Farmworkers union Larry Itliong.

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration

Maestro, Betsy (1999).

A succinct history of U.S. immigration for students of all levels, this expressive book captures the joy and anxiety of the successive waves of immigrants looking for a better life.

My Chinatown: One Year in Poems

Mak, Kam (2002).

A boy adjusts to life away from his home in Hong Kong, in the Chinatown of his new American city.

Hannah’s Journal: The Story of an Immigrant Girl

Moss, Marissa (2000).

In the Russian shtetl where she and her family live, Hannah is given a diary for her tenth birthday, and in it she records the dramatic story of her journey to America in 1901.

Barbed Wire Baseball

Moss, Marissa (2013).

Kenichi “Zeni” Zenimura wanted to be a baseball player since he was a little boy. He pursued his dream but his sports career was interrupted abruptly when his and 120,000 other Japanese and Japanese American families were incarcerated. Zeni finds a way to bring baseball to the camps.

The King of Mulberry Street

Napoli, Donna Jo (2005).

In 1892, Dom, a nine-year old stowaway from Naples, Italy, arrives in New York and must learn to survive the perils of street life in the big city.

Fiona McGilray’s Story: A Voyage from Ireland in 1849

Pastore, Clare (2001).

Follows teenager Fiona McGilray as she and her family leave Ireland during the time of the Potato Famine and travel to their new home in Boston.

A Different Pond

Phi, Bao (2017).

A young boy and his father wake early to go fishing to make sure they have food for dinner. The father tells his son about another pond in Vietnam, where he used to fish with his brother before the war. Beautiful artwork accompanies this powerful, quiet story.

The Keeping Quilt

Polacco, Patricia (1988).

A Jewish immigrant family passes on their story from their Russian homeland through their family’s clothing.

Grandmother’s Visit

Quan, Betty (2018).

This story is about Grace and her grandmother, who spend time together while Grandmother tells Grace stories about growing up in China. One day, Grandmother is buried and Grace mourns her loss.

What Zeesie Saw on Delancey Street

Rael, Elsa Okron (1996).

A young Jewish girl living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side attends her first “package party” where she learns about the traditions of generosity, courage, and community among Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s.

My Name is Yoon

Recorvits, Helen (2003).

Disliking her name as written in English, Korean-born Yoon, or “shining wisdom,” refers to herself as “cat,” “bird,” and “cupcake,” as a way to feel more comfortable in her new school and new country.


Rhodes, Jewell Parker (2013).

Sugar works in the sugarcane fields, trying to find ways to make her own fun. The arrival of a group of Chinese workers frightens the other workers but intrigues Sugar, who brings both groups together to share their customs and traditions.

Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel

Robles, Anthony (2006).

When Lakas strolls through his neighborhood one sunny afternoon, the last thing he expects to find is a group of drum-beating, tap-dancing, karaoke-singing new friends. But these new friends face a crisis: the Makibaka Hotel, where they make their home, is about to be sold. Lakas soon leads his new friends in a rollicking protest against their eviction. Before long the streets of the neighborhood reverberate with the taps, raps, and chants of Makibaka-of struggle, spirit, and laughter.

The Copper Lady

Ross, Alice (1996).

This tale is set in 1880s France as a young boy visits where the Statue of Liberty is being built and decides to stow away. Andre decides to stow away on the ship that will bring it to America.

Bilal Cooks Daal

Saeed, Aisha (2019).

Bilal loves daal, a classic South Asian lentil dish. He invites his friends over to help make daal for dinner, but they have never tried it before. As the daal cooks for several hours, Bilal worries that his friends may not enjoy his favorite dish as much as he does.

The Long Way to a New Land

Sandin, Joan (1981).

In 1868, a family leaves Sweden in search for a better life in the United States.

Music for Alice

Say, Allen (2004).

Alice Sumida’s experiences working on a farm instead of going to a prison camp

Blue Jasmine

Sheth, Kashmira (2004).

When twelve-year-old Seema moves to Iowa City with her parents and younger sister, she leaves friends and family behind in her native India but gradually begins to feel at home in her new country.

Blue Jay in the Desert

Shigekawa, Marlene (1993).

While incarcerated at Poston, grandfather gives his grandson a blue jay he carved from wood. The bird symbolizes the freedom to fly while their family is behind barbed wire.

Welcome Home Swallows

Shigekawa, Marlene.

This sequel to Blue Jay in the Desert describes life after Junior returns to California.

The Moon Bridge

Slavin, Marcia (1995).

Mitzi struggles with anti-Japanese sentiment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She tries to maintain her friendship with Ruthie even after her family is forced to live in a camp and eventually the girls reunite.

Half Spoon of Rice: A Survival Story of Cambodian Genocide

Smith, Icy (2010).

Nat must suddenly leave his home when the Khmer Rouge forces his family and many other Cambodians to leave their homes and go to labor camps. At the camp, he is separated from his family but becomes friends with Malis. When the Khmer Rouge is defeated, Nat and Malis escape to Thailand where they are reunited with Nat’s family. Eventually they settle in San Francisco, California.


Surat, Michele Maria (1983).

Synopsis: Ut struggles adjusting to school in the United States and misses her mother who remained in Vietnam when the rest of the family immigrated to America.

The Arrival

Tan, Shaun (2007).

In this wordless graphic novel, a man leaves his homeland and sets off for a new country, where he must build a new life for himself and his family.

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: The Epic Story

Tan, Susan (2019).

Cilla Lee-Jenkins, author extraordinaire, doesn’t want fifth grade to end because she heard middle school is very Serious and not at all Silly. As some of her classmates seem to be moving full steam ahead in preparing for middle school, Cilla finds comfort in the school library. But then her beloved Ye Ye suffers a stroke, so Cilla and her whole family band together to help him recover.

Annushka’s Voyage

Tarbescu, Edith (1998).

The Sabbath candlesticks given to them by their grandmother when they leave Russia in the late 1800s help two sisters make it safely to join their father in New York.

Going Home, Coming Home

Tran, Truong (2003).

Ami Chi visits her parents’ homeland of Vietnam for the first time. At first, she is miserable and struggles with the unfamiliar relatives, language, food, and ways of life but later learns to appreciate Vietnamese life and learns to communicate with her grandmother in other ways.

The Bracelet

Uchida, Yoshiko (1996).

Emi’s family is forced to leave their home for Tanforan Assembly center. Emi loses a bracelet given to her by a friend, but learns to hold on to memories of loved ones even when they aren’t present.

Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando

Wang, Andrea (2019).

Instant ramen is now a ubiquitous part of American culture, but how did it become a standard on supermarket shelves? Momofuku Ando was dedicated to creating nutritious foods and was determined to develop an affordable, healthy, and efficient noodle option to feed the hungry. This book describes how a year of tenacious experimentation led to the invention of instant ramen.

Escape to Gold Mountain: A Graphic History of the Chinese in North America

Wong, DHT (2012).

Graphic novel about Chinese immigration to the U.S. in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Fish For Jimmy

Yamasaki, Katie (2013).

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Taro’s father is taken by the FBI and his family is forced to live in a camp. One day Taro finds a way to sneak out of the camp to catch fish to bring a smile back to his little brother’s face.

A Map into the World

Yang, Kao (2019).

A young Hmong girl and her family move into a new home, where they befriend their elderly neighbors and enjoy the changing seasons. After the wife passes away, the girl draws vibrant chalk pictures to comfort her grieving neighbor. This beautiful picture book demonstrates the importance of human connection to one another and to nature.

The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung

Yep, Laurence (2000).

Wong Ming-Chung ventures across the ocean from China to seek fortune for his family during the Gold Rush’s excitement and hardships. Though he feels alienated by the other miners, Wong chases his dreams.


Yin (2001).

Two brothers leave China to work on the transcontinental railroad in the American West. Their work is difficult and the conditions dangerous, but they persevere in spite of adversity and discrimination.

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

Yoo, Paula (2009).

The story of Anna May Wong, one of the earliest Asian American actresses in Hollywood.

Sixteen Years in Sixty Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story

Yoo, Paula (2005).

This story of Sammy Lee, the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal, describes his struggle to balance family expectations to pursue a career in medicine with his love of diving.

The Twins’ Blanket

Yum, Hyewon (2011).

The twins have always shared the same blanket, but now they are going to sleep in different beds… what will they do?