Coming to America

Turn on the television or pick up a newspaper or magazine these days, and you are likely to encounter something about immigration. The often heated debate about immigration reform is likely to raise questions with older and even some young children. Beyond current political trends, many children also have questions about their family history and where they came from. With notable exceptions, the majority of people in the United States can trace their ancestry back to some individual or individuals who made the difficult journey to a new country. The immigration experience is a part of American heritage.

The Education and Social Science Library has many fiction and non-fiction resources for further exploration of immigration history, or the experiences of a particular ethnic group.

Young Adult Fiction

Gallo, Donald R.
First Crossing: Stories About Teen Immigrants. 2004.
Stories of recent Mexican, Venezuelan, Kazakh, Chinese, Romanian, Palestinian, Swedish, Korean, Haitian, and Cambodian immigrants reveal what it is like to face prejudice, language barriers, and homesickness along with common teenage feelings and needs.
[Education S-Collection: S.F519]

Carlson, Lori M.
American Eyes: New Asian-American Short Stories for Young Adults. 1994.
These ten stories reflect the conflict Asian Americans face in balancing an ancient heritage and an unknown future.
[Education S-Collection: S. AM353]

Giff, Patricia Reilly.
Maggie’s Door. 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.
[Education Storage: S.G366m]
Juvenile Fiction

Lombard, Jenny.
Drita, My Homegirl. 2006.
When ten-year-old Drita and her family, refugees from Kosovo, move to New York, Drita is teased about not speaking English well, but after a popular student named Maxie is forced to learn about Kosovo as a punishment for teasing Drita, the two girls soon bond.
[Education S Collection: S. L838d]

Glaser, Linda.
Bridge to America: Based on a True Story. 2005.
Eight-year-old Fivel narrates the story of his family’s Atlantic Ocean crossing to reunite with their father in the United States, from its desperate beginning in a shtetl in Poland in 1920 to his stirrings of identity as an American boy.
[Education S Collection: S. G462b]

Perez, Amada Irma.
My Diary From Here to There = Mi diario de aqui hasta. 2002.
A young girl describes her feelings when her father decides to leave their home in Mexico to look for work in the United States.
[Education S Collection: S.P4152my]

Giff, Patricia Reilly.
A House of Tailors. 2004.
When thirteen-year-old Dina emigrates from Germany to America in 1871, her only wish is to return home as soon as she can, but as the months pass and she survives a multitude of hardships living with her uncle and his young wife and baby, she finds herself thinking of Brooklyn as her home.
[Education S Collection: S. G366h]

Marianthe’s Story One: Painted Words; Marianthe’s Story Two: Spoken Memories. 1998.
Two separate stories in one book, the first telling of Mari’s starting school in a new land, and the second describing village life in her country before she and her family left in search of a better life.
[Education Storage: Q. S.Al44m]
Picture Books

Recorvits, Helen.
My Name is Yoon. 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.
[Education S Collection: SE. R2453m]

Patridge, Elizabeth.
Oranges on Golden Mountain. 2001.
When hard times fall on his family, Jo Lee is sent from China to San Francisco, where he helps his uncle fish and dreams of being reunited with his mother and sister.
[Education Storage: Q. SE. P2581o]

Bunting, Eve.
A Picnic in October. 1999.
A boy finally comes to understand why his grandmother insists that the family come to Ellis Island each year to celebrate Lady Liberty’s birthday.
[Education Storage: Q. SE. B886pi]

Mak, Kam.
My Chinatown: One Year in Poems. 2002.
A boy adjusts to life away from his home in Hong Kong, in the Chinatown of his new American city.
[Education S Collection: SE. M2891m]

Schaefer, Adam.
Modern Immigration and Expansion. 2007.
A history of U.S. immigration from the 19th century through September 11th.
[Education S Collection: S.304.873 Sch131m]

Sandler, Martin W.
Island of Hope: The Story of Ellis Island and the Journey to America. 2004.
Relates the story of immigration to America through the voices and stories of those who passed through Ellis Island, from its opening in 1892 to the release of the last detainee in 1954.
[Education S Collection: S.304.8 Sa569i]

Teichmann, Iris.
Immigration & Asylum. 2003.
Examines the history, causes and current state of immigration and immigrants.
[Education S Collection: S.304.8 T233i]

Hoobler, Dorothy.
We Are Americans: Voices of the Immigrant Experience. 2003.
A history of immigration to America, from speculation about the earliest immigrants to the present day.
[Education S Collection: S.304.8 H76w]

Whitman, Sylvia.
Immigrant Children. 2000.
Describes the flood of immigration into the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, focusing on the experiences of the youngest immigrants, both on their journeys and in their new country.
[Education S Collection: S.305.230973 W595i]

We Are America Series focuses on the experiences of a dozen different ethnic groups, from Irish to Cuban to Pakistani. Enter “We Are America” into a Series search in the UIUC Online Catalog. Or, browse the call number S.973 in the Education S-Collection.

Searching the UIUC Online catalog

Quick Search (subject search)
Emigration and Immigration — Fiction (look for the option listed as “LC Subject Headings for Children”)
United States — Emigration and Immigration — Juvenile Literature
United States — Emigration and Immigration — History — Juvenile Literature

Advanced Search (subject search)
Immigration AND Juvenile Literature

Browsing (non-fiction only)
304.8 books about the subject of immigration
973 books about specific immigrant groups in the United States
Immigration on the Web

The following websites will prove useful in helping children and families investigate their history.

Ellis Island
Explore the history of Ellis Island and American immigration, search a registry of immigrants and view the actual passenger manifests

Angel Island
Although it was billed as the “Ellis Island of the West,” the facility was constructed primarily to serve as a detention center to curb the flow of Asian immigration during the early 20th century. Explore the islands history, and view updates of the ongoing renovation project. Additional history and answers to frequently asked questions can be found at the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

Immigration Records at the National Archives & Records Administration
Explore Immigration records at the National Archives website. View sample documents, such as the list of Titanic survivors and get links to other genealogy websites.