Immigrant School Stories

Summer is over — it’s officially September, and the K-12 school year is starting up again to the chagrin of the children and the relief of the parents. But what about when school doesn’t just mean the end of summer, but a new, sometimes scary, beginning? Being the new kid in class can be hard on anyone, but the following books focus on the experiences of immigrant children and adolescents from around the world as they begin their education in a new country…with all the challenges and triumphs that entails. Encourage the young readers in your life to try a new kind of school story this September — one that might change the way they think about the new kid in their class.

To find school stories like those below, try keyword search terms like “immigrant” and “school” combined with a subject search of “juvenile fiction.”

Picture Books

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.
[Center for Children’s Books and SSHEL S-Collection Q. S.Al44m]

Colato Laínez, René.
René has Two Last Names / René Tiene Dos Apellidos. 2009.
In this story based on the author’s childhood, a young Salvadoran immigrant is teased for having two last names until he presents his family tree project celebrating his heritage.
[SSHEL S-Collection Q. SE. C673r]

Cox, Judy.
Carmen Learns English. 2010.
Newly-arrived in the United States from Mexico, Carmen is apprehensive about going to school and learning English.
[SSHEL S-Collection SE. C839c]

Nobisso, Josephine.
In English, of Course. 2002.
Josephine tries to tell her new American class about her life in Naples, Italy, but her teacher misunderstands what she is saying and thinks she grew up on a farm.
[SSHEL S-Collection Q. SE. N6641i]

Recorvits, Helen.
My Name is Yoon. 2003.
Yoon’s name means “shining wisdom” in Korean, but in an American school, she wants to try out English names, including ‘Cat,’ ‘‘Bird,’ and ‘Cupcake.’ Will Yoon find a way to be herself in a new place?
[Center for Children’s Books and SSHEL S-Collection SE. R2453m]

Intermediate to Advanced Readers

Applegate, Katherine.
Home of the Brave. 2008.
Kek, a young refugee from Sudan, finds himself alone in foreign, snowy Minnesota. There he begins school, where he struggles to fit in in his ESL class. Along the way he befriends a cow, learns to navigate the grocery store, and discovers that he can find family in any country.
[Center for Children’s Books and SSHEL S-Collection S. Ap52h]

Castellanos, Jane
Tomasito and the Golden Llamas. 1968.
In order to get a better education, a young Peruvian boy leaves his homeland to live in California with his sister and brother-in-law, but finds the adjustment to school and a new way of life extremely difficult.
[SSHEL Oak Street; Choose pick up: SSHEL]

Himelblau, Linda.
The Trouble Begins. 2005.
Vietnamese Du Nguyen has lived in the Philippines with his grandmother his whole life. Now it’s time to join the rest of his family in California…and the trouble begins. How will Du survive in an American school where the other kids call him “Doo-Doo Head?” Can Du find his inner strength?
[SSHEL S-Collection S. H571t]

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.
[SSHEL S-Collection S. L838d]

Tolliver, Ruby C.
Sarita, Be Brave. 1999.
When political unrest in Honduras forces twelve-year-old Sara to flee with her family and make the dangerous journey north to Texas, she faces the challenges of starting a new school and a new life.
[SSHEL Oak Street [Choose pick-up: SSHEL] S. T579s]

First Day of School: Books for Children

The first day of school is always tumultuous and emotional for children, so teachers and parents often look for ways to reassure new students. One resource can be found in books that talk about the first day of school. There are a number of books that explain what to expect. Some are humorous, some are factual, some are multicultural in their content, and all of them provide a way to talk about what to expect with the beginning student.

Below are a few books for children that focus on the first day of school. These should be helpful to parents, teachers and other caregivers looking for ways to reassure children about the transition to school. Locations and call numbers for those in the UIUC Library collection are provided.


Perez, L. King.
First day in grapes. 2002.
Summary: When Chico starts the third grade after his migrant worker family moves to begin harvesting California grapes, he finds that self confidence and math skills help him cope with the first day of school.
[Education S Collection; Education Storage: S. P4153f]

Danneberg, Julie.
First day jitters. 2000.
Summary: Sarah is afraid to start at a new school, but both she and the reader are in for a surprise when she gets to her class.
[Education S Collection: SE. D232f]

McNamara, Margaret.
The first day of school. 2005.
Summary: After a summer of playing with his puppy, Michael is sad to learn that she cannot stay with him on the first day of school.
[Education S Collection: SE. M232f]

Corey, Shana.
First graders from Mars episode 1: Horus’s horrible day. 2001.
Summary: As the school year begins on Mars, Horus the Martian gets off to a rocky start, but soon discovers that first grade is not really as bad as he thought.
[Education Storage: SE. C8121f]

Jackson, Ellen B., 1943-
It’s back to school we go: first day stories from around the world. 2003.
Summary: In easy-to-read text, describes what the first day of school might be like for a child in Kenya, Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia, Japan, China, Peru, Germany, India, Russia, and the United States.
[Education S Collection: Q. S.371.002 J133i]

Taulbert, Clifton L.
Little Cliff’s first day of school. 2001.
Summary: Little Cliff is terrified of starting school, but with Mama Pearl’s encouragement, he is able to overcome his fears.
[Education Storage: SE. T191l]

Stiles, Norman.
On my very first school day I met– . 2005.
Summary: A child meets the strangest and silliest characters on the very first day of school.
[Education S Collection: SE.St53o]

Pak, Soyung.
Sumi’s first day of school ever. 2003.
Summary: By the time Sumi finishes her first day of school, she decides that school is not as lonely, scary, or mean as she had thought.
[Education S Collection: SE. P17su]

Robbins, Beth.
Tom’s first day at school. 2001.
Summary: On the first day of school, a young cat named Tom worries about his teacher, his classmates, and finding his way around.
[Education S Collection: SE. R534t2001]

Rosenberry, Vera.
Vera’s first day of school. 1999.
Summary: Vera cannot wait for the day when she starts school, but the first day does not go exactly as she has anticipated.
[Education Storage: Q. SE. R728v]

Forward, Toby, 1950-
What did you do today? the first day of school. 2004.
Summary: A child describes the events of the first day of school, from making sandwiches for lunch to holding a parent’s hand on the walk home.
[Education S Collection: SE. F779w]

Edwards, Pamela Duncan.
Ms. Bitsy Bat’s kindergarten. 2005.
Summary: The new kindergarten teacher at Oak Tree School is a bat, and she quickly makes all the students feel at home.
[Education S Collection: SE. Ed977m]

Warner, Sally.
Not-So-Weird Emma. 2005.
Summary: Eight-year-old Emma is just beginning to like her new school when her friend Cynthia starts telling other kids that Emma is, well, a little strange.
[Education S Collection; Education Storage: W247n]

Child, Lauren.
I am too absolutely small for school. 2004, c2003.
Summary: When Lola is worried about starting school, her older brother Charlie reassures her.
[Education S Collection: Q. SE. C437iam]

Klingel, Cynthia Fitterer.
Sabina at school and the letter S. c2004.
Summary: A simple story about a girl named Sabina’s first day in kindergarten introduces the letter “s”.
[Education S Collection: SE. K687s]

Uegaki, Chieri.
Suki’s kimono. 2003.
Summary: On the first day of school Suki chooses to wear the kimono that reminds her of time spent with her grandmother. At first she faces rejection for being different, but soon finds her own place in the class, making new friends, and sharing her heritage.
[Education S Collection: Q. SE. Ue3s]

Moncure, Jane Belk.
Word Bird’s new friend. 2003.
Summary: When a new student arrives at school, Word Bird does his best to help her
[Education S Collection: SE. M744wn]

McDonald, Megan.
Judy Moody. 2000.
Summary: Third grader Judy Moody is in a first day of school bad mood until she gets an assignment to create a collage all about herself and begins creating her masterpiece, the Me collage.
[Education S Collection: S.M1455j]

Wild, Margaret, 1948-
Tom goes to kindergarten. 2000.
Summary: When Tom, a young panda, goes to his very first day of kindergarten, his whole family stays and plays and wishes they could be in kindergarten too.
[Education S Collection: Q. SE. W6434tom2000]

Henkes, Kevin.
Wemberly worried. 2000.
Summary: A mouse named Wemberly, who worries about everything, finds that she has a whole list of things to worry about when she faces the first day of nursery school.
[Education S Collection: SE. H389we]

Hest, Amy.
Off to school, Baby Duck.1999.
Summary: Baby Duck experiences the fear of the first day of school, but with a little help from Grampa, everything turns out okay in the end.
[Education Storage: Q. SE. H469o]