Thursday, April 13, 2017

Immigration: Always in the News

To say that Immigration is in the news these days is an understatement. The truth is, people have been moving around the planet since the first humans ventured out of Africa. What causes people to leave the comforts of home? Adventure lures some, economic gain attracts others. but the inciting incidents that move masses of people are usually due to famine, persecution, and war. It's no surprise then that much historical fiction centers on immigration stories. Here are a few I've discovered recently.

Last year, I reviewed several Irish historical fiction stories including the Nory Ryan series by award winning Patricia Reilly Giff. Maggie's Door, the second in the series, follows Nory as she journeys to America in the wake of The Hunger--the terrible potato famine of 1845-1847.Wrenching, yet inspiring, Nory overcomes tremendous odds to bring herself and her little brother across an ocean to find her remaining family.

Streets of Gold, by the beloved children's book author Rosemary Wells and beautifully illustrated by Dan Andreason, is a retelling for children of Mary Antin's memoir The Promised Land. Due to increasing persecution, a Jewish family emigrates from Russia at the turn of the century.

As with Maggie's Door, the father leaves first to establish a job and home before sending for the family. This struck me as a key dynamic I had not understood before. Immigration stories are very much about the courage of those left behind and the complication of making the journey without a father.

When the family arrives in America, they discover the streets are not paved with gold, of course. But they are safe. They are together, again.

Journey to America by Sonia Levitin is another Jewish immigration story, which takes place on the
eve of WWII. Again, the father precedes the family to America leaving his wife and three daughters to escape Germany when the time is right.

This story opened portrays the flight of many people into Switzerland before WWII, the difficulties children faced there, and the overwhelming situation for the Swiss in dealing with the flood of refugees. Some children were exploited while other Swiss generously took children into their own homes, although this further separated children from their families. It was often months before refugees could obtain an exit visa, if they could obtain one at all. Levitin also shows how each child may cope differently with upheaval in their lives.

The Frozen Waterfall by Gaye Hiçyılmaz is a more contemporary immigration story, but I add it here because it is a rare find--a Turkish family that immigrates to Switzerland for economic reasons.

Twelve-year old Selda has trouble adjusting to life in Switzerland, but her friendship with a Turkish boy who is an illegal immigrant leads to the realization that life can not only be difficult, it can be dangerous. This book is for upper middle-grade and high school. It is also quite long, and the writing is fair, but for me, it was worth the effort to gain a valuable perspective, and to understand more intimately the hardships of immigration on not only children but also parents.

I hope these books will inspire you to find more immigration literature and share it with the children in your lives. Please share any of your favorites with me!

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

Subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe or Follow by E-Mail buttons to the right, or add Feedly or another reader. 


  1. I really enjoyed Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. She also wrote Listen Slowly. Sydney Taylor's books about the All-of-a Kind Family show the reader the Jewish immigrant story to New York City at the turn of the century.

  2. Thank you for these recommendations, Mary Louise. I thought about the All-of-a-Kind Family when I wrote this. I will definitely have to revisit them some time and look the others up!