• Kim Bogren Owen

"The Thing We've Handed Down:" Stories of Immigration to the United States


Driving home the other night from a day of training, “The Things We’ve Handed Down” by Marc Cohn, played on my IPhone. As I listened to the lyrics and chorus, I thought of the gifts I have received from my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and on down the line. Each of them contributing to our family legacy and adding to how I look, act, or think about the world. And since immigration is a hot topic in our country now, I thought of the challenges that brought them here or they found here.

All of us come from ancestors who emigrated to this continent and country at one point or another. That reality is central to our Thanksgiving stories and myths, as it is to the founding of this nation. This Thanksgiving honor your ancestors with stories of their lives while continuing your family traditions, and share these books that speak to the struggles and joys of those who come to our shores for a better life. These books represent diverse cultures and peoples but all shared struggles and difficulties adjusting to a new life and culture. Talk about the way their journeys are similar to each other and to your own family. We gain, learn, and progress through individual’s diverse, creative ideas which are the product of our diverse backgrounds so take some time this holiday to celebrate the contributions of immigrants to our nation.

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel by Dan Yaccarino- In which is a common story of our nation, this very sweet book tells the story of a family from the great-grandfather leaving Italy to the newest generation. The little shovel serves as a different type of tool for each generation and ties them together. If you work in an Early Childhood Program, this book meets many of the requirements of the diversity category.

Angelina's Island by Jeanette Winter- After emigrating from Jamaica to New York City, Angelina misses her family, friends, food, games, and celebrations from home. However, as she sees preparations begin for Carnival she starts to feel more at home and realizes that she can bring home to her. This simple story with bright illustrations will resonant with any child who have ever moved or made a large change. Ask your child to draw a picture or tell you a story of what activity makes them feel the most at home after reading this book.

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration by Betsy Maestro and Susannah Ryan- This nonfiction books examines the many reasons for and ways people immigrate to the United States, as well as the history of immigration on this continent. It touches on the discrimination that many immigrants face once they arrive, as well as how hard they had to work to successfully create a new life here. It ends with the "melting pot" that allows us to celebrate and share our differences while still all being Americans. As you eat Thanksgiving dinner, talk about how the food on your table is delicious because the ingredients work together while maintaining their own individuality and use this as an example to demonstrate the meaning of melting pot.

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say- This sweet book tells of the how the author’s grandfather journeyed to the United States to visit and ends up raising a family here, but always longs to see his homeland. He returns when his daughter is older and there the author is born, but he too longs to see this country so he journeys here and makes it his home. The story tells of the pull that our homes have on us even long after we have left them and how we can make lives in different places while holding onto all we are.

Grandparents Song by Sheila Hamanaka- In this wonderful celebration of a multi-cultural family, a young girl celebrates her grandparents who come from all four directions, and ended up creating her. Trace your child’s body on a large sheet of paper, or broken down box or paper bag, and have them glue images of the characteristics of your family and where they came from onto it to show how the past influences who we are today.

How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story by Eve Bunting and Beth Punk- After soldiers come to their house, a family flees for safety in the US. On a boat with many others, they struggle with inadequate food, water, and pirates who steal what little belongings they have with them. After the long journey, they finally arrive on of all days- Thanksgiving and celebrate with a feast. This wonderful book tells of the struggles and reasons that many leave their homes to start again in a different country and culture. If your child is aware of what is happening with the Syrian refugees use this book to talk about why they are leaving and what they hope to find in their new home.

My Shoes and I by Rene Colato Lainez and Fabricio Vanden Broeck- A mother who has already emigrated to the United States, sends for her husband and son. With new the shoes she gave him, he is excited about the journey, but soon encounters many obstacles from dogs to a lost wallet to mud. However, he and his father are reunited with his mother once they cross the Rio Grande. Although, it covers only the most basic dangers and struggles that many face to reach this country, it is an appropriate book to begin the conversation of why people want to come here and the challenges they face to do that.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest and P.J Lynch- Jessie is chosen to emigrate to the United States by the village Rabbi when a ticket becomes available. Jessie is unsure about leaving her grandmother but goes to help the Rabbis' brother's widow as a seamstress. On the ship, she befriends a young man Lou, but they lose touch on Ellis Island. Jessie excels as a seamstress soon making wedding dresses with her lace skills. She meets Lou again, and they become engaged. Jessie does not feel it is right to marry without her grandmother there so she sends for her and once she arrives the wedding can be prepared.

I hope you enjoy these books. As always, feel free to share with credit to Words Reflected and Kim Bogren Owen on Facebook, your website, or in your newsletter. Please add your recommendations for books about immigration or activities in the comments.

(This blog uses the Amazon affiliate program so when you click on the title and purchase through Amazon, you are supporting us! If you don't purchase through these links, please, be sure to support your local, independent bookstore or find them at your library!)

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