The Doll is a picture book based on true life events. When a family arrives as refugees from war-torn Vietnam. The family is understandable disoriented and the children cling to their mother at the airport. There, a little girl hands a doll to the youngest daughter. The small gift is welcoming, reassuring to the child and stays with her throughout her childhood and into adulthood. Eventually, she is able to hand that same doll to another child from a family of refugees at another airport.
Red, White, and Whole is Rajani LaRocca’s newest middle-grade verse novel. The year is 1983 and 13-year-old Reha is caught between two cultures: her Indian family and community at home, and the all-American experience at school and with her white “school best friend.” But it’s not all rosy. Her mother doesn’t approve of Reha acting more American than Indian. She makes all of Reha’s clothes, and is upset when Reha says she would like to go to the school dance.
Reha is understandably frustrated at her mother’s lack of understanding, but she’s about to have more problems. Her mom is diagnosed with leukemia and Reha’s life is turned upside down.
Measuring Up follows 12-year-old Cici who moves from Taiwan to the US with her parents, leaving behind her beloved A-ma (her grandmother). Thankfully, the adjustment period isn’t too hard on her. She makes friends quickly and her English is already pretty good. However, she and her parents struggle with American culture, like sleepovers, fireplaces, and she quickly stops bring Taiwanese food to lunch, preferring instead to learn to make American food, so she can blend in.
Although Cici and her parents want to bring her grandmother over for a visit at least, they can’t afford to yet. Cici misses her A-ma with whom she used to go to the market and cook. So when she stumbles upon a kid cooking contest, it feels like the perfect opportunity to earn $1000. The only problem is that Cici can only cook Taiwanese dishes. Fortunately, she’s paired up with an Italian-American girl, Miranda, whose father runs a restaurant (and who practically grew up working in a restaurant). Halfway through the contest though, each contestant has to compete alone.
The best middle-grade books about immigration highlight the challenges of moving to a different country. These often include dealing with feeling like an outsider, and struggling to find one’s place in a new home, culture, and sometimes in the midst of anxiety caused by parental deportation or other immigration crises. This list has been on my mind for while, and I kind of went back and forth on whether or not it was worth it to make, since I already have a list of books about moving (which includes moving houses, moving to a new city or moving to a new country). Consider this list of middle books about immigration as one that includes books about moving and the immigrant experience.
Almost American Girl is Robin Ha’s graphic memoir detailing her move from South Korea to Huntsville, Alabama. Robin is 14 when she and her mother leave for one of their regular visits to the US. Except, this time it’s not Hawaii or any other vacation hotspot — it’s Alabama. Robin’s mother has been encouraging her to learn English like she has been doing, but Robin is uninterested, preferring to enjoy her Korean comics and spending time with her friends buying stationery and Korean street food.
When they arrive in Huntsville, Robin realizes that her mother is there to visit a man she has been corresponding with. His family welcomes them, but Robin feels out of place since she can neither speak nor understand English. She dreams of returning to Korea when the vacation is over. However, Robin is in for a shocker as her mom announces that she’s marrying this man, and she and Robin are staying put in America. Her whole life changes forever, as she struggles to assimilate, while handling the ups and downs in her mother’s relationship.
In Efrén Divided, Efrén’s life changes drastically after his mother gets deported. With his father working long hours to care for the family financially and also raise funds to bring his mother back to the States, Efrén has to take charge of the home front. He cares for his younger twin siblings, Max and Mia, while balancing schoolwork and school politics as well as his issues with his best friend, David.