Authors write their own immigration stories
Yuyi Morales heard hateful rhetoric about immigrants and knew she needed to fight back.
So she started drawing.
The author and illustrator already had made her mark on children’s literature in more than a dozen books. With the 2016 election fresh in her mind, Morales felt it was time to tackle a more personal topic.
“I felt like I had no choice, actually. … I felt that if someone was going to define who immigrants were,” she says, “it was going to have to be us.”
Morales’ 2018 children’s book, “Dreamers,” tells the story of a journey she made decades ago, and how she found her way after coming to the United States from Mexico with a young son in tow.
The award-winning immigration tale has already become a mainstay on the shelves of many bookstores and libraries. And it’s far from the only one.
Inspired by the political moment and their own experiences, a growing number of authors are writing children’s books about immigration.
“It’s a total golden age. … We have seen a serious uptick,” says Kirsten Cappy, executive director of I’m Your Neighbor Books, a Maine-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting children’s books about “new arrivals and new Americans.”
From 2000-2006, there were just a handful of children’s books dealing with immigration or immigrant families published each year, according to a database the group maintains. In 2016, there were a dozen. And by 2018, there were more than 100.
Events in the news are also inspiring some books hitting the shelves. One novel for young readers published this year tells the story of a migrant caravan from El Salvador through the eyes of a child making the journey. And a picture book describes what life is like for a child whose father is being held in an immigrant detention center.
Some books weave immigration into their stories without directly mentioning it. Others make characters’ journeys from one country to another a central focus.
Here’s a look inside several recent children’s books, and why the authors who wrote them say they decided to tell these stories:
She read picture books with her son when she was a new immigrant
Morales’ “Dreamers” paints a vivid portrait of the struggle to understand a new place — and how books themselves can offer a refuge.
Written in the voice of a mother talking to her son, the story details their lives as new immigrants in the United States and how they found comfort in an unfamiliar land when they discovered the picture book section of their local public library.
It’s an uplifting story. But Morales also is open about the difficulties she faced along the way.
“There were so many things we didn’t know,” she writes in one section of the book. “Unable to understand and afraid to speak, we made a lot of mistakes.”
Morales says the illustrations on those pages depict mistakes she made after she came to the United States in 1994 — from being afraid to answer the phone to struggling to find place names a map.
“I gave myself permission to tell my story in the hopes that it would become an invitation for other people to tell their story…so that everyone knows, especially children, how valuable and important their stories are,” she says. “A story doesn’t have to be out of this world to be significant.”
She rewrote part of her book after the election