25 Middle Grade Books About Immigrants and Refugees


Most of us who live in the United States can trace our roots back to somewhere else. Our nation is a melting pot; a collection of people from all over the world who have come together in this one place, over hundreds of years. This diversity is one of the very best things about our country.

You may also enjoy these Picture Books About Immigrants and Refugees!

For those of us who have always called America home, it can be hard to imagine what life is like for an immigrant moving to a new country. It can be especially difficult to envision what life must be like for refugee families who were forced to flee their homes, often with nothing.

Many immigrants also face an additional struggle when they flee to a new country. Sadly, immigrants and refugees often experience religious discrimination, racism, and xenophobia, which makes the transition to a new home even more difficult. That’s why books like these are so important — they help children learn compassion and consider the feelings of others.

Reading these books about immigrants and refugees with your children will help them build empathy for the struggles other people face. They’re also a great reminder that, while we may be from different places, we all share things as humans that bind us together. Kindness, friendship, and love transcend all cultural barriers.

25 Chapter Books About Immigrants

Middle Grade Books About Immigrants and Refugees

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Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh

Ahmed is feeling alone after fleeing his home of Syria for Brussels, Belgium, and losing his father along the way. Max is struggling at school and missing his home in Washington, D. C. The two boys seem very different, but they both feel out of place. After a chance meeting, they become fast friends and learn how to navigate life in their new city together.

This novel is full of heart and grapples with important topics like xenophobia and Islamophobia. I recommend it for kids ages 10 and up.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

This graphic novel explores the exodus of refugees from the country of Syria, starting in 2011. Not only did the Syrian people have to flee their homeland, they were not always received well in their new homes, and often received the brunt of others resentment and xenophobic attitudes. Don Brown tells the stories of many of these people, focusing on both heartbreak and hope.

This book is perfect for sharing with kids ages 11 and up.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang dreams of being a writer, but her mom wants her to stick with math, since English isn’t her native language. While working the front desk at the Calivista Motel, Mia dreams about her future, and worries about the present. The boss Mr. Yao doesn’t know that her parents are hiding immigrants in empty motel rooms. Mia knows they’re doing the right thing, but if her parents get caught, the Tangs will lose everything.

Set in the 1990s, this book is fun and uplifting, despite the serious subject matter. This book is one of my favorites! I recommend it for children ages 8 and up.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhhà Lai

Hà and her family are forced to leave Saigon due to the Vietnam war, and she finds herself leaving behind everything she knows and loves for a new home in America. In Saigon, Hà felt happy and confident; in the States, she struggles with both fitting in and growing academically. The book follows her journey as she grieves what she left behind while learning how to thrive in her new home.

This is an absolutely gorgeous book that incorporates much of the author’s own experience. I recommend it for readers ages 8 and up.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Haley isn’t sure about having to meet with five other students at school every week. They’re left alone in a classroom and told that they can talk about anything. There’s a lot Haley would rather not talk about, like her deceased mother or her incarcerated father. What is she supposed to say to these kids?

Slowly but surely, the group of six begin to bond. They share deeply personal experiences with each other, like Esteban’s father’s deportation or Amani’s fears of being racially profiled. As they bond, they make a promise to each other: “I will harbor you.”

I love this book and recommend it for all kids ages 10 and up.

Fresh Off the Boat by Melissa de la Cruz

Vincenza is excited to be in America, but it’s not the dream come true she portrays in her letters back to Manila. Her parents stick out like a sore thumb, she has to get her clothes from the Salvation Army, and instead of going to the dance with her crush, she’s going with Freddie in an ugly dress. Will she ever find a friend or feel like she fits in at her fancy private school?

This story is a fun mix of teen drama and lessons about acceptance. I recommend it for kids ages 11 and up.

One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman

Anais thought she was good at English when she studied it in her Congolese school, but English in America is a totally different beast. As Anais adapts to her new life in America, she writes letters back to her Oma in the DRC, sharing about the Crazy American things she is learning in her new home. Over time, American starts to feel less crazy, and Anais begins to feel like she might be a Crazy American herself.

This sweet book is a great read for children ages 8 and up.

A Galaxy of Sea Stars by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Izzy’s home life is chaotic, and she doesn’t like it. Her dad hasn’t been the same since he came back from Afghanistan, and she wants her mom to move back in with the family again. But she’s excited for a new school year at a new school with her two best friends — they call themselves the Sea Stars.

Things shift once again for Izzy when her father’s interpreter from the Army begins renting the upstairs apartment. Sitara, the interpreter’s daughter, is Izzy’s age, but is so different from Izzy and her friends. Sitara wears a hijab and eats different food, and she doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that she doesn’t fit in. Can Izzy become friends with Sitara while staying friends with the Sea Stars?

This book is really powerful and I recommend it for readers ages 8 and up.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

Zomorod Yousefzadeh and her family have moved again; this time to Newport Beach, California. She’s ready to start in a new place with her new name (Cindy) and hopefully a new image.

But, it’s the late 1970s and it’s hard for an Iranian-American girl to fit in when Iran is taking American hostages. Even though Cindy has nothing to do with what is happening in the Middle East, she still faces anti-Iranian sentiment in her new town. Fitting in is hard when everyone seems to hate where your family is from.

I recommend this book for kids ages 9 and up.

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

When life in Syria becomes to dangerous, Jude and her mother are sent to Cincinnati to live with extended family. Jude is heartbroken to leave her father and brother behind, and she’s overwhelmed by America. Everything in the US seems loud, fast, and scary.

However, as time goes by, Jude makes friends and begins to find her way. She begins to think that she might be able to adjust to life in America, and find a way to call it her home.

I recommend this lovely book, written in poetic verse through the eyes of Jude, for readers ages 8 and up.

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

Soledad and Ming have experienced lots of turmoil in their young lives: the death of their mother and sister, their move from the Philippines to Louisiana. And then, their father returns to the Philippines and leaves the girls with their evil stepmother. The girl’s source of escape and hope is the magical stories that Sol tells to Ming. It is Sol’s stories that protect Ming and give her hope.

When Ming starts to believe that the girls will one day be saved by the mythical aunt in Sol’s stories, Sol begins to wonder if she’s done the wrong thing. Have the stories she has told to protect her sister given Ming a false hope that will break her heart?

This powerful story of love and sisterhood is perfect for children ages 8 and up.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

Everything Aref loves is in Oman, like his school, his friends, and his grandfather, Sidi. Aref wants to stay in Oman, but his parents are going to graduate school in the United States, and Aref must go with them. Before they leave, Aref and Sidi go on one last adventure together, and Sidi slips some memories of Oman into Aref’s suitcase.

This lovely novel is perfect for reading with kids ages 7 and up.

The Crossroads by Alexandra Diaz

Jaime thought crossing Mexico into the US would be the hardest part of his trip from Guatemala, but life in America is way more difficult than he expected. He doesn’t speak English well, and when his cousin, Ángela, finds friends quickly, Jaime feels left behind. Bad news from home makes things even harder for Jaime.

Jaime knows it isn’t safe for him to go back to Guatemala, but he’s not sure he wants to keep living as an undocumented immigrant in the States, either. Can Jaime ever find hope and happiness in the United States?

Jaime’s gripping story is an excellent choice for kids ages 8 and up.


Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Joe is bummed out; his best friend has moved away, making life and his time at school at lot less fun. Ravi is struggling at the same school. His family has recently moved to the US from India and he’s having trouble figuring out where and how he can fit in.

Ravi and Joe find common ground with each other in a shared enemy. The two boys forge a friendship as they work to stand up for themselves and take on the biggest bully in their grade.

I recommend sharing this engaging novel with readers ages 8 and up.

The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi

Jason is terrified when he learns that his mother is undocumented. Jason was born the US, but he worries for his mother’s safety, and about what would happen to him if they were separated. She is all Jason has.

When Jason sees his mother being walked out of her workplace by two officers, he fears the worst and sets off for New York City, in the hopes of finding his aunt. An accident lands him in the hospital, which is where he meets Max, a fellow young patient. Soon Max is enlisted in Jason’s adventure, and the two are soon braving the streets of New York together.

This exciting story is an excellent choice for children ages 8 and up.

The Year I Flew Away By Marie Arnold

In 1985, Gabrielle moved from her home in Haiti to Brooklyn, New York. She was originally excited about the change, but New York isn’t what she thought it would be. Gabrielle has a hard time fitting in, learning the language, and navigating bullying and teasing.

When a witch offers Gabrielle the chance to become “American,” she jumps at it. Surely not feeling so foreign will make her life easier! But Gabrielle soon realizes how much of herself she has lost in the deal, and with some new friends, she searches for a way to reverse the spell and get her old self back.

This story blends 1980s New York with magic and fantasy, and it’s a great choice for kids ages 9 and up.

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai

Jingwen has moved to the United States, but he might as well have moved to Mars. School is awful, and because he doesn’t know English, he can’t really talk to anyone except his annoying younger brother. Jingwen passes his time daydreaming about making the cakes his father planned to make at the Pie in the Sky bakery — the bakery he planned to open before he died unexpectedly.

Jingwen would love to trying making cakes for real, but his mother has a strict rule: no using the oven while she isn’t home. Jingwen and his brother decide to jump into cake baking, while hiding the tasty evidence from their mother.

This fun and inspiring illustrated novel is perfect for readers ages 7 and up.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

This book of poetry follows Kek as he arrives in Minnesota from Africa. The cold and snow is unlike anything Kek has ever seen before. As Kek adjusts to his new life and waits for news of his mother, and he makes friends a young girl, an old woman, and even a cow. Minnesota may be chillingly cold, but for Kek, there is warmth to be found.

Both of my sons read this book in the 5th grade and really enjoyed it. I recommend it for children ages 9 and up.

Love, Love by Victoria Chang

This book of poetry tells the story of Frances, a young Chinese-American girl living in Detroit with her immigrant parents and older sister. Frances feels alone at school, where she doesn’t fit in. She also feels alone at home. Her parents work all the time, and when they aren’t working they’re worried about Clara’s health. Frances finds solace in playing tennis, and the game allows to feel as if there is somewhere in the world where she belongs.

I recommend this book for kids ages 10 and up.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

This book is based on the true story of Salva Dut, a “Lost Boy” of the 1985 Sudanese Civil War. It follows young Salva and his journey after the war comes to his town and he is forced to flee for his safety. A refugee in his own country, he must fight every day to survive the heat, lack of food, and other dangers in his path.

The book also follows the story of Nya, a young girl living in Sudan in 2008. Lack of access to clean water makes life incredibly difficult for Nya and her family. Nya’s story intersects with Salva’s in an amazing way.

This book is a true page-turner, and I recommend for kids ages 10 and up, with the caveat that it can be hard to read in parts due to the intensity of the situations Salva faces. I definitely recommend parents read this one along with their kids.

Refugee by Alan Gratz

This powerful book follows the lives of three children at different points in history, all forced to leave their homes to find safety in another land. Readers will meet Josef, a young Jewish boy fleeing Germany in the 1930s; Isabel, a young girl leaving Cuba in 1994; and Mahmoud, a boy forced to leave his home in Syria in 2015.

In these powerful stories, readers see both the differences between these different cultures, and the shared emotions and experiences that come with the refugee experience. I recommend this book for children ages 10 and up. My son read this with his fifth grade class and it made a huge impression on him, and led to him seeking out more of Alan Gratz’s books.

My Diary From Here to There/Mi diario de aqui hasta alla by Amanda Irma Perez

This book follows the journal entries of a young girl named Amanda. Amanda’s family is moving from Mexico to Los Angeles. In her diary, Amanda records her hopes, dreams, and fears, and readers follow along as she learns more about her new home and leans on her family for support.

This gorgeous “middle grade picture book” is an excellent choice for readers ages 8 and up.

Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai

Fadi and his family fled Afghanistan in the summer of 2001. Unfortunately, Fadi’s sister Mariam was separated from them, and Fadi blames himself for leaving her behind. Life in America is hard, especially after the September 11th attacks, and it’s even harder for Fadi without his sister.

A photography contest seems to be Fadi’s one chance to be able to find his sister again, but even then, he wonders if it’s enough to reunite his family.

This powerful story is perfect for readers ages 9 and up.

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems by David Bowles

Güero is a “border kid,” speaking both Spanish and English and moving between cultures. This book of poetry chronicles Güero’s experiences with his friends, “Los Bobbys” and all the things he faces as a young man growing up in a town on the Mexican-American border.

I recommend this book for kids ages 9 and up.

Here I Am by Patricia Hee Kim

This graphic novel follows a boy and his family on their first days in a new city and country. The traffic, noise, and people are an adjustment for them, but they also find joy and wonder in their experience.

This book is perfect for sharing with children ages 8 and up.

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Crystal

Crystal is an activist, feminist, and mom of three. She loves reading, crochet, and enjoying her family and friends. She lives with her family in Indianapolis.

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