Unit Plan: Immigrants: Our Ancestors

Here are a few of many books I use to teach about immigration. This is a starting point, not an all-inclusive list.

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration
by Betsy Maestro

A succinct history of U.S. immigration for students of all levels that captures the joy and anxiety of the successive waves of immigrants looking for a better life in beautiful watercolor illustrations.

Classroom Tip: Begin the unit with this read-aloud picture book. It goes back to Native Americans crossing the land bridge. It also includes a brief explanation about slavery and introduces the International Luncheon, a culminating activity for the unit.

The Copper Lady
by Alice Rose and Leslie W. Bowman

This tale is set in 1880s France as a young boy visits where the Statue of Liberty is being built and decides to stow away on the ship that will bring it to America.

Classroom Tip: This is a fictionalized account of making and transporting the Statue of Liberty to the United States. Some second graders will be able to read it to themselves.

Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story
by Eve Bunting and Ben Stahl

A young girl journeys from Ireland to America with her two younger brothers becoming the first immigrant into Ellis Island.

Classroom Tip: I use this picture book once students have an understanding of immigration and Ellis Island. This is a read-aloud book which can be read over several days.

How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story
by Eve Bunting and Beth Peck

Modern day families face hardships coming to America.

Classroom Tip: This book is good for teaching about contemporary immigration.

How My Family Lives in America
by Susan Kuklin

A glimpse at how three families impart a sense of ethnic identity to their children.

Classroom Tip: This book includes nice photographs and details three different stories of recent immigrant children and their families.

I Hate English!
by Ellen Levine and Steve Bjorkman

Mei Mei, a bright and articulate immigrant from Hong Kong, overcomes her difficulty adjusting to the new language and culture at school in New York City.

Classroom Tip: This book uses cute pictures to tell the story of an immigrant girl who resists learning English and how her teacher helps.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
by Betty Bao Lord

Set in 1947, Chinese American Shirley Temple Wong becomes a part of her new American surroundings.

Classroom Tip: This is a great chapter book for reading aloud, since the reading level is above grade 2.

I Was Dreaming to Come to America: Memories from the Ellis Island Oral History Project
by Veronica Lawlor

In 15 excerpts, young immigrants from various ethnic backgrounds recount their reasons for coming to America and describe their feelings about leaving their country.

Classroom Tip: This book is one of my favorites. The short vignettes, about one paragraph each, are told by immigrants themselves as they remember their Ellis Island experiences.

The Keeping Quilt
by Patricia Polacco

A Jewish immigrant family passes on their story from their Russian homeland through their family’s clothing.

Classroom Tip: The quilt, a family treasure, is given from one generation to another. This story shows the importance of family and keepsakes.

by Allan Drummond

A lively story of the 1886 dedication of the Statue of Liberty.

Classroom Tip: This book has great pictures!

Lily and Miss Liberty
by Carla Stevens and Deborah Kogan Ray

Lily Lafferty eagerly prepares for Miss Liberty to come to America.

Classroom Tip: I have multiple copies of this leveled reader as part of my Scholastic Guided Reading program. I use it with a literature circle of more advanced readers. It's an excellent book for discussing tenement life. There are directions in the back of the book for making Miss Liberty paper crowns. This chapter book could be a read-aloud title as well.

The Long Way to a New Land
by Joan Sandin

In 1868 a family leaves Sweden to make a better life.

Classroom Tip: This is a Swedish family’s story. It is one of a few immigration books that students can read independently.

The Story of the Statue of Liberty
by Betsey Maestro and Guilio Maestro

An outstanding picture book on the Statue of Liberty.

Classroom Tip: Another terrific book about the Statue of Liberty. You’ll want to read several about the symbol of freedom throughout the unit.

Watch the Stars Come Out
by Riki Levinson and Diane Goode

Grandma tells her granddaughter of her own Mama's voyage "on a big boat to America."

Classroom Tip: If you have time, try to locate the Reading Rainbow video. LaVar Burton visits the Statue of Liberty under renovation.

We Are Americans: Scholastic History of Immigration
by Dorothy Hoobler and Thomas Hoobler

A comprehensive guide to immigration.

Classroom Tip: This book is for teachers, not for second graders.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea
by Amy Hest and Patrick James Lynch

Thirteen-year-old Jessie journeys from a poor village in Eastern Europe to New York City at the turn of the century.

Classroom Tip: This book is similar to Annie Moore’s story, Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story. If you have time, it would be good to compare/contrast the two stories.