DC Reads for Children and Teens

Staff Picks

DC Reads for Children and Teens

Starting a conversation about war, refugees, and immigrants

May is here, and that means DC Reads has begun. Throughout the month of May, our One City-One Book program encourages D.C. residents to read, discuss and connect around one book. This year's title is The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winner and newly appointed member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

The Refugees is an important piece of literature as well as a window into the lives of immigrants and refugees in our community. Check out the books below to begin a conversation with children and young adults about immigrants and refugees in America.   

Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam by Walter Dean Myers (grades 4 and up)
In this powerful story-poem, award-winning children’s author Myers takes young readers into the jungles of Vietnam to tell the story of a young American soldier who must make difficult, emotionally wrenching decisions during the war. Strikingly illustrated with evocative collages, this short picture book brings to life the difficult tasks soldiers must do each day. 
 
The Wall by Eve Bunting (PreK-grade 3)
Told from the child’s point of view, this is a moving account of the journey a father and son make to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to find the boy’s grandfather’s name. Rich illustrations depict the grief and solemnity of the monument as well as private details such as special items visitors often leave at the wall.  
 
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald (K-grade 2)
A young girl and her auntie leave their war-torn country and resettle in a Westernized city where everything they see and hear is different. In this strange, new place, Cartwheel creates a metaphorical “blanket” of her native words and warm memories. When a new friend invites her to play, Cartwheel begins the process of assimilation and eventually creates a new “blanket” of words taught by her new friend. Vivid colors and powerful text depicting loneliness and friendship make this an insightful read about immigrants and the effects of war on children.
 
My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams (grades 1-3)
How can you feel at home when no one can say your name? Sangoel, a Sudanese boy, comes to the United States from a refugee camp and settles in an American city with televisions, traffic and snow. Refusing to change his Dinka name proudly passed down from his father and grandfather, the boy finds a delightfully creative way to help his new community say his name. Four Feet, Two Sandals is another wonderful book by the same author about two Afghani girls. 

Shooting the Moon by Frances Dowell (grades 5-9)
When Jamie’s brother TJ enlists and goes to fight in the Vietnam War, she’s thrilled. She’s an Army brat and she’d go if she were old enough. Instead of letters, TJ sends home rolls of film that Jamie excitedly begins to develop. The realities of war hit her hard, and she begins to doubt her unwavering acceptance of all things military that has been her world for 13 years. An important, and timely, story about war, friendship and facing new truths. 
 
Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata (grades 5-8)
Army dog Cracker sniffs out bombs, mines and the enemy with her 17-year-old soldier-handler Rick, who wanted to leave his hometown to “whip the world.” Told in alternating voices between Cracker and Rick, this story takes young readers to Vietnam and into the heads of soldiers and the dogs who protect them, while remaining fairly neutral on the politics or frightening images of war.

10,000 Days of Thunder:  A History of the Vietnam War by Philip Caputo (grades 7-10)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Vietnam veteran Caputo has given young students a boots-on-the-ground glimpse of the war in this stunning and thoroughly researched book. Often referred to as the consummate book for kids on the Vietnam War, Caputo’s narrative offers historical background to the conflict, anecdotes from soldiers and civilians on both sides of the battle, plus news coverage of the protests and riots across America. 
 
1968, The Year America Grew Up by Michael Kaufman (grades 9 and up)
The year 1968 was indeed a watershed yearnot just in America, but around the world. Race riots, war protests, space missions, democratic uprisings and the political assassinations of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy all came together in “a year like no other.” In this chronology, veteran New York Times reporter Kaufman presents an astute and accurate account of events that shaped history around the globe. Sidebar notes and striking photos make an appealing and easy-to-consume format for young historians.  
 
The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande (grades 6-9)
In this adapted memoir, Grande tells the story of leaving her home and cruel grandmother in Mexico to rejoin her parents in America. Themes of poverty, immigration and domestic violence are matched with love, support, determination and academic success, mirroring many of the struggles facing recent immigrants from Mexico. Available in Spanish as La Distancia entre Nosotros. 

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (grades 6 and up)
This is a classic coming-of-age story about Esperanza Cordero, a Latina growing up in Chicago.  Told in vignettes and poems, her story is as poignant as it is heart-breaking. This book is taught in schools and universities. Available in Spanish as La Casa en Mango Street.
 
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz (grades 9 and up)
“I wished that Dante and I lived in the universe of boys instead of the universe of almost-men." There it is, that wish to be older and less awkward. Two very different boys become friends accidentally but grow close through shared experiences, salty humor, and a need for self-identity. Saenz’s gift of character development and dialogue lends authenticity to familial struggles and enduring friendship. 
 
Death Coming up the Hill by Chris Crowe (grades 9 and up)
Ashe Douglas is 17 years old in 1968 and spends every day at school and at home watching people fight. His peace-activist mother vehemently opposes the Vietnam War, while his racist father yells obscenities at the television and his wife. Political leaders are shot, and Americans march for equality, and against this backdrop, author Crowe writes about a young man struggling to understand his conflicting attitudes towards war, his parents and his country. This novel is composed entirely in haiku stanzas, with a syllable for every American soldier's death that year.