These authors don't like the immigration stories they're hearing from Washington. So they're writing their own
Updated 1:36 PM ET, Sat December 21, 2019
(CNN)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.
The 2016 election was likely a major catalyst, according to Cappy. So was a push for more diversity in children's literature that began well before President Trump took office.
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
Juana Martinez-Neal came up with the idea for "Alma and How She Got Her Name" long before the 2016 election. But she says she changed several pages in the book after the results came in.
The book was published in 2018 and won a prestigious Caldecott Honor this year. It tells the story of Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, a little girl with a long name -- "too long if you asked her." Throughout the story, Alma's father tells her about each family member who inspired her name -- including the scene Martinez-Neal says she added after the election, a grandmother depicted marching in a protest who "always stood up for what is right."
By the end of the book, the girl's frustration with her name turns into a sense of pride.
"Alma is an immigrant and so is her family. I do feel it is in some ways an immigration story," says Martinez-Neal, who immigrated to the United States from Peru. "But I think the most important part about the book is we don't center the book on the fact that she's an immigrant. We just center the book on the fact that she has a story and she can share it."
Martinez-Neal says the story is something anyone can relate to, no matter their cultural background. "We all have names," she says.
He wanted to write a book that would make his daughter proud
Bao Phi, a spoken-word artist and poet based in Minnesota, didn't write children's books until he had a daughter of his own.
"There were times when my daughter, when she was much younger, kind of showed that she was both ashamed and not understanding the place of Southeast Asians in America," Phi says. "So I wrote 'A Different Pond' because I wanted her to have a picture book that honored the struggle of her grandparents, working-class Vietnamese refugees."
"A Different Pond" tells the story of a boy and his dad fishing before sunrise to bring home food for their family. "A kid at my school said my dad's English sounds like a thick, dirty river," the boy says as they head to the pond. "But to me his English sounds like a gentle rain."