Coming to America Literature Guide

Grade Level: 
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
by Betsy Maestro - A guide for parents, teachers, and group leaders to accompany the reading of this picture book. The guide below provides before, during, and after-reading discussion questions. Choose from activities and discussion questions to build children's understanding of immigration, cultural diversity, and what it means to be a welcoming community.

America is a country made up of diverse people, many of whom came here for a better life. Through the lens of immigration, this book documents the history of America from the very first Indiginous people to the closure of Ellis Island in 1954. Learn about the difficulties immigrants and refugees faced in the hopes of finding a better life for themselves. Most importantly, this book celebrates the contributions of immigrants to the United States.

Before Reading:

Ask: Have you ever met someone who speaks a different language or was born in a different country? How might it feel to move to a place where people speak a different language than you and the daily routines are unfamiliar?

Show: Look at the cover of Coming to America. Point to the picture of the Statue of Liberty. Discuss what liberty means. Look in the book at pictures of Ellis Island. Talk about what you think these people are doing and where they are going.

Connect: Why might these people be happy to see the Statue of Liberty? 

During Reading:

Ask: What are some things that you would choose to bring along if you moved to a new country? Why do you care so much about these things?

Show: Pick one of the characters or families and make up a story about them. Point out details that hint at where they came from, their names, and why they are leaving their home.

Connect: Describe some activities you do with your family that are fun. Talk about what other families do that looks like fun. Talk about whether you will do these same activities with future families. Immigrants bring their family activities and add new and interesting activities and ideas to our community.

After Reading:

Ask: What is good about having people in our community from many different backgrounds? What happens when people with different backgrounds come together in one place?

Show: Throughout history, immigrants have done wonderful things for our country as well as for our individual communities. What are some examples of the contributions immigrants have made?

Connect: What can we do to help immigrants and people who are new to our community feel welcome and adjust to their new life? What would you think you would need if you were new to this country?


  1. Take a walk around your community and discuss its history. Are the buildings old or new? Describe the stores or markets you see. Do many different kinds of people live in your community? When was your community founded and by whom?
  2. Design a flag for your community on construction paper. Use symbols to represent people, businesses, and festivals that make your community special, including the racial and ethnic diversity.
  3. Choose an object that is important to you. Tell your family members why you like it and describe its history (where it came from and what it has been through with you). How would you feel if you lost this object or memory? Immigrants often had to leave everything behind when they came to America, even things that were very meaningful to them.
  4. Looking at the last picture in the book, draw or take pictures of your own community that highlight some of the amazing things that one can find there.