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Highlighting the Immigrant Experience through Art and Young Adult Literature, A guest post by librarian Lisa Krok

This week I had the opportunity to visit the incredible exhibit, The American Library, by Yinka Shonibare, MBE at the Cleveland Public Library in Cleveland, Ohio. This exhibit was commissioned as part of An American City: Eleven Cultural Exercises by FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art. Dedicated to supporting freedom of speech, blended heritage, open borders, and educational rights, The American Library is a sequel to Shonibare’s The British Library installation of 2014. Approximately six thousand books are wrapped in vibrant African wax cloth (a main feature of the artist’s work) and are housed in open bookshelves for display. The spines of the books are stamped in golden ink with the name of a first- or second-generation immigrant to the United States. Each immigrant featured has contributed to American culture via the arts, science, sports, politics, and more. There are also a few names of those opposed to immigration sprinkled in, for a scavenger hunt of sorts.


The breathtaking sights that greet visitors upon entering the exhibit.


The double-sided shelving encourages plenty of exploration. The teen librarian in me intentionally sought out names that would have recognition and appeal for teens. What an incredible field trip this would be for teachers to take their students and prompt lively discussions!


Wrestler/actor John Cena, baseball star Omar Vizquel, politician/activist Kamala Harris


Tattoo artist/tv personality Kat Von D, basketball star Kyrie Irving


Can you spy the dissenter on this shelf with musician Selena Gomez?


Young adult author Nnedi Okorafor, Maria Von Trapp of The Sound of Music fame, and legendary musician, John Lennon


President Barack Obama standing strong on a shelf with dissenter Peter Brimelow

These examples are only a handful of many that visitors can find when touring The American Library installation at the Cleveland Public Library. Highly recommended for anyone living close enough to visit before the exhibit concludes on September 30. For those living too far for a live visit, please go to  https://cpl.org/theamericanlibrary/ and https://frontart.org/  for more information and images.


After seeing this, as a teen librarian or a teacher working with teens, what can you do?

  • Visit in person and/or share the websites above with teens to promote conversations about immigrants and refugees.
  • Those interested in sharing their own family histories can tag posts on social media with #FRONTArt2018. This helps to provide an interactive element that will enhance discussions about immigration on a broader level.
  • Research family ancestries at the library.
  • Promote, share, and engage teens with reflections from YA books about immigration and refugees.


Please see below for recent YA titles featuring immigrants and/or refugees:

poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Internment by Samira Ahmed  (March 2019)

love hate

Love ,Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

american panda

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers (MG)

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Hooper by Geoff Herbach

The War Outside by Monica Hesse


Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab and Jackie Roche

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (MG)

This Land is Our Land: A History of American Immigration by Linda Barrett Osborne


The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi

i am not your

I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

Escape from Aleppo by  N. H. Senzai

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (MG)

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

*MG denotes middle grade

**All photos of exhibit were taken by author of this article with permission for reuse.



-Lisa Krok is a branch manager in the Cleveland Public Library system (Cleveland, Ohio), a member of the 2019 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers team, and a Ravenclaw. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

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