Books That Teach Us About the Experience of Refugees and Immigrants

This year in English we have really been focused on learning about others.  Others whose life experience may be so very different from our own.  Others who have so much to teach us. Others who some may tell us to fear.  So our collection of chapter books and books have grown with a focus on breaking down biases and broadening understanding.  I, therefore, thought that it would be helpful for others to see which books have helped us do just that.  Many of these books have been on other lists that I have posted, but there are a few new ones.

Picture books

What’s in a name?  As educators, we know the inherent power of pronouncing a child’s name correctly to make them feel accepted and included.  This picture book from 2009 shares the story of Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan, and what happens when he comes to America.  A must add as we try to break down walls and build understanding for others in our classrooms.
One of the most powerful picture books to be published in 2016, The Journey is about a family as they flee from war and the decisions they have to make as they search for safety.  Beautifully illustrated this picture book packs a punch.
Also a picture book about a family that has to leave their country in search of safety, the artwork is all done by stone.  With both English and Arabic text, I am so grateful for the vision of this picture book.
Why would a child set out on foot toward America, knowing that there were thousands of miles filled with danger ahead of them?  This picture book illustrates the journey that more than 100,000 children have taken as they try to reach safety in the United States.  Told in poetry, this picture book helps us understand something that can seem inconceivable.

A Piece of Home written by Jeri Watts and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Fitting in. Feeling lost.  Appreciate differences.  What happens when a family chooses to move to the US and all of a sudden does not fit in anymore?

The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi (Having a name that no one pronounces correctly in the USA really makes me love this book even more).

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat (Author), Leslie Staub (Illustrator) brings us the story of a little girl’s longing for her mother as they are separated.  The mother has been sent to a detention center and does not know what will happen to her.

Sharing the story of Oskar, a young boy who has escaped the horror of the Jewish persecution in Germany and arrives in America with only a photograph and an address of an aunt he has never met.  He must make his way through the streets of NYC, but rather than being afraid, he sees the blessings he meets along the way. Another must add as we discuss refugees, and not being afraid of others in our classrooms.
Taken from his own life; this story of having to hide in a planetarium as the government looks for his activist father is one sure to get students talking.  What happens when you speak up but the government does not want you to.  Reminding us that even when it is scary, we should still stand up for what is right, and sharing the story of why some people have to flee, this is another must-add to your collection.

In The Seeds of Friendship by Michael Foreman a boy is not sure how to make a connection with others.  That is until he is given seeds and he has an idea of how to make this new gray city more like home.

What happens when a father and his young daughter set out toward the border?  In 

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood speaks to how hard moving is, but also about finding a new friend.  This is all about finding the beauty in someone else’s culture.

 Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh.  This allegory tells the tale of Pancho who is waiting for his father’s return from the north.  When Papa doesn’t show up as expected, Pancho is determined to find him.  The author, Duncan Tonatiuh, is a Global Read Aloud contender for picture book study.
 In Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say I am reminded of how split we can feel when we belong to two countries.  Beautiful and still relevant more than twenty years after its release, this is a wonderful way to discuss what it means to feel home.
 Sometimes the books that tell us the most do not even have words.  The Arrival by Shaun Tan wordless graphic novel/picture book is one that will mesmerize readers.

Chapter books

The Reading Identity Challenge

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At the beginning of the year, I asked my students to tell me how they felt about reading.  I do this every year as it offers me a baseline, a glimpse into their reading truths.  I was not surprised at the results, 25% told me they loved it, 50% told me they didn’t mind it, and the final 25%?  They told me they hated it.  Perhaps slightly higher than normal, but nevertheless, teaching 7th graders, I was not worried.  After all, every year it seems this happens and every year, children change their minds.

This year, though, some have proven to be stubborn.  Those kids that hate reading, they still were fighting me every step of the way.  Abandoning books, which we do embrace, every single day.  Refusing to book shop even.  Flipping pages aimlessly day in and day out.  Not having any desire to change their hatred, content with being part of the statistics of kids that don’t read.

So I created the Student Reading Identity Challenge.  Not just for the kids who still hated reading, but for those that needed a spark, those that needed to stretch their reading legs a little.  For myself to challenge my own reading life, nervously glancing at Hatchet and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as two books I had no desire to read but knew I should.

A reading challenge for us all, so we all could get better, whatever better meant to us.  The concept is simple; over the course of three weeks or so students would select one aspect of their personal reading life and challenge themselves to make it better or change it.  Much like a personal goal; there was no right challenge, instead, it was based on the individual’s needs, the hopes for the future.   There was no limit to what they could work on and they would be given around twenty minutes every day to read, rather than our usual ten.

We started with this five-page survey; yes, five pages.  I needed students in all their stages of reading relationship to uncover new truths about themselves.  It needed to go beyond whether they liked to read or not and into their actual reading habits.  Where are they reading, what are they reading, why are they not reading more?  Where are their book gaps?  Where do they get book recommendations from?  All those little things that play into who they are as a reader.  It took the kids almost two days to fill it out because I asked them to please slow down, please really think about it, and then show your goal to me.

The goals varied; I want to enjoy reading again, I want to try a new genre, I want to read every day.  Some couldn’t think of one until we looked through all of their answers and something jumped out at us.  Whatever the goal was there was a reason, a personal one, that this was the one thing they felt would help them become a better reader.  Some kids even chose a read aloud with another teacher so they could have a shared experience around a book, trying to help them actually like reading more.  For every goal there was a story; a story of reading blossomed or reading gone wrong.  For every goal there was either excitement or reprehension; how would this actually change anything?  Once all the goals were in place, I asked the kids to somehow keep track – how will you know you are working on your goal?  Some chose a calendar to write down minutes or rank their reading of the day, some chose a peer to speak about their reading.  This is the one component I am still working on, I did not want it to be a writing experience, one where the students would have to jot down their thoughts every day, but instead, an organic process for them that helped them have a great experience, not one more thing to do.

So we began; some kids book shopped the first few days, having to find a great book as part of their goal as well,  others dove right in.  I taught a mini-lesson every day and then the rest of the time was for them to read.  I pulled small groups, conferred with students, and otherwise watched.  Were they actually reading?  Was this actually working…

One child told me she was so confused in her fantasy book and this was exactly why she never read fantasy because “It doesn’t make any sense!” and yet because of the challenge she read on, declaring at the end of the book that she couldn’t wait for the sequel. Another told me she was stuck in the boring part and this was always when she abandoned a book, but now because of the challenge, she read on.  A child who has yet to read a single book this year, no matter my support, is on page 60 of Hatchet, telling me yesterday that he read 20 pages in one day.

Whatever their goal, I saw it gradually start to happen; kids finding a way to make reading better for themselves.  Kids realizing more deeply who they are as readers, where they are on their reading journey.  For some, it has proven to be a huge revelation, for others just a small one.  But for most, it has changed something in them as a reader.  For most, there is a deeper urge to make reading enjoyable, no matter what they are reading.

So yesterday, I taught my first two classes, followed my lesson plan to the tee.  But in my 5th hour, the students asked if they could please read for ten minutes today, knowing I had only allocated ten.  Of course, I said.  When the fifteen were up, they asked for five more minutes.  Of course, I said.  When the five were up they asked if they could please just read the rest of the class.  As twenty-five students stared at me, seemingly holding their breath, I said, “Of course.”  And then watched the thickest of silences fall over the room as they each retreated into their books.  Even the ones who tell me they hate reading.  Even the ones who used to flip pages.  I did the same for the rest of my classes, and it didn’t change; silence, except for the pages being turned, and one child telling me triumphantly that they had read fifteen pages today – more than they read all of last week.

The reading identity challenge is not the end all be all, but it is another step in helping students uncover another aspect of who they are as readers.  It is another tool to help them become empowered in their own reading journey.  It is another step to tell all of my students that reading matters and that they control so much of their relationship with reading.  That new genres await, that it is possible for reading to be fun, that they can make it through the boring parts, that they can go deeper in their text.  That reading should be a part of who they are and therefore also should be something they mold and shape as they develop further.

As for me?  It turns out that Hatchet and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry were amazing books.  That I have realized that perhaps I should be looking at other classic children’s book gaps to make sure I am able to recommend them to kids.  That even though I love reading, I still have things to work on.  Just like my students, just like we all do.

PS:  Here is the reflection sheet I had them fill out at the end.  The standard referenced is one that measures providing evidence for their thoughts.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

Some Favorite New Chapter Books, Part 1 2017

If my early reading of 2017 is any indication, this year is shaping up to be a powerhouse of a year in children’s literature.  And for that I am excited.  So what are some of the great books I have read, loved, and now am sharing?

Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang by Victoria J. Coe

If you have been within a mile of me and asked for a book recommendation for younger classrooms (1st grade and up you will have heard me mention Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe.  After all, this new series written from the perspective of a dog captured my heart last summer and is now a GRA contender.  So I am delighted to add the second book in the series as another must read.  How can you not love the adventures of Fenway as he tries to navigate the very confusing life of being a dog?

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor 

Yes, I am aware that this book was originally released in 1976 and subsequently won the Newbery.  It is by no stretch of the imagination a “new” book, but it was for me.  As part of our reading identity challenge, I wanted to close some of my classic American children’s literature gaps (growing up in Denmark, there are just some books I have never read), and so I chose this amazing book.  I am glad I did.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen 

I may be the only teacher left that had never read Hatchet before, at least that is what it felt like.  I now get why it continues to pop up in contemporary classrooms as a must read book.  I was hooked once that plane went down.

In my opinion, right now there are three must-read YA books this spring; Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  All desperately needed in our classrooms but not just to be read by students, no, these also need to be read by us adults.  And then we need to sit with them for a long time and take a long hard look at ourselves and see where we need to start our work with checking our privilege and our bias.

As mentioned above, American Street by Ibi Zoboi is another must read.  As an immigrant, I related to it, but as someone who is viewed as another white American (even though I am Danish), it was an education. Raw, poetic, and sure to make you think, this needs to be in our 8th grade and up libraries.  

I am a sucker for fantasy series that pits good against evil.  Throw in a slight romance and I am hooked.  I loved the concept of Frostblood (The Frostblood Saga) by Elly Blake, and while there certainly were similarities between this and other books in this type of vein, it didn’t matter.  It was a great read; entertaining and worth my time.  I cannot wait for the next book in this YA series.  

It is not often that a middle-grade novel about a girl who suffers from OCD is this well-written.  I simply loved Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz for its lack of sugarcoating, for its brutal portrayal of a girl who realizes what she is doing is not normal and yet cannot stop herself, for the story.  OCD is sometimes portrayed almost as a gimmick, but not in this book.  It was heartwrenching to say the least and written in a way to bring all readers in.  
In my book, Dav Pilkey can do no wrong.  His genius is one that ensures that so many kids see themselves as readers and I will never be able to personally thank him enough for his dedication to creating amazing books.  So Dog Man Unleashed (Dog Man #2)  was a natural read for me.  I laughed out loud, I did the flip-o-ramas and then I book talked it to my 7th graders.  I have not seen the book since.  This addition to this list also shows me how randomly I read at times, which I totally love.
I read  Scythe (Arc of a Scythe) by Neal Shusterman in two nights and then handed it to one of my students.  A week later she handed it back and said, “This is the best book I have read all year.”  Enough said, this is PG13, but a must add and read.
I grabbed  Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank  from my ARC book pile on a whim.  Two hours later I finally looked up and realized that I was not supposed to be sitting in my chair still reading.  I love this middle-grade novel for all of its nuances when it comes to sharing the story of one school’s integration in the 1970’s and so will you.  I also hvae two different students reading it right now and they agree; this book is a must add to 4th grade and up.
Yes please to a YA book where the female lead character doesn’t need to be saved, isn’t waiting to be changed by the boy she falls in love with, has a family that actually is functional, and is also not a hopeless mess.  I am a fan of First & Then by Emma Mills .
So there you have it, a small slice of my reading life from the past 7 weeks.  To see more up-to-date shares of what I read follow me on Instagram.  And to see all of the lists I have created through the last three years or so of favorite books, go here.
If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Some Favorite New Picture Books – Part 1, 2017

As I have been busy sharing favorite books on my Instagram account, I realize that I have not shared many new finds on here.  This quiet Saturday morning, where I am up much too early thanks to my kids, is, therefore, the perfect day to catch up.   So grab a cup of tea or coffee, make your list, borrow from your library or add them to your classroom, I promise you won’t regret it.

 Deborah Freedman has been on my list of amazing authors and overall human being for awhile now.  Het latest picture book is simply breathtaking.  Telling the story of a house and the parts it is made up of, it made me think of how to speak to our children about the birth of ideas and how it takes many different parts to make something beautiful.  What a beautiful message for us all right now.  This is released February 28th.
 I was unsure about a picture book that tells the story of the Manhattan Project, the creation of the atomic bomb, and yet the beauty of this book is exactly in how hard of a topic this is.  Powerful and moving with an author’s note that is sure to generate discussion, what a book this is.
While technically not a picture book but rather an early reader, we are obsessed with Charlie & Mouse in our household.  This brand new series from Laurel Snyder is laugh out loud funny and a must for anyone with younger children.  My eight year old loves it as well and reads it on her own.  This first book in a new series comes out in April, it is definitely worth the wait.
I had certainly heard of Lena Horne, however, I honestly knew very little about her.  This picture book has set me straight; her inspiring life not only as an entertainer but also a civil rights activist is one every child should know of.
A first for this blog; a recommendation of a board book, but Peep and Egg deserves to not only be read aloud to our littlest ones but also in our classroom.  The story of an egg that does not want to hatch made me laugh but could also lead to conversations about fear and how it holds us back.
While we have all heard the famous I Have A Dream speech seeing a collection of photographs from the days leading up to it and the march itself, really made me contemplate once again this immense moment in history.  These pictures coupled with the text are sure to bring a deeper understanding of the significance of the speech.
If you ever have to teach onomatopoeia then this is the picture book for you.  With gorgeous illustrations this book follows a fox as it tries to find shelter in a rainstorm.  I would whisper Caldecott but alas the illustrator does not fit the criteria.
A picture book about death not meant to frighten but meant to help children understand the beauty of a life well lived, this Danish picture book, is truly one to add to your collection.  Picture books can help us broach such difficult conversations in our classrooms and this one certainly does.
What’s in a name?  As educators we know the inherent power of pronouncing a child’s name correctly to make them feel accepted and included.  This picture book from 2009 shares the story of Sangoel, a refugee from Sudan, and what happens when he comes to America.  A must add as we try to break down walls and build understanding for others in our classrooms.
Sharing the story of Oskar, a young boy who has escaped the horror of the Jewish persecution in Germany and arrives in America with only a photograph and an address of an aunt he has never met.  He must make his way through the streets of NYC, but rather than being afraid, he sees the blessings he meets along the way. Another must add as we discuss refugees, and not being afraid of others in our classrooms.
Taken from his own life; this story of having to hide in a planetarium as the government looks for his activist father is one sure to get students talking.  What happens when you speak up but the government does not want you to.  Reminding us that even when it is scary, we should still stand up for what is right, this is another must add to your collection.
One of the most powerful picture books to be published in 2016, The Journey is about a family as they flee from war and the decisions they have to make as they search for safety.  Beautifully illustrated this picture book packs a punch.
Also a picture book about a family that has to leave their country in search of safety, the artwork is all done by stone.  With both English and Arabic text, I am so grateful for the vision of this picture book.
Why would a child set out on foot toward America, knowing that there were thousands of miles filled with danger ahead of them?  This picture book illustrates the journey that more than 100,000 children have taken as they try to reach safety in the United States.  Told in poetry, this picture book helps us understand something that can seem inconceivable.
There you have it, a few new favorites, I hope this list is helpful.  To see all of our other favorites through the year, please go here. 

3 Questions to Ask for a Critical Re-Evaluation of Your Classroom Library

“Really, Mrs. Ripp, another book about Civil Rights?” Spoken by one of my African American students as I pulled out the picture book I intended to use in our mini lesson.

Another book about Civil Rights….

His words followed me all of the way home.  Not because I was worried he didn’t know enough but because of what had followed those first words.

“You always pick those books…”

And he was right.  In my eagerness to embed more knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement into our mini lesson on advice from older characters, I wasn’t thinking about his representation to the rest of our mostly white class.  How once more what I showcased only supported a familiar narrative.  His words prompted a realization that seemingly the only picture books I used or that we even had in our classroom library featuring African Americans in them had to do with either slavery or Civil Rights.  Not every day life.  Not non-famous African Americans.  Just those two topics.  This realization has shaped a lot of my book purchasing decisions as of late and just how much work I still have to do.

I have been focused a lot on diversity of books, it’s hard not to when our world seems to need understanding, empathy, and fearlessness more than ever.  While our classroom library has been ever expanding with more diverse picks, I have realized through the help of my students that diversity is not enough.  That simply placing books that feature anything but white/cisgender/Christian characters in them is not enough.  It is a start, sure, but then how do we go further than that?

We ask ourselves; how are characters represented?

Prompted by the comment from my student, I now look for how characters of any race/skin color/culture are represented in all of our books.  Is everyone represented?  Even sub-groups that my students may not even be aware of?  Are we only showcasing one experience?  Are we only highlighting the famous people of that sub-group?  Are we only representing one narrative of a group of people that live a myriad of narratives?  My own ignorance has often led to blunders, such as the one described here, but I can do better. I can make sure that the books I bring in lead to realizations and understanding about others, not more of the same.

So don’t just ask who is represented, but ask how are they represented?  How would I feel if my own children were represented in this way?

We ask ourselves; do we have #OwnVoices authors represented?

The #OwnVoices hashtag is one I have been paying attention to as I look at the diversity of our classroom library and even on my own reading experiences.  Started by Corinne Duyvis the hashtag focuses on recommending books written/illustrated “about marginalized groups of people by authors in those groups.”  That is why I know Google who the author is and what their background is as I decide on placing a book in the library.  That is why I read blogs like Disability in Kidlit  (soon to be shut down which breaks my heart), follow Reading While White which had an entire month dedicated to OwnVoices books,  and also try to educate myself on what is out there.  If we want true representation in our classrooms then we have to do the legwork to make sure all marginalized groups are represented in the books we share with students.

So don’t just ask do I have broad representation in characters, but ask do I have broad representation in authors/illustrators?

We ask ourselves; how are books highlighted and selected?

Gone are the days where I haphazardly selected books to put on display or book talk.  Now my displays and selection process takes a little bit more time; which books are put out to grab for students?  What do the covers look like?  Who are the stories representing?  I also do not “just” put African American books on display for February to celebrate Black history month, but have them out all of the time.  My students should be immersed in a diverse reading experience at all times, not just in carefully selected months.

So don’t just grab a few books to put out because they are new; grab books that will offer students a wide reading experience and will expose them to new authors/titles that will broaden their own world.  Do not reserve diverse texts for a few months but have them on display at all times.

While I have grown, I have a long way to go.  My wish-list of books right now are a few hundred titles deep, especially as I focus on the sub-groups that are severely underrepresented in our library.  I am still educating myself, seeking out new titles, and seeking out those that know more than me.  If you want to see books that are getting added to our classroom library, follow me on Instagram as I share all new titles there.

One picture book that I urging every one to read and buy is this one

when-we-were-alone

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson and Julie Fleet.  

From Amazon:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Our Mock Caldecott Winners 2017

For the past week my students have been busy dissecting, discussing, and loving picture books as we tried to select the one winner and three honors books for the 2017 Caldecott.  This is the second year I have done this exploration with 7th graders and as one student told me, “This is one of my favorite units” and I agree.  Picture books allow all of my students to access tough issues, complex ideas, and also to gain a new appreciation for this artform.  They are a constant companion of what we do in our classroom and in our reading journey.  They form the ties of our community.  Delving into these books have allowed my students to think deeply about their own opinions and also worked on their debating skills.  While our exploration was short, I used some ideas from Jes Lifshitz’s longer Caldecott unit and then meshed my own ideas with it.  To see her post go here.

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Some of our Mock Caldecott potentials

 

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Love these beginning thoughts from my students.

I asked each class to come up with one winner and three honors books.  Here are our choices:

 

1st Hour

Honor:  Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Honor:  They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:  Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

 

Winner:  The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

 

3rd Hour

Honor: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor: 

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner: A tie between 

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

And

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

5th Hour

Honor:

Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

6th Hour

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Ada’s Violin – The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

7th Hour

Honor:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

Honor:

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Now we wait until January 23rd to see how right or wrong we were