Teachers often ask me to recommend books about the contemporary immigrant experience, and fortunately, there is a growing selection of books from which to choose. For middle grade readers, the books that spring to mind are, among others: Esperanza Rising, Inside Out and Back Again, A Long Walk to Water and Shooting Kabul.
When a teacher who works with younger children asks for books to spark conversations about moving to a new country, I go to the shelf and pull my favorites: The Name Jar, My Name is Yoon, Good-Bye 382 Shin Dang Dong, and Brothers in Hope. Now I will add two more:
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood
My Two Blankets is a story about the power of friendship. The young girl at the center of the story has one of the best names I’ve ever read – Cartwheel – a name that perfectly captures her vivacious spirit. At the beginning of the story, Cartwheel leaves her African village and moves to a new country where she is understandably fearful and lonely. “When I went out, it was like standing under a waterfall of strange sounds. The waterfall was cold. It made me feel alone. I felt like I wasn’t me anymore.” Cartwheel wraps herself in a metaphorical blanket and remembers the home she had to leave. Her days begin to brighten when she meets a girl at the park – a girl who brings her the gift of words in the shape of origami. ¨Every time I met the girl, she brought more words. Some of the words were hard. Some of them were easy.¨
Freya Blackwoodś delicate watercolors extend the story. Cartwheel is always pictured wearing orange and gold. Her new friend wears gentle shades of blue and green. Soon, as the colors begin to blend, Cartwheel feels more comfortable in her new home and her blanket grows to include new stories.
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat and Leslie Staub
Mamaś Nightingale is about a young girl who learns the power of words to change lives. Saya, whose parents are Haitian, lives with her father in the United States. Her mother is, as Saya describes it, in a prison for women without papers.” As Saya watches her father write letters in support of his wife, she decides to write her own letter which her father sends to a newspaper reporter. Following the publication of Saya’s letter, a television reporter arrives and soon her mother receives a hearing before a judge who rules that Sayaś mother can return home while she waits for her papers.
One of the many elements that make Mama’s Nightingale so special are Leslie Staub’s illustrations, especially the recurring symbol of blue and pink nightingales. Brilliantly colored, the nightingales parallel Sayaś mother story: being locked in a bird cage, holding a key near the judge, and finally singing freely.
On a completely unrelated note – but too cool to be left out….
Inspired by Where the Wild Things Are, one of Inly’s kindergarten teachers worked with her students to make their own wild things…