Who hasn’t heard the question that forms the title of today’s Perfect Picture Book? I have vivid memories of the first weeks at university when this question could be heard in every classroom, corridor and dormitory. I probably asked it myself. But when a classmate mimicked my accent and posed the question, I confess to wondering if I truly belonged and feeling rather hurt. Luckily, today’s Perfect Picture Book exists to help those now facing that question.
Title: Where Are You From?
Written By: Yamile Saied Méndez
Illustrated By: Jaime Kim
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2019
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: identity, self-acceptance, family, intergenerational, multicultural
Where are you from? they ask.
Brief Synopsis: A young girl asks her Abuelo, “Where am I from?”
Links to Resources:
- Ask older relatives for information about your family history;
- Create a family tree. Be creative – it doesn’t need to be an actual tree. Our family used flower petals to feature each person in our immediate family. You could use other shapes to highlight features that define each person (sports equipment, animal shapes, etc). Check out some other ideas here or use this printable tree with spaces to include family names and/or pictures.
Why I Like this Book:
In lyrical text, Where Are You From? explores a question that troubles children of mixed heritage who seek to understand why their skin tone or hair or language may be different from those around them. Interestingly, the unnamed narrator asks the question of her Abuelo, not because she notices the differences, but because others ask her, questioning whether she belongs.
I think all children wonder where they’re from, but for children whose features differ in some way from others in their school or community, this is an especially important issue. Thankfully, the young narrator has a wise grandfather who understands his granddaughter’s concerns and reassures her of her family’s love.
Kim’s rich illustrations provide a colorful accompaniment to Méndez’ text, as Abuelo describes the places of origin of the narrator’s ancestors.
A Note about Craft:
In Where Are You From?, Méndez utilizes first person point-of-view, which helps make the story seem more personal. But interestingly, the title and first lines indicate that the narrator reacts to the words of those around her. By using a question as the title and including “you” in that question, Méndez also draws readers into the story and may make them consider their own family or cultural background. It may also help them realize the hurt they cause when they pose this question to someone who differs somehow from the group.
Check out Méndez’ website to see more of her books. See more of Kim’s work at her website. There’s also a Spanish-language version of this picture book.
This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!
What a great book to help all children wonder about their heritage. And, I love intergenerational stories. I know our son (we adopted from India) struggled with the question wherever he went, because he was dark skinned and had straight black hair. Kids and adults couldn’t figure him out. Fortunately at school, a group of kids befriended/protected him. We need more stories like this. Nice choice today.
I love that cover illustration. This book, if taken in the way in which this question was meant, as an exploration of one’s own heritage, is a good thing. On the other hand, having just had a two-hour discussion at an SCBWI meet-up about diversity in picture books, I would add a cautionary note. Many POC are overwhelmed by being asked this question, repeatedly, as if they aren’t American or don’t belong, and especially if they’re of mixed race. From what I understand, many are tired of being asked “Where are you from?”, and when they say Texas or San Francisco or whatever, people press on and say, “No, where are you ‘really’ from?” This can be alienating and intrusive. So, in the classroom as an exercise in celebrating one’s heritage, it can be a good thing. As a way of striking up a conversation with someone you’d like to know better, I would say, no. Unless it’s similar to the example you used about university, and everyone is using this as an ice breaker and speaking literally about where they came from. I hope I’m not sounding too negative, here. I’m trying to be more sensitive about how questions or statements like these are perceived by people of all races/cultures.
I just read this book. And I see now what I failed (miserably) to understand before: that the narrator is seeking to take the sting out of this question. It’s a beautiful book. Really well done.