Tag Archives: Immigration

PPBF – Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

This past Tuesday marked the United Nations’ #WorldRefugeeDay. In many countries, programs to illuminate the plight of refugees are being held this week (19-25 June 2017), and designated #RefugeeWeek. But while the numbers of refugees is at an all-time high, the act of leaving one’s home to escape danger or to discover a better life elsewhere is not new. Today’s Perfect Picture Book puts this current refugee crisis into historical perspective:

9781554518951_p0_v3_s192x300Title: Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees

Written By: Mary Beth Leatherdale

Illustrated By: Eleanor Shakespeare

Publisher/date: Annick Press Ltd/2017

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes/Topics: refugees, non-fiction, war, immigration

Opening:

At last, Ruth was free. She breathed a sigh of relief as she walked up the gangplank of the SS St. Louis. After trying to get out of Germany for two years, her family had finally secured passage on a ship headed to Havana, Cuba.

Brief Synopsis: Stormy Seas is a collection of five true stories about young people who fled their homelands by boat from World War II until today.

Links to Resources:

  • Leatherdale includes a Resources page in Stormy Seas, with links to organizations that work with refugees and organizations that maintain databases of refugee experiences;
  • Learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis
  • Read (or reread) the Paddington Bear stories and discuss how this orphaned bear must have felt as he left his home in Peru and traveled alone by boat to England, with a note around his neck, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” (with thanks to Sun Hats and Wellie Boots for pointing out the connection between Paddington Bear and refugees);
  • Try drawing pictures of refugee children in a boat. What do you think the boat looks like? Is it large or small? New or old? What have the children brought with them? What would you carry if you were journeying to a new home?
  • Check out the artworks at Counterpoint Arts that have been designed to draw attention to the plight of refugees and/or created by refugees.

Why I Like this Book:

Stormy Seas is not a picture book that you’d pick up lightly to read to young children at bedtime. Rather, Stormy Seas is a timely resource written for school-aged children that puts the current refugee crisis into context and puts faces on, and tells the true stories of, five young refugees who left their homelands in boats during several periods of recent history. A timeline of earlier refugee streams also is included.

Ruth was an 18-year-old Jew fleeing Nazi Germany, whose ship was turned away from Havana harbor in 1939, but whose family found refuge first in Great Britain and then in the United States. Phu, a 14-year-old boy, traveled alone from Vietnam in 1979, and finally joined family in the United States. Thirteen-year-old Jose and his family fled Cuba in 1980 as part of the Mariel boat lift to Florida. Najeeba, an 11-year-old member of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan, fled in 2000 with her family via Pakistan and Indonesia to Australia.  Mohamed, a 13-year-old orphan from the Ivory Coast, traveled alone across northern Africa to Libya, where, four years after he started, he traveled across the Mediterranean to Italy in 2010.

Told in their own words with sidebars explaining terms and context, and accompanied by collaged maps, photographs, newspaper articles, illustrations, and timelines, these stories, “give readers insight into the courage and fortitude of individual boat refugees, and a better understanding of how political and cultural conflicts force children and families into these untenable situations.” (interview with Leatherdale, in School Library Journal)

Stormy Seas will be a valuable addition to home, school, and community libraries seeking to illuminate the refugee journey for children.

Watch the book trailer here

A Note about Craft:

Stormy Seas is a unique compilation picture book, unlike any of the stories the vast majority of us will write and/or illustrate. Like the stories we tell, however, Leatherdale’s text and Shakespeare’s images need to pull on readers’ and listeners’ heartstrings – the pair had to find the emotional core of each story. By sprinkling quotations through the text and including photographs of these refugees as children, I think the pair has done so. Anyone writing non-fiction and/or biographies will learn much from studying Stormy Seas.

In addition to emotional pull, Leatherdale highlighted a common theme, escape via boat, to tie the individual stories together, while also focusing on differences in the refugees’ experiences, to keep the stories from seeming repetitive. Anyone writing about multiple subjects can learn from her focus on common threads and unique facts.

Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books provides reviews of picture books by topic. While Susanna is taking a break for the summer, you can still check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story

I’m continuing to review picture books dealing with immigration themes and found a fairly-recent book that also celebrates Ramadan, the Muslim holy month occurring now. Truly a Perfect Picture Book:

9780884484318_p0_v3_s192x300Title: Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story

Written By: Reem Faruqi

Illustrated By: Lea Lyon

Publisher/date: Tilbury House Publishers/2015

Suitable for Ages: 6-12

Themes/Topics: Ramadan, Islam, fasting, immigration, moving home, acceptance

Opening:

“We won’t be needing this for a while,” said Lailah’s mother, hanging up Lailah’s lunchbox.

“Imagine! I won’t be eating lunch for a month!” replied Lailah with a twirl.

“I won’t have to pack lunch for a month!” said her mom with a bigger twirl.

Brief Synopsis: A young Muslim immigrant is excited to fast for Ramadan for the first time, but finds it difficult to explain fasting and her religion to her new teacher and classmates.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about Ramadan in Laila’s Simple Guide to Ramadan;
  • Check out the Anti-Defamation League’s Teacher’s Guide to Lailah’s Lunchbox; 
  • Dates are eaten to break the fast after sundown each night during Ramadan; craft a date holder;
  • The evening meal during Ramadan is called an Iftar; find some Iftar recipes here;
  • Try making and sharing an easy, kid-friendly dish: watermelon chaat.

Why I Like this Book:

Lailah’s Lunchbox combines two themes well: explaining Ramadan and exploring the feelings of a child who recently has immigrated to a place where she is the only child in her class who fasts for Ramadan. Being different is difficult for kids (and adults), and I think Faruqi has done a wonderful job of capturing the emotional tugs of wanting to fit in to a dominant culture and upholding family, cultural, and/or religious values. I believe that feeling of deflation and difference is universal, and Faruqi has captured  it well. I also love the solution – which I won’t divulge here so as not to ruin the ending for those who haven’t read Lailah’s Lunchbox yet.

Equally important, Faruqi writes a positive story about Ramadan and fasting. As someone who grew up Catholic and hated Lent, with its notion of “giving up” and fishy Fridays coupled with a few “fasting” days, I loved learning about the spirit of community and sharing that pervades Ramadan.

Lyon sprinkles colorful mosaics throughout Lailah’s Lunchbox, including on the lunchbox itself. She also includes items that mimic the mosaics, such as the backsplash in Lailah’s family kitchen, the Iftar spread of colorful foods, a sign in Lailah’s new hometown of Peachtree, and the colorful splines of library books. Doing so reminds us that a part of Lailah’s Abu Dhabi home accompanies her to her new home in Georgia.

A Note about Craft:

In an Author’s Note, Faruqi indicates that Lailah’s Lunchbox is based on her own experience of moving from Abu Dhabi to Peachtree City, Georgia as a child. What childhood experiences inform your writing & how can you include universal themes in your personal story ?

In the opening scene, Faruqi deftly sets up the action in two ways: she focuses on the lunchbox, the holder of food, as a way into the story. By not jumping directly into the notion of fasting, an action that some young kids may not understand, she uses a familiar object to help explain it, before even mentioning the term. She also indicates with one repeated action the feelings Lailah and her mother hold about Ramadan and fasting – the characters “twirl.” Twirl connotes happiness, and the repetition of the action signifies community. Circling back, Lailah also twirls at the end of the story.

Lailah’s problem in the story is an internal one: she worries about how to explain why she is fasting to her teacher and classmates. None of her classmates question or bully her actions or beliefs, because she doesn’t reveal the what or why of her actions. Faruqi’s exploration of Ramadan and the emotions of someone who has moved thus remains free of external conflict, which I think is a plus.

Finally, at the risk of revealing the solution to Lailah’s problem, I can’t help repeating one of my favorite lines: Lailah felt safe among all the books.

Visit Reem Faruqi’s site here.

Learn about Lea Lyon here.

Lailah’s Lunchbox is a Notable Social Studies Trade Book For Young People 2016, a cooperative Project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council; a Featured Book of the Month of the Anti-Defamation League; an American Library Association Notable Book for Children 2016; won a Skipping Stones Honor 2016; and made the International Literacy Association Choices Reading List.

Tilbury House “is an independent publishing company founded forty years ago” that publishes “award-winning children’s picture books about cultural diversity, social justice, nature, and the environment.”

For a list of 99 children’s books about Ramadan, visit A Crafty Arab.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF: A Piece of Home

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New skill –  driven from NJ to lower Manhattan & Brooklyn, summer 2016

Strange but true fact about me: I love to move. Really! I’m the “go to” parent when my kids move (all three are doing so this summer), and I’ve even contemplated starting a moving consultancy to help seniors downsize. So when I see a book about moving, I can’t resist. Once you see this week’s Perfect Picture Book, you won’t be able to either – whether you enjoy moving or not.

9780763669713_p0_v1_s192x300Title: A Piece of Home

Written By: Jeri Watts

Illustrated By: Hyewon Yum

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, June 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: immigration, moving, Korea, extended family, home, gardening

Opening: “In Korea, my grandmother was a wise and wonderful teacher. When students bowed, she held her shoulders erect, but her eyes sparkled.”

Brief Synopsis: A young boy and his family relocate from urban Korea to West Virginia and he struggles to adapt to life in their new home.

Links to Resources:

  • What reminds you of home? Draw a picture or write a story about it and share it with a friend, classmate or family member
  • Welcome a new student to your school or a new family to your neighbourhood
  • Ask an elderly relative or neighbour about their favourite plants; plant one in your home garden

Why I Like this Book:

A Piece of Home is a lovely intergenerational story of adapting and settling in to a new home in a new country. The main character and narrator, Hee Jun, worries not just about the challenges he faces, but about how his grandmother, who lives and moves with the family, giving up her career to do so, will thrive. While moving and adapting to a new home are the subject of several picture books (see below), A Piece of Home is unique insofar as both the narrator and his grandmother in this intergenerational family must adapt. I also love that a plant, the Rose of Sharon, plays an important role in the resolution of the story.

Ms. Yum’s soft watercolour illustrations and especially the expressive faces of Hee Jun, his family and classmates perfectly complement Watts’ text.19bookshelf-4-master1050-1
A Note about Craft:

Jeri Watts includes some awesome juxtapositions in this tale, including using the terms ordinary, extraordinary & different to great effect. I especially liked her observation that grandmother “could find the extraordinary held within the ordinary”, like the bright red centers in the Rose of Sharon flowers. And Hee Jun observes that in Korea, he was “ordinary,” not different, as he is upon arrival in the US.

The action in A Piece of Home occurs both in Korea and in the US. To separate the two, Ms. Watts relates the Korean scenes in past tense, but then switches to present tense in the US. To tie them together, she subtly points out similarities, most notably in the gardens.

Other Recent Books about Moving:

In a review in the New York Times Book Review, Maria Russo reviewed A Piece of Home and several other 2016 releases about moving, including

9781626720404_p0_v1_s118x184Before I Leave, Jessixa Bagley (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook), about a hedgehog who moves from his anteater friend

9781580896122_p0_v2_s118x184I’m New Here, Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge, 2015) follows three recent immigrants who struggle to adapt and fit in at their new school in the US. Ms. Sibley has created a website, imyourneighborbooks.org, that showcases “children’s books and reading projects building bridges between ‘new arrivals’ and ‘long-term communities.’”

9780763678340_p0_v1_s118x184The Seeds of Friendship, Michael Foreman (Candlewick Press, 2015), is about a boy who immigrates to England and finds solace, and friendship, by planting gardens

9780544432284_p0_v4_s192x300My Two Blankets, Irena Kobald & Freya Blackwood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), uses an old and new blanket as metaphors for language and the acquisition of a new language in a new home.

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

I couldn’t think of a better Picture Book to celebrate multiculturalism than one written by a Haitian-born author, written about a Haitian-American family, that highlights a contemporary problem of huge importance. That it’s so beautifully written and illustrated makes this truly a perfect Picture Book!

9780525428091_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation
Written By: Edwidge Danticat

Illustrated By: Leslie Staub

Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: Immigration; separation; storytelling; Haiti; advocacy

Opening: “When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice.”

Brief Synopsis: When Mama is arrested and held in a women’s correctional facility because she lacks the correct immigration papers, young Saya misses her terribly. Mama records stories from her native Haiti for Saya while Papa writes letters to politicians and the media without success. Saya also writes a story that Papa sends to the local media, and that leads, ultimately, to the resolution of the problem.

Links to Resources: We all know that children love to share stories! Mama’s Nightingale is a perfect introduction to the power of our stories and could serve as a jumping off point for sharing stories in a group, such as where we or a relative come from, writing stories (for older children) and/or exploring the impact our stories may have by identifying, researching and writing to advocate for a desired outcome (definitely for older children!).

The imagery of Mama’s Nightingale can also be explored: Birds such as the Nightingale and the arts and culture of Haiti.

Finally, there are teacher and classroom resources available online to explore immigration: Scholastic’s Immigration Stories: Yesterday and Today focuses primarily on the Ellis Island experience, but includes oral histories, including child immigrants from more recent eras; TeachersFirst provides fiction lists by topic by age, including immigration–themed picture books.

Why I Like this Book: Mama’s Nightingale combines several themes: the parent-child bond; bird and rainbow imagery; separation; the power of words and stories. With few picture books available on the topic of contemporary immigration, it also is very timely. Of Haitian descent, Edwidge Danticat captures the Creole spirit, including interspersing Creole words into the English text. She understands the difficulty of separation, as she herself remained as a child in Haiti while her parents worked in the US. She also understands and celebrates the power of words and stories: the Haitian folktales that Mama records for Saya and that tie the two together as well as the words that Saya writes that lead to the book’s resolution. The gorgeous illustrations amplify the story and further celebrate the Haitian spirit.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!