By: Rebecca Slocum
The media coverage of the horrific events unfolding at the U.S./Mexican border these past few weeks has been a constant barrage of information and varying viewpoints. However, no matter your political viewpoint, I’m sure we can agree that many of us are looking for ways to help these migrant children and their families. And there are certainly a lot. You can volunteer with and donate to advocacy groups. You can contact your representatives. You can go out and protest. So, I started wondering what libraries and librarians, specifically, could do to best assist these children.
A good library serves its community. Good librarians constantly have a finger on the pulse of their communities in order to provide the programs, books, and events best suited to their patrons. One of the ways we do that is by providing edifying resources related to current news events. In this era of #fakenews, it is often difficult for people to discern fact from fiction. Libraries are in the unique position to not only help their patrons wade through the waves of information flowing through the media, but also to provide the tools and resources necessary for patrons to be able to do this on their own.
The American Library Association succinctly states why intellectual freedom is so important:
“Intellectual freedom is the basis for our democratic system. We expect our people to be self-governors. But to do so responsibly, our citizenry must be well-informed. Libraries provide the ideas and information, in a variety of formats, to allow people to inform themselves.”
“To do so responsibly, our citizenry must be well-informed.” Free flow of information, and the tools to understand and analyze that information, is key. We, as librarians and information specialists, can use our skills and our platform as a center of the community to educate our patrons about the immigrant experience and what it means for children and families to leave behind everything familiar for an unknown country. I think it is particularly important for children of all ages, especially those who were born here in the United States, to read about and be familiar with immigrant stories. To read about an experience so different from your own cultivates a sense of empathy for hardships that people have gone through to get here, as well as a love and appreciation for the richness and diversity that other cultures bring to this country.
In honor of the recent World Refugee Day, I’ve compiled a list of children’s books (elementary, middle grade, and YA) for you to consider for display or just to recommend to children looking for a great book. Let’s make sure our young patrons are becoming citizens who will embrace diversity, advocate for intellectual freedom, and continue building a strong foundation for our democracy.
(All summaries and excerpts are from Amazon.com and listed reviews.)
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
With haunting echoes of the current refugee crisis, this beautifully illustrated book explores the unimaginable decisions made as a family leaves their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war. This book will stay with you long after the last page is turned.
Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi; illustrated by Lea Lyon
Lailah is in a new school, in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting, but worried that her classmates won’t understand why she doesn’t join them in the lunchroom. Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so, learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs.
Angel Child, Dragon Child by Michele Maria Surat; illust. by Vo Dinh Mai
In this story based on a young girl’s true-life experiences, Ut, a Vietnamese child separated from her family, recounts her attempts to come to terms with a new country and a new life and to reunite her family.
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh
In this allegorical picture book, a young rabbit named Pancho eagerly awaits his papa’s return. Papa Rabbit traveled north two years ago to find work in the great carrot and lettuce fields to earn money for his family. When Papa does not return, Pancho sets out to find him. He packs Papa’s favorite meal—mole, rice and beans, a heap of warm tortillas, and a jug of aguamiel—and heads north. He meets a coyote, who offers to help Pancho in exchange for some of Papa’s food. They travel together until the food is gone and the coyote decides he is still hungry . . . for Pancho! Duncan Tonatiuh brings to light the hardship and struggles faced by thousands of families who seek to make better lives for themselves and their children by illegally crossing the border.
Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai
Fadi never imagined he’d start middle school in Fremont, California, thousands of miles from home in Kabul—and half a world away from his missing six-year-old sister, Mariam. Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family, and as the events of September 11 unfold, the prospects of locating Mariam in war-torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize of a trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home? Based in part on Ms. Senzai’s husband’s own experience fleeing Soviet-controlled Afghanistan in 1979, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope—toward America.
We Came To America by Faith Ringgold
From the Native Americans who first called this land their home, to the millions of people who have flocked to its shores ever since, America is a country rich in diversity. Some of our ancestors were driven by dreams and hope. Others came in chains, or were escaping poverty or persecution. No matter what brought them here, each person embodied a unique gift—their art and music, their determination and grit, their stories and their culture. And together they forever shaped the country we all call home. Vividly expressed in Faith Ringgold’s sumptuous colors and patterns, We Came to America is an ode to every American who came before us, and a tribute to each child who will carry its proud message of diversity into our nation’s future.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Tan captures the displacement and awe with which immigrants respond to their new surroundings in this wordless graphic novel. It depicts the journey of one man, threatened by dark shapes that cast shadows on his family’s life, to a new country. The only writing is in an invented alphabet, which creates the sensation immigrants must feel when they encounter a strange new language and way of life. A wide variety of ethnicities is represented in Tan’s hyper-realistic style, and the sense of warmth and caring for others, regardless of race, age, or background, is present on nearly every page.
Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Changed a Town by Warren St. John
The YA version of the bestselling book of the same name, this is the story of Luma Mufleh, a young Jordanian woman educated in the United States and working as a coach for private youth soccer teams in Atlanta. She was out for a drive one day and ended up in Clarkston, Georgia, where she was amazed and delighted to see young boys, black and brown and white, some barefoot, playing soccer on every flat surface they could find. Luma decided to quit her job, move to Clarkston, and start a soccer team that would soon defy the odds. Despite challenges to locate a practice field, minimal funding for uniforms and equipment, and zero fans on the sidelines, the Fugees practiced hard and demonstrated a team spirit that drew admiration from referees and competitors alike.
What are your favorite books celebrating the immigrant experience?
Rebecca Slocum has worked in education as a teacher and library consultant for the last 5 years and is a recent MLIS graduate student from the University of North Texas. She is interested in issues involving intellectual freedom, censorship, and collection development in school libraries. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys reading, writing, running, and roaming the world. Currently, she stays at home caring for her son and writes at her blog, The Dewey Decimator. Find her on Twitter @bcslocum.