Did you know that students are NEVER too old to enjoy a picture book? This article here tells you more. Even adults can learn from picture books - I do!
The book Dreamers, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, is a stunning picture book with an amazing story about an immigrant mother and her baby immigrating to the US. While discussing it with our newcomer students, I began placing sticky-notes everywhere with all the ideas and thoughts that were rushing through my mind. Here is what I was thinking:
Packing Our Culture
I was 15 years old when I was asked to pack-up a backpack with a couple of outfits and whatever else I could fit in and carry with me on a journey from Guatemala to the USA.
I remember looking around the room and packing a few photographs and recuerditos (keepsakes) I didn't want to leave behind.
I do not doubt that many immigrants experience this moment when they have to decide what to pack and bring along their migration journey. Besides packing the essentials, many of us pack something that will remind us of the world we are leaving behind, representing our country, homeland, and believes.
Just like we pack-up objects, we also pack-up our identity within us and hold on to it as tight as possible because we know it is what makes us who we are. The things we pack-up within us are experiences, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, family, foods, music, culture, heritage, and more. All this builds our individuality.
Yuyi Morales narrates this personal experience perfectly in this image. We see how her backpack includes a jatana, a pencil, nature items, and Señor Calavera. If you follow Yuyi's Instagram account, you'd see how these objects represent her identity. Objects that she carried with her as she crossed over the Mexican border to come to the USA. And just like we see in her book, the objects that represented her identity were kept safe and packed up because they were being protected or perhaps they stayed packed up because she didn't feel like her individuality would fit in the new culture.
In Dreamers, we see the characters trying to blend in and function in a new country and culture but with a substantial struggle to be who they are.
I experienced this as well, and so do many immigrant students and individuals who come to the United States. While many of us love our home culture, our language, and everything about our heritage, society tells us that to function successfully, we must keep our background packed up and blend in the American culture and master the English language to be successful.
For many of us, it'll be years and years till we realize that our culture, language, and heritage are valuable and core to who we are.
For others, this realization will never happen - and heritage, language, and culture will be lost. To me, this is a sad reality that will hinder many generations.
Opportunities to Unpack
As an immigrant myself, I can tell you how intimidating it is to be yourself and unpack our background for all to see.
You look around, and everything is new and different. You listen around, you and all you hear is the new language -- a language you don't yet understand.
However, there are ways to embrace the differences while still appreciating what is packed within us and show them to the world.
Here are a few of them:
Having our culture and heritage unpacked is just the most wonderful feeling. How do you know your culture, language, and heritage is unpacked? - When you celebrate it, appreciate it, and embrace it. When you do not fear what others will say about who you are, how you speak, or what you're wearing. When you begin to find a place in your new home, you understand that we have more similarities than differences and contribute to society to create a beautifully diverse culture.
As we were reading this book with my student, we both had different takeaways from the text. Yousef here was able to draw what he understood what was happening in the story, then retell the story using his own words. He was able to personally connect with several parts in the story and was very confident understanding it because the images speak so much.
I am encouraged to write my takeaways because he did the same!
If you have read this book and would like to share your takeaways with me, please share them with me. I'd love to hear about your experience with this amazing book. Or if there is another book that would share these same ideas, I'd love to know of it.
Remember YOU matter! Your culture matters, your language matters, your heritage matters. So, showcase it...display for all to see and appreciate it.
Thank you for reading!
I am so excited to share with you all about this fantastic book I just finished reading (twice).
Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros - This is a beautiful family story - not only the main character Efrén Nava is highlighted, but also his parents and the entire family.
Efrén is a fascinating young boy who at a very early age finds himself having obligations at home that go beyond his responsibility. The story begins setting a stage of a very humble Hispanic family living with very little resources but strongly united.
Efrén's Amá goes looking for a job, while her children are in school, when she gets caught up in an ICE raid and is deported back to Mexico. Efrén is heart-broken but at the same time, his heart was ready for this news since he understood that his parents were in danger since they were undocumented in the US. He quickly begins taking responsibility for his twin brother and sister Mía and Max.
I Love Efrén's attitude towards his family. Without complaining and without asking why he jumped in and contributed however he could to support his family and continue providing a sense of consistency and normalcy for his siblings.
Throughout the story we see the family's strength to keep the family together - Apá works countless hours and goes above and beyond to provide for his family and find ways to bring Amá back home.
I have to say how much I LOVE the way Ernesto honors Hispanic families and culture throughout the story.
Amá's deportation hurt the entire family - and we see how every one of them kept on pushing and functioning and planning regardless of how they were feeling.
It is a story that many students will identify with - whether is because they are separated from their parents or maybe because they are carrying on the same responsibilities and obligations Efrén is having to do.
This is a story all teachers, principals, social workers and guidance counselors need to read. I was able to connect with the story because I experienced a lot of the things the family goes through - but if you have NEVER experienced anything like this, it would give you a needed perspective to better understand your students.
I do not doubt in my mind that a lot of students in our classrooms are experiencing things at home that do not feel comfortable sharing with anyone at school; hence knowing about these topics would give teachers that understanding and the knowledge they need to advocate for students.
During July, I participated in the #ELLchat_bkClub Twitter book chat where we engaged in conversation with this book. It was so exciting to hear from other teachers reading this book and see how they react to certain parts of the book.
I also LOVED engaging with the author who participated during our entire book study.
Because I believe this book needs to be used in schools - whether is for bookclubs or guided/strategy reading groups or school group discussions, I made these chapter notes and questions as I read the book.
Feel free to use them! If you create any more resources for this book, I'd love to hear from you. So far all I have are questions and topics for discussion but I would love to see educators creating an entire book study with activities for the book.
Here's a great identity heart graphic organizer a book study participant created.
Amy Sherman took the challenge in creating an identity map on Efrén Nava and it is just fabulous.
This would be something amazing to have our students create too.
You can find a printable version of the graphic organizer here.
These are the questions we used for discussion during our book study on #ELLchat_bkClub. If you need an editable version of the questions pdf documents above, you can access them here.
This book is without a doubt a 5 starts book that middle schoolers and HS students would love.
I'd love to hear from you if you have read it or if you decide to read it. There are many topics to discuss and I'd love to engage in conversation with you about this book. Author Ernesto Cisneros is very active on Twitter so connect with him and ask any questions you may have.
Thank you for reading!
Maestra usa sus experiencias como estudiante inmigrante para capacitar a otros profesores