The Importance of Sharing Immigrant and Refugee Stories

By Lauren Freedman

December’s WOW Currents will focus on sharing immigrant and refugee stories of those children and their families who have been forced to leave the comfort of their homelands. Immigrants and refugees leave their known lives due to war, famine and genocide, among other hardships and disasters. The topic of immigration and refugees is of specific relevance in the current political climate throughout the United States. Sharing immigrant and refugee stories is particularly important in our schools, where bullying of students who are deemed to be “different” due to language, religion and skin color has increased.

sharing immigrant and refugee stories

Illustrations of characters from Playing War by Kathy Beckwith, illustrated by Lea Lyon.

As we approach 2017, it is increasingly vital that communities throughout the country pay attention to the lives of the refugees and immigrants in their towns and cities. To support immigrant and refugee families, we must find ways to support newcomers and make them feel welcome and encouraged to share their experiences and cultures. We need to encourage immigrants and refugees to tell their stories. One way to do this is by showing that as Americans, we value sharing immigrant and refugee stories, seen by books that have already been written and published.

Over the course of December’s posts, WOW Currents will look at the refugee and immigrant stories from across a wide spectrum of countries, such as Syria, Cambodia, Sudan, Iraq, Laos, Somalia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Mexico and Guatemala. While all the stories share sadness, suffering, fear and frustration, they also provide the readers with insight into the bravery, ingenuity, caring and love of immigrants and refugees. These traits have allowed many people to escape from their homelands and begin new lives with immense possibilities. While it feels trite and almost unnecessary to state (I will do it anyway!), it is through the myriad of immigrant groups that have come to the United States that we have become such a strong and freedom-valuing nation. It is time to revisit why immigrants and refugees are so important to the very spirit of who we are as Americans.

We need to provide our children, in every classroom in this country, strategies that help them understand and empathize with peers who are experiencing extreme upheaval physically, socially and psychologically. There are several ways that we can help children relate to the plight of their immigrant/refugee peers. The books we will explore over the next several weeks provide such mechanisms.

Along with both the picture books and chapter books sharing immigrant and refugee stories, we will explore some of the many groups of citizens in the United States that are organizing their communities to be welcoming and supportive to the newcomers. These groups have a great deal to share about how individuals and institutions can be increasingly involved in aiding immigrant/refugee children and their families in adapting to school, finding jobs, immersing themselves in various aspects of their community, and beginning to find their new home a true home.

sharing immigrant and refugee stories

Below is a partial list of the books we will share over the next several weeks. I am sure some of the titles will be familiar.

How Many Days to America by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Beth Peck
Out of Iraq: Refugee’s Stories in Words, Paintings, and Music by Sybella Wilkes
Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team that Changed a Town (Young Readers Edition) by Warren St. John
Playing War by Kathy Beckwith, illustrated by Lea Lyon
The Red Pencil by Andrea Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans
The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Karin Littlewood
Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Doug Chayka
Coming to America: A Muslim Family’s Story by Bernard Wolf
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub
The Good Braider by Terry Farish
Who Belongs Here: An American Story by Margy Burns Knight, illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Kids Like Me: Voices of the Immigrant Experience by Terri Lapinsky and Judith M. Blohm

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Check out our two online journals, WOW Review and WOW Stories, and keep up with WOW’s news and events.

The Arizona Experience: Japanese Internment Camps in WWII

By Maya Patterson

As the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor approaches, we examine Arizona’s experience of World War II. This experience encompasses both the American Indian code talkers and two Japanese-American internment camps, the Gila River Internment Camp in Phoenix and the Colorado River Internment Camp in Poston. Newbery Award-winning author, Cynthia Kadohata, sets her novel, Weedflower, in Poston. The book connects the worlds of Japanese-Americans in the camps and American Indians, whose land the camps occupied.

Arizona experience, Japanese internment camps Continue reading

Exploring the Unbreakable Code

By Maya Patterson

Last week WOW Currents presented a list of American Indian literature and children’s books. This week, we take a closer look at The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter and illustrated by Julia Miner. This picture book inspired the art from Tucson High Magnet School and Van Buskirk Elementary School in Worlds of Words’s “Code Making and Perspective Taking” exhibit, open from October 28 to December 15.

the unbreakable code Continue reading

Native American Veterans in Children’s Literature

By Angeline P. Hoffman, White Mountain Apache Tribe

Worlds of Words’s current exhibit, “Code Making and Perspective Taking,” features stories of Native American code talkers, with art reflections from Tucson High Magnet School art students and fifth graders at Van Buskirk Elementary School. This week, with Veteran’s Day on Friday, November 11, I present a list of children’s and Native American literature that focuses on Native American veterans and their contribution to war efforts.

Native American veterans Continue reading

Transnational Authors’ Cultural Backgrounds and Further Reading

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico,
and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

Throughout this past month we have looked at trends in transnational Asian children’s books. Further, we have discussed new transnational authors that expand cross-cultural peer relations in books and give voice to stories beyond traditional folklore. To wrap up the month of October, we present contemporary Korean and Japanese authors with books released in the U.S. These lists include authors that we have mentioned this month and some that we have not. Each name links to the author’s website, where you can find their books, the authors’ cultural backgrounds and other connections.

authors' cultural backgrounds

Katrina Goldsaito, left, is a new Japanese-American author who lived and wrote in Japan. Linda Sue Park, right, is the first Korean-American author to win the Newbery Award.

Continue reading

New Transnational Authors of Children’s Books

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico,
and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

This week, we discuss new patterns in portraying additional U.S. Asian groups in books by new transnational authors. Like books about Korean and Japanese people and cultures, we observed new themes and perspectives that differ from previous Asian-American books in the ’90s and 2000s. We wondered how such new insights and experiences came to be available for young readers. One big change we’ve observed is the growth of new career authors and illustrators who have different stories to tell compared to previous decades’ stories.

new transnational authors Continue reading

New Trends in Transnational Japanese Children’s Books

By Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District,
and Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico

This week we discuss newly published children’s literature in the U.S. about Japanese and Japanese-American people in global contexts. Three patterns emerge when we consider the new trends in transnational Japanese children’s books: 1) little-known historical events between Japan and the U.S., 2) transnational children’s and teen’s journeys across time and space, and 3) children’s experiences in universal and cultural contexts.

transnational Japanese children's books Continue reading

New Trends in Transnational Korean Children’s Books

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico,
and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

Most of the stories of Korean-Americans and Korean immigrants are products of the ’90s and 2000s. Ae-Kyung’s Dream (1988) by Min Paek is the only picture book of a Korean immigrant child’s story published in the 1980s. Picture books and chapter books of U.S. Korean groups present different experiences and stories of immigration and integration. The majority of transnational Korean children’s books are either exploring new immigration experiences or following Korean-American children’s journeys of developing their bicultural identities (Sung, 2009).

transnational Korean children's books, Here I Am, Juna's Jar, This is Our House Continue reading

New Trends in Transnational Asian Children’s Books

By Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico,
and Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District

A couple of weeks ago, I (Yoo Kyung) celebrated a student’s cross-departmental achievement. At the dinner in honor of this achievement, the strawberry ice cream prompted those at my table to share their “favorite” things. With my reputation as a teacher of children’s literature courses at a local university, my table-mates asked what my five favorite children’s books were. Then someone asked me, “Do you think children’s books in this country are getting better or worse?”

new trends in transnational Asian children's books, The Name Jar Choi, My Name Is Yoon Recorvits, Baseball Saved Us Mochizuki, The Bracelet Uchida Continue reading