Creating Mixed Genre Text Sets

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

Children’s literature may be one the best mediums for promoting new learning in the classroom. Text sets are especially helpful in that they offer a collective of literary landscapes full of unfamiliar places and various perspectives. This week, we introduce a text set that we put together to support the new Tucsonan (immigrant and refugee) children’s cultural affirmation while they develop the Tucsonan side of their identity. The text sets we create for “Read, Write, Review for Us (RWRU)” projects are to inform local Tucson children about refugee students’ homelands and the diversity within those groups of people. When the the topic of refugees is framed in this way, students will realize that the term “refugees” does not always mean war-zone survivors. Students learn that it can also include those surviving climate change. For example, the Marshall Islands are drowning due to climate changes and many of Marshallese had to relocated to places like Tucson.

Creating Mixed Genre Text Sets

In this text set, we include various books that the 5th graders’ once called home, such as Nepal, Ethiopia, Somali, Iraq, Syria and Mexico. The RWRU Project includes Mexico because the number of recent immigrant students from Mexico is significant in the 5th grade classroom and often the students find common shared experiences in their journey of relocating to their new Tucson home. The following titles are mixed types of books that are both global and international children’s literature. They are originally published or republished in the United States in the English language or in bilingual texts, such as Spanish, Arabic, Nepali or Marshallese. All the descriptions are taken from the publishers’ promotional material unless otherwise noted.


My Beautiful Birds, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo
Publisher: Pajama Press
Age Level: 6-10
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction
A gentle yet moving story of refugees of the Syrian civil war, My Beautiful Birds by Suzanne Del Rizzo illuminates the ongoing crisis as it affects its children. It shows the reality of the refugee camps, where people attempt to pick up their lives and carry on. And it reveals the hope of generations of people as they struggle to redefine home.

Marshall Islands

The 3 Rs in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, written by Woja Elementary School’s 8th Grade Class of 2012-2013
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
The 8th graders in the Marshall Islands created this picture book in Marshallese and English languages, showing reducing, reusing and recycling in the Marshall Islands. (Description created for this post.)

Life in the Marshall Islands: Then and Now, written by Ms. Dribo and Ms. Lorennij’s Fifth-Grade Class at Ebeye Public Elementary School
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Age Level: 9-13
The 5th graders in the Marshall Islands created this book in Marshallese and English languages, portraying how traditional life in the Marshall Islands has changed through time. (Description created for this post.)


The Ogress and the Snakes and Other Stories from Somalia, written by Elizabeth Laird and illustrated by Shelley Fowles

Publisher: Lincoln Children’s Books
Genre: Folktale
Age Level: 8-11
For millennia, Somalia has been crossed and recrossed by camel caravans of merchants bringing stories with them. Elizabeth Laird heard most of these oral retellings in Jigjiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s Somali region, in gardens, bars, small huts and beautiful old Harari houses. Some of them are written down here for the very first time.

Africa is Not a Country, written by Margy Burns Knight and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction
Age Level: 8-12
The picture book shows the diversity and daily life of children in the many countries of modern Africa including Somalia. (Description created for this post.)


Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey, written by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes, illustrated by Sue Cornelison
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Age Level: 4-8
This is the true picture book story about one lost cat’s journey to be united in Greece with his Iraqi refugee family. (Description created for this post.)

The Girl who Lost Her Smile, written and illustrated by Karim Alrawi
Publisher: Tradewind Books
Genre: Folktale
Age Level: 5-6
This is the Islamic folktale about uncovering life’s hidden beauty. A young girl from the city of Baghdad wakes up to find that her smile is lost. People from all walks of life come together to help her find it.


I see the Sun in Nepal, written by Dedie King and illustrationed by Judith Inglese
Publisher: Satya House Publications
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction
Age Level: 4 and up
This is the bilingual picture book in English and Nepali (Devanagari). The story takes place in a rural village in Nepal. A young girl’s daily routine such as chores and school life are described in collage of colorful paper, drawings and photography of Nepal. (Description created for this post.)

Chandra’s Magic Light: A Story in Nepal, written by Theresa Heine and illustrated by Judith Gueyfier
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction
Age Level: 5-8
The story portrays Chandra and her sister Deena find a magic light, a solar-powered lantern, at a market in Nepal. They find a way to buy one so they can stop using the kerosene lamps that make their little brother sick. (Description created for this post.)


Ethiopian Voices: Tsion’s Life, written by Stacy Bellward and illustrated by Erlend Berge
Publisher: Amharic Kids
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Age Level: 2-12
Meet Tsion, an eleven year old Ethiopian girl as she talks about her life and her country. Stunning photographs bring the reader to Tsion’s house, school, church, dinner table and more. Informative cultural facts are included.

Omer’s Favorite Place, written and illustrated by Obi Onyefulu
Publisher: Lincoln Children’s Book
Genre: Contemporary nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
This picture book shows an Ethiopian boy Omer playing all around his house, such as in the garden, in the kitchen, and in his bedroom. (Description created for this post.)


Seven Pablos, written by Jorge Lujan, illustrated by Chiara Carrer, and translated by Mara Lethem
Publisher: Enchanted Lion books
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction
Age Level: 4-8
This picture book shows the lives of seven different Pablo(s) and his families in the North, Central and South American countries including Mexico. (Description created for this post.)

A Gift from Abuela, written and illustrated by Celilia Ruiz
Publisher: Candlewick Publishing
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction
Age Level: 4-8
Abuela saves a few pesos every week for giving her granddaughter Nina a special treat. When society turns upside down, Abuela’s dream of a surprise for Nina impossible. (Description created for this post.)

In this text set, we intentionally mixed two major genres– folklore and contemporary realistic fiction. Folklore helped the new Tucsonan students to share stories from home and reaffirm their cultural foundations beyond their refugee identity. The contemporary realistic fiction books supported all Tucsonan students to connect with the universality between their own lives and the lives of others. Folklore was especially helpful for Tucsonan students to see the unseen side of the new Tucsonan children, who are often seen as refugees and nothing else. We hope this text set is helpful to teachers in classrooms as well. In the next post, we will share how we used the text sets in classrooms.

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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