With our country’s continuing need for stories on families who are arriving in the U.S. for refuge, Book Riot reviewer, Kelly Jensen, offers this new reading list, YA Books about Immigration. Included here are many new voices to YA literature. Since I’ve been working so much in U.S. classrooms with students and teachers who are reading my books, I was especially interested in a journalistic account, The Newcomers, Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom. The New York Times reviewer described The Newcomers, written by an Irish American who came when she was one-year old, as a “delicate and heartbreaking mystery story.”
“This is how we’re gonna do. We’re gonna dance the Nepali song. Cross left leg over right. One – two – three – go.” Then the movie song, Kale Dai, blasted from the instructor Pujan Wagley’s phone through the school gym. Over the weeks, we moved from the Nepali dance into “Whatcha Gon Do With That Dessert.” And Pujan, a student at Worcester State and a Bhutanese dancer, taught 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders hip hop moves to rapper Darwin’s song. Students end with a flowy, traditional dance to Ki Chhori hu ma. This is a story about working with Pujan at Concord, NH’s Broken Ground School where I brought a poetry workshop, too – so together Pujan and I offered poetry and dance. Our work was supported by a grant to the 21C After School program by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.
Here are some lines of poems students wrote about dancing with friends and with Pujan:
Pujan is one of the best dancers in the world.
When I dance I feel happy inside because
my body is moving.
I love dancing.
Pujan is so fun. I love dancing with Pujan
These are Pujan’s own words, “1 – 2 – 3 – Go.”
Then we start.
My name is Molly. I drift
with the beat.
right, left, right, left.
Now repeat that a few times.
My name is Molly. I drift
with the beat.
No matter what, I keep dancing
When I dance with Pujan I feel…
When I dance with Pujan he says,
left arm high,
then right arm high
Out of time.
Put your left hand here and put your
right hand here. The girls do this
and the boys do this.
It is really fun to dance with Pujan.
He says one foot at a time and move
your hips and, Always smile every time.
and, Don’t look sad. Be happy.
That’s why I love dancing.
When people dance with Pujan they feel like
they are about to fly in the Milky Way
because he can teach you how to do the dance
moves in a second. He doesn’t yell when you get
the moves wrong.
Dance feels like you could just
lift up into the clouds with
a mind of joy.
Well-loved volunteers who came to see the students perform at Parent’s Night and were awarded with flowers and art.
Of course we read lots of poems. Here’s a reading list of ideas for a poem and dance celebration.
Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More, Poems for Two Voices. We played with poems in two voices to feel the rhythm of movement back and forth between readers.
Arm in Arm – by Remy Charlip
I love this book for it’s crazy whimsy. The students didn’t move into stillness, but a way to imagine it comes from Remy’s poem:
BEFORE ME PEACEFUL
BESIDE ME PEACEFUL
BEHIND ME PEACEFUL
ABOVE ME PEACEFUL
BELOW ME PEACEFUL
ALL AROUND ME PEACEFUL
Remy always makes me smile. Take “Riddle Joke:
“Ask me if I’m a boat. / Are you a boat? / Yes. Now ask me if I’m an airplane. / No, silly. I’m a boat.”
Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill includes this poem we read like an echo chant.
And colors sing,
And colors laugh,
And colors cry___
They make you feel
Every feeling there is.”
Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield especially “Way Down in the Music”
This is Just to Say, poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman
The title of our workshop was “Building Friendships Through Dance and Creative Writing” and this collection gave us ideas for writing about friends, including “Dark Haired Girl.”
You Read to Me I’ll Read to You by Mary Ann Hoberman. I adapted the poem “New Friends” in this collection and it inspired many students’ poems about meeting a new friend for the first time.
Congratulations Pujan, new friend, and kids at Broken Ground!
This is a version of an article I wrote for New Hampshire Humanities about the day the Council hosted Juan Felipe Herrera at the Nashua, NH Adult Learning Center. Thank you Maren Tirabassi and the students of the class and Juan Felipe for their lines of poetry I include.
A Story from the House of Extravagant Colors
Maren has been preparing the Adult Learning Center’s level 5 and 6 classes before the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States comes to visit. They are Rohingyas from Burma, Congolese, Colombian, Salvadoran, Haitian, Serbian Indian, Chinese. They have cooked for Juan Felipe Herrera. Their classroom smells of deep fried pakoras, red yam balls with butter and cream, rich chocolate.
They’ve written a welcome poem and when Juan Felipe arrives, they invite him to sit and a chorus of thirty-five international students read to him:
Welcome to our house of extravagant colors
in our classroom on Lake Street
which is for all of us a place of pause
on the road of our lives.
Juan Felipe has been traveling the country as poet laureate and has met many classes of new Americans. He has written poems about many of their countries. Senegal Taxi is a series of poems in which children from Darfur imagine escape ultimately to New York City. In it is “Mud Drawing #5. Abdullah, the Village Boy with One Eye,” which begins,
No mother. No father. One brother. One sister. No food. No water. No
cows. No camels. No trees. No village. No food no water. No cows…
But that’s not why he came. Juan pulls out his harmonica. He begins a repeat-after-me song and all the voices in the room chant with him in their adopted language English. He’s written a poem for them with the lines: I am your sister/ I am your brother/ Remember me. Dayanara is too shy to read a poem she wrote after reading Juan Felipe’s Calling the Doves, but Maren reads it.
Born in a big city
but destiny sent me rural bound.
A very small town with just two roads.
Downtown was all there was.
Juan Felipe writes downtown on the board. This is impromptu.
Johannly sings for him, “Ayudame Dios Mio,” “Help me God.” Juan Felipe writes song on the board. Rafael in a dusky voice sings “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen in Portuguese. On the board, Juan Felipe writes, You raise me up.
He writes many of their words on the board. Dove, breath of happiness, love, wisdom. The words become the refrain between his stories.
Everyone sings their repeat-after-me song.
We are the song
We are the dove
We take off flying
We cross downtown
You raise me up.
One of the students asks: what is your advice for us?
“Bring your families into your stories so others in the community can meet them,” he says. “I wrote about my parents so you could meet them. I grew up in migrant worker camps. When I heard my father speak, it was like poetry.”
He proclaims the students are poets. “Your voice,” he says, “is the natural and beautiful voice that everyone has.”
They break to eat the foods of the world they’ve prepared for him and present him with a framed copy of their welcome poem. The second to last verse:
So – to the poet of our new country
whose voice is beautiful
and whose tongue is not a rock,
and to those who have brought him here, welcome!
Everyone gathers for a group photo.
“That is why I came,” Juan Felipe tells them, “to say you have a beautiful voice.”