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!
Across the world, families are crossing borders in search of a resting place where their children can be safe and go to school. 2017 saw new books coming out to help children understand the lives of other children displaced by war and poverty.
A Different Pond by the poet Bao Phi, whose family migrated to the U.S. after the American war in Vietnam, and illustrated by Thi Bui is one. Bao Phi tells a story of a small Vietnamese-American boy’s ritual of fishing early in the morning with his father to catch food for supper before his father goes to work, one of his two jobs. The text and illustrations capture the boy’s love for his father, his growing skill in their ritual, his fear, and the tight web of their family as they learn to survive in the U.S. This story is a model for writers who seek to tell their own migration story. The author selects one ritual vital to the life of a migrant family and allows the emotion and the story to flow from it.
One of my favorite books from the list is My Beautiful Birds, about a Syrian child’s survival, written and illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Del Rizzo’s polymer clay and acrylic illustrations help us imagine the black sky, the walking for days from a small child’s mind. “Day’s blur together in gritty haze. All I have left are questions. What will we do? How long will we be here?” The child has one thing in the camp that becomes home, birds he watches and feeds. And he has his parents who love him.