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.
Congratulations to the winner of my first August Giveaway – Amazing Books to Help Students Meet New Americans. One Good Thing about America by Ruth Freeman goes to a teacher in New Hampshire. This week, it’s a story of migrations for the youngest of readers, Duncan Tonathiu’s Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote. It’s an award winning hardback picture book, perfect for libraries. I’m reposting my original review that appeared in The Pirate Tree, Social Justice and Children’s Literature.
Photo journalist Sebastiao Salgado documents the movement of millions of the worlds people across countries and continents in his book Migrations. In the preface he writes about some things he came to believe after years of following and photographing people seeking a new home due to war and/or poverty. “More than ever, I feel that the human race is one,” he said and, “When poverty becomes intolerable, people seek to move on.” Mexican-American writer and artist Duncan Tonatiuh tells a tale of economic migration for the youngest of readers. Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: a Migrant’s Tale is the next in Tonatiuh’s tales about families separated by the journey from Mexico to El Norte. In Dear Primo, a Letter to My Cousin, Tonatiuh creates a cousin in Mexico and a cousin in the U.S. Pancho Rabbit is the tale of a son in a family of rabbits. His father doesn’t come home to Mexico when he’s expected after months of work in the U.S., and the son follows in his father’s footsteps, traveling north to find him. Soon he is beholden to Coyote who promises safe travel if the rabbit-son will give him all the food he owns, one item at a time, as Coyote demands it. Children will fear for this young rabbit especially in the scene in which the coyote is shown as a dark shadow and threatens to roast and eat him. Father and son are reunited, return home to their family, but imagine the next trip north “if there is no food or work…” and danger looms. The illustrations are profound in the telling of this tale. Tonatiuh describes his paintings “as inspired by ancient Mexican art, particularly that of the Mixtec codex.” He notes that his work is hand drawn, then collaged digitally. They are unique in children’s book illustration and deeply honor the Mexican cultural traditions in art. Tonatiuh bridges two cultures, having been born in Mexico City, and grown up in both the United States and San Miguel de Allende with a Mexican mom and an America dad. He offers an extensive author’s note and links to research sites on humanitarian issues around illegal immigration into the U.S.
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