Saturday, April 9, 2016

I'm New Here (Anne Sibley O’Brien)

Title:  I’m New Here

Author & Illustrator:  Anne Sibley O’Brien

Summary From the Book Jacket:
At their new school everything is different…Back in Guatemala, Maria knew the language.  Back in Korea, Jin could read and write.  Back in Somalia, Fatimah felt like she fit in.  Now, in the United States, there are new words and new ways.  But with a little support—and a lot of courage—Maria, Jin, and Fatimah begin to find their way.

Preview of the Text:
“Back home I knew the language.
My friends and I talked all day long.
Our voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds.”

Three new students—Maria, Jin, and Fatimah—are introduced to the class.  Each child represents a different cultural background, yet their thoughts and feelings have many similarities.  They are shown in their home culture on one page while the corresponding page illustrates how the new culture seems strange to them.  The author does an excellent job with both the illustrations and words showing the contrast.  For instance, Maria is playing soccer while smiling and talking with her friends in her home culture.  She is the same size as the other children.  On the other page, she is small and alone.  She is looking and listening to other children with lots of unfamiliar sounds going on.  It is large and chaotic.

When the immigrant children first arrive, they feel alone, confused, and sad.  However, the more they work at learning to speak, to write, and to understand the culture, the more they begin to fit in.  I like how the author encourages their active efforts to assimilate. The American children also play a vital part.  They are helpful, encouraging, and accepting.  The characters are excellent models for young children. 

The foreign students find they have a place in their new school and new home country.  I love how the book ends:  “Here there are new beginnings.  Here there is a place for me.  Here is a new home.”  Lively pictures of the children integrating as well as enjoying their new school and friends accompany each sentence. However, the parts that make them unique also continue to thrive—Maria loves to play soccer. Jin loves stories.  Fatimah loves drawing.  The story celebrates what makes people unique and what makes them the same. 

This book is an excellent opportunity to build empathy and compassion because children learn what it is like to come into a new cultural.  The story is an encouragement to new immigrant students who are trying to figure out how to acclimate.  The author ends by giving an important resource for educators and parents.  It is a website whose focus is on children’s books and reading projects that build bridges between new arrivals and long term communities.  Visit I’M Your Neighbor Books for more book suggestions and articles on this topic. 

I’m New Here is an essential book for libraries and classrooms.  I highly recommend it for ages 3-9. 

Other Teaching Ideas
  • Similes:  Discuss the various similes used in the story.  Students can write their own similes about how they think they would feel going into a new culture and listening to a foreign language. 
  • Social Students:  Pick one or more cultures of students in the class or people in the community to learn more about.  Discuss ways to make people of that culture feel more welcome. 
  • Welcome Kit and Activities designed to go with the book.

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