07 Oct / I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Maria, who left behind an unnamed Spanish-speaking nation, longs for the constant conversations with her friends when their “voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds.” Jin, from Korea (obvious only because of the hangul on his wistful drawing), misses reading and writing the familiar words that “opened like windows and doors into a story.” Fatimah, who spoke Somali (the language in which her former teacher greeted her class) on the other side of the world, wishes she could “fit in like one of the many stars in the night sky.”
Feelings of being “alone … confused … sad” are soon transformed into the camaraderie of a soccer game for Maria, the satisfaction of learning to read with a friend for Jin, and the relief of sharing her experiences through drawing for Fatimah. Encouragement and companionship help each child toward being able to say, “Here is a new home.”
Author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien writes from direct personal experience: at 7, she moved to postwar South Korea with her medical missionary parents: “… adjusting to living in a new culture and learning a new language was often challenging. I still remember moments when I felt bewildered and out of place,” she writes in her ending author’s note. “Over time, though, Korea became our beloved second home.”
O’Brien recognizes that today’s “children of new Americans face far greater challenges than I ever did.” Children like Jin, she explains, may be separated from close family members. “Other families, like Maria’s and Fatimah’s, may have left home not by choice but by force, fleeing from political persecution, violence, or war.”
In addition to offering immediate advice on creating community – we can all benefit from more smiles, patience, and listening to stories – O’Brien also provides a practical resource for equipping classroom shelves. She’s one-quarter of the team for an informative website, I’m Your Neighbor, which recommends children’s titles by regions and countries, ethnic and cultural groups, and diverse themes that support “building bridges between ‘new arrivals’ and ‘long-term communities.'”
Clear, direct, and resonating, I’m New Here belongs in every classroom – as well as every office on Capitol Hill and beyond, ahem! In the midst of current political debates about immigration, closing borders, incoming refugees, Here couldn’t be more timely; it’s also an important reminder for all Americans that we are all came from somewhere else (even the Native Americans traveled over the Bering Strait).
“Seeing themselves reflected in these books, immigrant children feel affirmed,” O’Brien emphasizes, “and their classmates glimpse different backgrounds and experiences, perhaps recognizing some of their own stories in the universals of family, traditions, journeys, and the quest for a better life.” Here’s to the great American way indeed!