Build Cultural Competency in the Classroom with Children’s Literature

Not all English learners (ELs) are immigrants or refugees; in fact, the majority of ELs are U.S.-born. Still, children’s literature about immigrant and refugee experiences can help prepare students to accept and learn from ELs, who bring to the classroom a wealth of cultural knowledge and experience.

The website of Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS) boasts a plethora of resources for teachers of ELs and includes a list of such books. The list is long, so today we’re highlighting just a few titles available at the Kansas City Public Library. Descriptions are from BRYCS and the library website.

Drita, My Homegirl

dritaThis is the story of a young girl and her family who come to New York as refugees from war-torn Kosovo. Even though Drita barely speaks English, she can’t wait to start school and make new friends. But her new classmates are not very welcoming.

This story shows two worlds coming together and explores the effects of war on a family and how friendship sometimes appears in the unlikeliest places.

Ten-year-old Drita is teased about not speaking English well, but after a popular student named Maxine is forced to learn about Kosovo as a punishment for teasing Drita, the two girls soon bond.

Behind the Mountainsbehind

Behind the Mountains narrates the personal and political events that force a young Haitian girl and her family to immigrate to New York City and describes the adjustment process to a new culture.

Writing in the notebook her teacher gave her, thirteen-year-old Celiane describes life with her mother and brother in Haiti as well as her experiences in Brooklyn after the family finally immigrates there to be reunited with her father.

Woven into the story is Haitian history, Christmas traditions, folk stories, and the oppressive practice of subjecting young girls to indentured service. The author writes the story based on her own migration from Haiti to America in the 1970s.

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America

farsiFunny in Farsi relates the story of Firoozeh Dumas from the time she came to Southern California as an Iranian girl of seven years old through her college years and marriage to a Frenchman. Each member of her family has particular issues with the cultural change of immigration: her engineer father who lost his first job in the U.S. after the hostages were taken at the Tehran embassy; her mother who never masters English sufficiently to speak so Americans can understand her; and her uncle who grows fat on fast food and seeks out various diet remedies to lose weight.

Firoozeh has to endure the taunts of other children while trying to fit into her new culture.

Her father takes trips back to Iran where his pension that is meager by American standards allows him to act as a wealthy man and stay in hotels, handing out large tips. When Firoozeh decides to a Frenchman, François, she has to deal with the cultural dictates of both her and his families as well as the religious issues. At the end of the book several special features have been added: an afterword tells about the reception of the book by the reading public as well as the author’s family; the author is interviewed by Khaled Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner; and a reader’s guide provides discussion questions.

The Unforgotten Coat

coatAn evocative immigration tale about two brothers trying to survive – a daring story that miraculously defies belief. When two Mongolian brothers inexplicably appear one morning in Julie’s sixth grade class, no one, least of all Julie, knows what to do with them. But when Chingis, the older of the two brothers, proclaims Julie as their “Good Guide” – a nomadic tradition of welcoming strangers to a new land – Julie must somehow navigate them through soccer, school uniforms, and British slang, all while trying to win Shocky’s attention and perhaps also an invitation to her friend Mimi’s house. At times funny, this moving and simply told novella tugs at the heart – a unique story of immigration both fierce in its telling and magical in its characters.

Coming to America: A Muslim Family’s Story

Coming to America uses easy-to-read text and vivid photos to describe the daily activities of an actual Muslim family working hard to establish their new life in America after immigrating from Egypt. The Mahmoud family, earning only $60 a month in Egypt, won a lottery for a greencard which allows legal immigration to the United States. Hassan, the father, works as a night clerk in a 24-hour grocery store in New York City, and the stress of this job is taxing. Soad, the mother, stays at home to care for thecoming family but spends weekends learning English. Amr graduates from eighth grade and achieves excellent academic honors which pleases his parents. Sisters Dina and Rown also work hard in school and learn about American customs such as Father’s Day and fashion trends. The family struggles to buy food and pay rent while maintaining the Egyptian custom of expansive dinners consisting of soups, several entrees, and desserts. They stay true to their Muslim faith through observing the rituals of several daily prayer breaks and make a special visit to a great mosque in Manhattan. An afterword explains the significance of the Qur’an as a guide for daily conduct and the five basic pillars of the Muslim faith.

Coming to America depicts the joys and hardships experienced by a Muslim family that immigrates to New York City from Alexandria, Egypt, in the hope of making a better life life for themselves.

After four years of hard work and frugal living in New York, Hassan Mahmoud can afford to bring his family from Egypt to live with him. This close-knit family adapts to American life while staying true to their Muslim beliefs and Egyptian customs. Intimate and charming scenes of daily life are recounted — preparing family meals, visiting a mosque in Manhattan, discovering the joys of snow. Through captivating color photographs and engaging text, this thoughtful book helps young readers understand Muslims as individuals and families.

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Posted in Community Resources, Culture

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