The Stories We Share: A Guide to PreK-12 Books on the Experience of Immigrant Children and Teens in the United States

In the month of August, I am blogging on WOW Currents. You can access today’s post “Guided Inquiry Design: Explore and Identify Phases.”

The first three August School Librarian Leadership posts are focused on professional books related to the posts on WOW Currents.

I did not have a copy of Ladislava N. Khailova’s book The Stories We Share: A Guide to PreK-12 Books on the Experience of Immigrant Children and Teens in the United States as I prepared the Inquiry into Prejudice and Discrimination Explore Pathfinder of nonfiction and informational books and resources for IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth. I requested it through interlibrary loan and it arrived near the end of the summer semester.

Since prejudice and discrimination based on culture, race, and documentation was a subsection of the pathfinder, Ladislava N. Khailova’s book would have been helpful to me. In “Chapter 1: Why Share Books on Immigrants?” she makes a strong case sharing immigrant youth-centered titles as a way to challenge intercultural misunderstandings that lead to unsubstantiated bias (4). The author cites political economic and social psychology research that describes how stereotypes and prejudice are formed and reinforced in individuals and in society, particularly as applied to the immigrant “Other.”

With references to Rudine Simms Bishops mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors metaphor for multicultural literature, Khailova emphasizes the power of story to offer immigrant youth positive reflections of their heritage cultures and communicates that they are welcome in the U.S. For dominant culture youth, multicultural literature can dispel the myth of superiority and contest ethnocentrism, particularly during times of nationalistic fervor. When young people of diverse backgrounds read and discuss pro-diversity multicultural literature in classrooms and libraries, educators and librarians (and parents) create opportunities for cross-cultural understanding that conquers prejudice.

Using award-winning book lists, Ladislava N. Khailova annotated 101 preK-12 books centered on first- and second-generation U.S. child or teen immigrants. She used two major sources to identify these titles: Lisa R. Bartle’s Database of Award-Winning Children’s Literature which is a free online database, and a subscription database: Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database.  The author has created a free online database of The Stories We Share titles included in the book. It is searchable by national/ethnic/religious affiliation; first-/second-generation; male/female protagonists; genre; reader grade-level bands; and historical period.

The annotations/chapters are organized by geographic regions: Asia (37 titles); Latin American and the Caribbean (31 titles); Europe (20 titles). Khailova combines Africa (8 titles) and the Middle East (5 titles) in the final chapter. (She notes that Oceania and non-Hispanic North America are not represented in these 101 titles.) She draws connections between the percentage of immigrants from various regions with the numbers of books published based on immigration stories from each region and the dominant cultures relative level of acceptance of immigrants from each area. In her annotations, she both summarizes and evaluates these books and offers discussion questions for readers. The author introduces each chapter with background on the U.S. immigration histories of subgroups from each geographic region. She includes extensive endnotes, a bibliography, and a comprehensive index as well.

Since the Latin American and Caribbean chapter is focused on contemporary immigrants, I focused my search for nonfiction titles in that chapter. I was specifically looking for Mexican and Central American immigration books that would further develop my pathfinder. The online database made it easy to find the few titles focused on Mexican immigrants. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of books that have earned awards that meet my criteria for nonfiction from this region.

I recommend The Stories We Share: A Guide to PreK-12 Books on the Experience of Immigrant Children and Teens in the United State for educators/librarians who are developing collections, curriculum, and programs. While the inclusion of “award-winning” titles only limits the number of titles identified and annotated, it does offer vetted books while it points to the lack of representation of immigrant experience literature in mainstream U.S. publishing for children and young adults. I would venture to say that many other worthy titles have been published that have not earned awards… but not nearly enough to approach the percentage of children and teens who are first- and second-generation immigrants to the U.S.

Going beyond multicultural literature to include international books is also challenging for educators/librarians. Even award-winning titles from non-U.S. publishers may take time (years!) before they are available for distribution in the U.S., if ever. These books are so infrequently purchased by public libraries (which are my current sources for these titles).

In that context, I recently had the opportunity to experience the international “Visual Narratives: Connecting Across Languages and Cultures” on display at the Worlds of Words International Collection of Children’s and Adolescent Literature housed at the University of Arizona. These “wordless books” tell stories from the perspectives of children/authors/illustrators from around the world. The visual narratives are rich with cultural markers and show how book creators and publishers in other countries offer worldviews different from those of mainstream U.S. creators and publishing houses. The exhibit is on loan from the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) “Silent Books” collection.

If you live in Tucson or visit our city before January, 2020, please make time to browse/read/view “The Visual Narratives:Connecting Across Languages and Cultures” exhibit. It is open during Worlds of Words open reading hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Work Cited

Khailova, Ladislava N. 2018. The Stories We Share: A Guide to PreK-12 Books on the Experience of Immigrant Children and Teens in the United States. Chicago: ALA.

This entry was posted in Collection Development, Literature, Professional Book Reviews and tagged , , , , by Judi Moreillon. Bookmark the permalink.

About Judi Moreillon

Judi Moreillon, M.L.S, Ph.D., has served as a school librarian at every instructional level. In addition, she has been a classroom teacher, literacy coach, and district-level librarian mentor. Judi has taught preservice school librarians since 1995. She is currently an adjunct associate professor for the iSchool at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has taught courses in instructional partnerships and school librarian leadership, multimedia resources and services, children’s and young adult literature, and storytelling. Her research agenda focuses on the professional development of school librarians for the leadership and instructional partner roles. She has published four professional books; the most recent is Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018). (See the book study on this blog.) Judi earned the American Library Association's 2019 Scholastic Library Publishing Award.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *