Building Bridges with Multicultural Literature: African Refugees
AMERICA MY NEW HOME: AFRICAN REFUGEES Lori Vanden Berghe
Rationale: Sharing our stories helps us to understand our common humanity. Whether there is a picture book to peer into or a voice that brings the action to life, children of all ages long for a story vividly told. The week before Thanksgiving 2011, I had the pleasure of visiting the Macedonia Family Resource Center (MFRC) in High Point, NC which helps underserved refugee parents in the area improve their literacy and life skills while also assisting their children for success in school through structured tutoring sessions. During that tour of the MFRC, I met four children ages 7 – 11 who came to America from war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East. I chose these books with those youngsters in mind with the hope of sharing the stories with them upon a future visit to the Community Center. However, High Point, NC is not an isolated area where families such as these are in need of assimilation skills and support. The lessons I am including here are for students in Grade 3.
Whoever You Are Author: Mem Fox Illustrator: Leslie Staub Publisher: HMH Books, Copyright: 2007 ISBN-10: 0152060308 Age Level: 3 and up | Grade Level: P and up | Series: Reading Rainbow BooksSummary: This book represents what is common among us all: our humanity.Despite our differences we share pain, joy, and love. The book’s illustrations arebold and brightly colored making their way from culture to culture and acrossgenerations to depict our similarities.
Response: A book for its simple message: Our skin may be different colors, our religions, ourcultures different too, but we are all the same: human beings on the planet Earth. I have foundin my work with teens that they get so wrapped up in their social scenes that they forget awhole world exists outside of their immediate circle. I strive to take off their blinders and opentheir view to the world we live in, presenting basic philosophical questions so they may developtheir own philosophy of life. Not some rappers view or of their peers, but their own.This book is just that widely loved. It can be used in a high school class, or it can be used in athird grade class.Use in class: In order to have a conversation about themes in literature, students mustunderstand that the author is conveying a message about the human condition- tellingsomething about humans and life. This book can open a Grand Conversation about some ofthose conditions.For this collection, I begin with this book to highlight the Big Idea I will be refering to constantly:communities are made and influenced by diverse cultures.Finally, students will create a collage of their own from images either hand-rendered,magazines, or digital photos that depicts their own definition of diversity. These will bedisplayed around the classroom.
Brothers in Hope:The Story of the Lost Boys of SudanMary Williams (Author)R. Gregory Christie (Illustrator)Publisher: Lee & Low BooksCopyright: 2005Reading Level : Ages 7 and UpISBN-10: 1584302321Coretta Scott King Award Winner
Summary: This is a fictional story about Garang, an eight year old boy who tends cattlefor his father in Southern Sudan. One day while tending the herd, Civil War breaks outand Garang’s village is pummeled with bullets. He runs to hide under the cover of theforest. After the shooting stops, Garang returns to his village and finds everyone gone.He begins to wander the road away from his home and meets other boys who could notfind their families. Many, many boys were on the road; the oldest were fifiteen. Theyhad to learn to care for one another as they left Sudan and crossed into Ethiopia forsafety. Many boys did not survive the journey. They were lucky to find a refugee camp tostay for a while, but then war broke out in Ethopia and they were forced to walk intoKenya. The boys grew older in the camp in Kenya, but life was hard there too. Finally,the United States offered the 3800 Sudanese Lost Boys a home.Response: The fact that we have so many displaced families who have fled wartorncountries in our own communities is enough reason to share this book with students.The author is careful to word the facts of death in such a way that will not scare theyoung, but will open a discussion about the trials and suffering those in the situationsface. Some students may feel compelled to share their own stories. But as the title says,this is a story of hope; it is also a story of faith, courage, and love. In Garang’s father’swords: “Your heart and mind are strong. There is nothing you cannot do.” This story willopen opportunities to talk about how education, faith, determination, and hope in thefuture are a part of all our lives.
Suggested Use in the Classroom: This book fits nicely as aninterdisciplinary lesson in social studies and language arts as illustratedbelow:
In the Small, Small NightJane Kurtz (Author)Rachel Isadora (Illustrator)Publisher: AmistadCopyright: 2005Reading Level: Ages 5 and UpISBN-10: 0066238137Washington Post: One of Top Five BestPicture Books (2005
Summary: “What if a lizard crawled in my suitcase? What if the peoplein my new school laugh at me? What if Grandmother back in Ghanaforgets me?” These are questions Kofi sits up worrying about on his firstnight in America. But his sister, Abena knows a secret to help calmthem and bring them closer to “home.” She begins telling her brotherfolktales from their homeland.
Response: We all can relate to the stories passed on to us arounda fire, a family table, or before bedtime. They live in us and we tellthem to the next generation in our care. Stories are our commonthread in the larger human tapestry. The short tales in this book dothe same. Children will love the messages, “Listen with your earsopen, and “ Hand come, hand go.”
Classroom Use: Looking at the illustrations: children will easilyrecognize the pictures that correspond to the folktales and the onesthat relate to the actual story and be able to compare their qualities(folktales: vibrant and warm, like Ghana; in America: cool and dark).They should be able to write theme sentences that deal with theovercoming fears of a new place, going to a new school, and theimportance of family. This is a good jumping off place to sharefolktales from other cultures represented in the class. Perhaps LaLlorona from the Latin community, or Coyote the Trickster of theNative Americans. Students could ask their parents to tell them astory from their youth to illustrate and retell to the class.
Activities:Address prior knowledge with an interview before reading thesebooks:In pairs: Interview your partner like a reporter and write down their answers to yourquestions. You will report to the class how your partner answered the questions:•Did you ever take a long trip with your family? Where?•What did you do to plan for the trip? What kinds of things did you take with you?•How long did it take to reach your destination?•Have you ever been lost? How did you feel? What did you do? Who helped you?•Is there a story that someone in your family tells a lot that you like to hear? What is thatstory?•What does it mean to have courage?•Can you tell about a time when you had to be really brave?
Rationale: We learn about each other through story. This activity will serve as anintroduction to the three stories Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, Brothers in Hopeby Mary Williams, and In the Small, Small Night by Jane Kurtz. Students will havea chance to learn more about each other and the class will learn about eachstudent as their partner tells the stories they have heard.
In Pictures and In Words: Inside the storiesReexamine the illustrations from each book to direct your students’ attention todecisions the artist madeDiscuss and chart: Color choices and how they set mood and tone Perspective of the drawing/ point of view Layout Style Details Technique
Make the connection with yourstudents that illustrating is the sameas composing.Rationale: By helping childrenexamine illustrations with an artist’sviewpoint, you are encouragingthem to infer how writers usesimilar techniques in composition.These discussions will act as aspringboard for building futurebridges of understanding, whetherchildren are physically drawingimages then writing or writingimagery so their readers may createpictures in their mind’s eye.
Interdisciplinary Study: After Reading the storiesSocial Studies:•Display a map of Africa: label Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya , and Ghana .•Research these countries•Set up an ePals.com account so classes can connect with students in thesecountries for projects•Comparison Chart : On a map, find Sudan and chart each country andcontinents on that same latitude around the globe.
Language Arts: •Wikipages : In groups, students take on roles as•Use Cause and Effect graphic editor, copy writer, illustrator, and fact checker toorganizers so students can create a wikipage for a country in Africa thatchart the relationships of describes the culture, natural resources, significantevents in the stories. historical events. Collaboration with your ePal class could take place here as well. This could be used•Vocabulary: Word Webs as a place to report on your project other than justfrom vocabulary words a country report (See References for how to set upprovided from each story a wiki). •Write an allegory: a story that teaches a moral lesson using the major subjects of any of the stories (we are all the same, be brave when times are hard, etc) . GT Students may want to draw their own illustrations. Another option would be to use VOKI.com where the children choose an animal avatar to tell their recorded story.
References: Classroom Guide for Brothers in Hope ePals.com/ Africa for classroom connections to whole classes in Africa How to set up a wiki In Pictures and In Words by Katie Wood plus study guide Mem Fox, the author More information about the Lost Boys Multicultural Children’s Literature Voki.com Whoever You Are Lesson Plans
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