I’m New Here
by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Charlesbridge, 2015. 32 pages.
I’m wary of books that try to approach a problem and show it solved in a simplistic way. But this book goes deeper than that.
It is a book designed to give us a window into what it feels like to be an immigrant. And yes, the stories are simplified somewhat for very young readers. But the artwork is lovely, and we’re shown how it feels to be in a new place, totally different from where you came from.
We meet three children, as they stand alone, to be introduced to their new class.
Maria is from Guatemala. “Back home I knew the language.” Pictures show Maria playing soccer happily with her friends.
Here there are new words.
I can’t understand them.
The sounds are strange to my ears.
The pictures show a cacophony of sounds on a playground.
Jin is from Korea. “Back home I could read and write.”
Here there are new letters.
They lie on the page like scribbles and scratches.
All the windows and doors are shut tight.
The picture shows Jin looking at letters and seeing them in a nonsensical pile jumbled together.
Fatimah is from Somalia. She wears a flowered headscarf. “Back home I was part of the class.”
Here there are new ways.
I cannot see the patterns.
I cannot find my place.
One by one, each finds a way to begin fitting in.
My favorite is Maria, who practices saying the words and finally manages to ask if she can play soccer. The part I like is where right away one of the other kids says, “She’s on our team!”
Jin gets help spelling cloud from a friend, and then shows that friend how to write cloud in Korean.
And it turns out that Fatimah is a very good artist and finds she can express herself by drawing and painting.
Here there are new beginnings.
Here there is a place for me.
Here is a new home.
I’m afraid that explaining this book won’t communicate how well the pictures tell the story along with the words. And the children portrayed are lovely children, not seen as other. Anne Sibley O’Brien manages to make their eyes look wistful at the beginning, but in a way that makes us want to embrace and comfort them.
And we’re all happy about their change of expression and demeanor by the end.
I suspect this book would be good for immigrant children to read as well as for children who will have new immigrants as classmates. But it’s also a good story, a story that helps the reader imagine what it would be like to stand in someone else’s shoes.
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