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Saturday, March 19, 2016

I'm New Here, written and illustrated by Anita Sibley O'Brien. Charlesbridge, Random House. 2015. $18.95 ages 5 and up

"I say the new words
again and again.
They feel like rocks
in my mouth.
My tongue twists and
stumbles on their edges.

One day I try the new
words. They do not flow
or fly freely. But someone

Being new to a country, a community, a classroom can be a struggle for most anyone. In this perceptive book about immigration, Anita Sibley O'Brien introduces us to three children: Maria from Guatemala, Jin from South Korea and Fatimah from Somalia. Each is presented to readers on a two page spread, focusing on just one of the challenges they face.

Maria understood the language spoken at home where she and her friends talked all day long and played soccer together. English words are new and strange. Jin enjoyed writing at home, using his words to tell stories. New letters and sounds shut the door to his imagination and to his joy in writing. Fatimah felt comfort in being with her classmates at home. She can no longer find her place in a brand new and strange environment.

"Here I am alone.

Here I am confused.

Here I am sad."

With the passing of time each child begins to feel more confident and comfortable with language, with reading and writing, and with taking part in the work of the classroom.  Each one has a special talent that is evident to all who read about them. Eventually, with the help of those who surround them, the three children find a 'home' in this new place.

The author uses her own experience as a child new to an unfamiliar country as the catalyst for  this thoughtful book that is sure to boost empathy and understanding for the plight of immigrant children everywhere. In her author's note, Ms. O'Brien shares some of the challenges that our new neighbors are facing. It is not only a new language and cultural issues:

"Additionally, the reasons for and the losses incurred in leaving home countries add to the challenges of building a new life. Children like Jin may have left behind 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."

Our understanding and support are sorely needed as they navigate their journeys. The artwork celebrates diversity and allows for emotions to be expressed and growth shown as days pass and acceptance becomes more evident.

In order to help each of us build better bridges to understanding, she points her readers to Please visit to see what it has to offer.

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