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Have you ever been the new kid in class? Try being the new kid in the country! 3,585 Miles to be an American Girl is the journey of Sofia, a young girl, to the USA, where she encounters a new language and a new culture. It’s a story about family, perseverance, and believing in yourself. This is an immigration story shared from a child’s point of view that I wrote drawing from my own experiences.
As I travel around the country sharing it, I am continually a little taken aback by the fact that not only educators, but also parents, and caretakers do not see the entire power of the resources such as media, especially books, that our kids have access to. I recently read that most people, including teachers, buy books they like or that they can relate to.
Well, that makes sense, especially since many would tell you they have to purchase said books out of their own personal funds. That there is another story for another time. If we take that into account and have data to support that the majority, about 80%, of our country’s teachers are white and from middle-class households, then it is easy to conclude that most of the books purchased by teachers would have protagonists that reflect who they are as a person or their culture. The tragedy in such actions is that, in doing so, we subliminally chip away at our kids’ self-esteem.
How so? Children need to know that they and their culture are important. As they grow, they need to feel validated and see their differences as strengths. One of the easiest ways we can do this is by providing them with books in which the main character or characters look like them, or even if the setting is a country where they have roots, or if the story notes cultural specific traditions. All those variables in a book can help support children in feeling a sense of belonging.
Ultimately, children need to be exposed to books that reflect the world around them. In helping children see cultures, languages, and other nationalities for the strengths and riches they share, we will be able to see the change in the world that we want to see. By helping children find empathy in others’ stories, journeys and even sacrifices for the life-changing decisions they make we will be able to bring all of us a little closer.
Nury Castillo Crawford is a published author and CEO/Founder of 1010 Publishing.
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