As we approach the beginning of the school year, it’s important to think about how to foster a sense of community in the classroom and in the school as a whole right at the get-go. Community building involves conversation about how each student and staff member as an individual contributes to the group and about how the group collectively wishes to function. A healthy community honors and respects every individual, and that includes that individual’s heritage and personal story, each of which is unique.
Using literature is a great way to ease into the process of sharing our stories and beginning to build community. Yes! We Are Latinos by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy, illustrated by by David Diaz, celebrates the unique personal stories and perspectives of different Latinos and Latinas in the United States. Each vignette, which represents the stories of hundreds of people the authors have known through the years, begins with the title “My Name Is…” and a few pieces of background information: “I am Panamanian…I live in New York…I am Latino…” and follows with a poetic representation of a fictitious yet believable life. A vignette about a Mexican American girl is followed by an explanation of Spanish colonization in Latin America and the indigenous and mestizo roots of people from there. Other stories tell about other roots–African, Japanese, and even Sephardic Jew. As varied as the heritages of each profile are the hopes and dreams each shares: one girl hopes for legal papers so she can “just be me”; another wants her family to save money for her to go to college instead of spending it on a quinceañera; still another dreams of a career as an artist. (ISBN 9781580893831. Gr 5-8.)
Telling our stories is sharing who we are with the others with whom we wish to build community. Stories foster conversation and respect for one another’s identities. Sharing this book of stories with middle school students at the beginning of the school year is a great way to embark on the journey of community building.
Other books you may wish to share with students at the beginning of the school year:
In Maude: The Not-So-Noticable Shrimpton by Lauren Child, plain Maude discovers that it can be okay to not stand out in the crowd. (ISBN 9780763665159. Gr K-2.)
The Quiet Place by Sarah Stewart tells the story of Isabel, a new emigrant from Mexico who takes comfort in a transformed cardboard box, where she writes letters to her aunt about her new experiences. (ISBN 9780374325657. Gr K-3.)
In The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia, Aliya, an Indian American Muslim girl, struggles with growing up and figuring out who she is and how she wants to portray herself to the world. (ISBN 9781561456987. Gr 3-5.)
The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a novela about sixth-grade Julie growing up in Liverpool, where two young Mongolian brothers arrive and pique her interest, as she sets out to research Mongolia and to welcome them to their new surroundings. (ISBN 9780763657291. Gr 4-6.)
The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan is the emotional story told in verse of a young Polish immigrant in London. (ISBN 9781599909677. Gr 5-8.)
What Happened This Summer by Paul Yee is a collection of short stories about Chinese Canadian teens adapting to life in Toronto. (ISBN 9781896580883. Gr 7-10)
Face Relations: 11 Stories about Seeing Beyond Color edited by Marilyn Singer includes stories by Joseph Bruchac, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rita Williams-Garcia, M. E. Kerr, and more. (ISBN 9781442496163. Gr 7-12.)
Owning It: Stories about Teens with Disabilities edited by Donald Gallo features stories by Chris Crutcher, David Lubar, Gail Giles, and Robert Lipsyte, among others. (ISBN 9780763646615. Gr 9-12.)
Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black spotlights stories by 29 authors, including M. T. Anderson, Libba Bray, John Green, David Levithan, and Scott Westerfield. (ISBN 9780316008105. Gr 9-12.)