Earlier this week I read a news story about the dangers people from Central America face as they attempt to journey to the United States, traveling part of the distance through Mexico atop freight trains. In this most recent incident, la bestia (the beast) derailed, wounding and killing many of the people who had been perched on top of the unstable rail cars. Ironically, this week is also marked by the release of Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario–an adaption of a book she wrote seven years ago, this time for young people. Some people question why migrants like Enrique would risk their lives to make such dangerous journeys. They may not understand the desperation and hopelessness felt by people living in abject poverty in the slums of Tegucigalpa and other Central American cities, where drug gangs rule the streets and food and shelter are difficult to come by. Nazario’s book describes the lives of people living in those dire circumstances.
Some of the migrants make the journey to find work so that they can send money to family members back home; others come to find a family member already in the U.S. Most are disappointed with what they find once they arrive, but they are the lucky ones. Many would-be emigrants are kidnapped, beaten, raped, or killed by gangsters or robbed by swindlers or by police. Still others fall victim to the unforgiving wheels of the precarious trains in the state of Chiapas–the first and most dangerous leg of the journey.
Nazario’s new book makes Enrique’s story accessible for a younger audience (grades 7-10) and provides educators with an important resource. Although much of the author’s research took place a decade ago, she updates the book with an afterword and notes that bring in current news and statistics. And recent news stories indicate that many migrants continue to follow Enrique’s perilous route to the U.S. This book therefore can be a great starting place for examining current events related to immigration policy, poverty, and international relations and economics. (ISBN 9780385743273. Gr. 7-10.)
YA books can serve as a rich introduction to other resources about current events, mostly written for adults, or they can serve as an anchor text in a unit of study about an important topic in current events. After all, the important things happening in the world often affect us and our students directly or indirectly. Here are some other ideas for using new YA books to study current events:
Use The Great American Dust Bowl, a graphic novel by Don Brown, in discussion with news about the dust storms in the south and southwest and climate change (see news story). (ISBN 9780547815503. Gr 5-8. Oct. release.)
Share The Great Bear Sea: Exploring the Marine Life of a Pacific Paradise by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read and explore current conversations about oil spill disasters (see news story). (ISBN 9781459800199. Gr 4-8.)
The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery touches on another topic that’s been in the news a lot lately and invites research and discussion around farming, chemicals, and environmental regulations (see news story). (ISBN 9781467705929. Gr 4-6.)