We live in a diverse world, and books can be a door to diversity whether that’s reading about another country or getting an opportunity to connect with the life of an immigrant. Perhaps these stories may be the beginning of a more understanding view of their peers who have a different cultural background.
In Josh Farrar’s case, it was a movie that was a door to another culture. The author bio on the jacket flap of A Song for Bijou says that Josh Farrar wrote the book as a love letter to Brooklyn, New York. An author’s note at the end of the book expands on the story behind the story, explaining that Farrar watched a documentary about Haitian music in nearby section of Brooklyn. He asked himself, “How could something so exciting be happening almost literally in my backyard, without me knowing a thing about it?” That was the beginning of A Song for Bijou as Farrar began to imagine a story that explored the way our lives intersect (or don’t) with various cultures in our community. The result is a sweet romance for middle schoolers that touches on peer pressure, prejudices, and cultural misunderstandings between two young people in a diverse city. I couldn’t help but root for Alex as he tries to get Bijou’s attention. The dual narration from both Alex and Bijou lets us get a glimpse of Alex’s ignorance of Haiti and the Haitian-American neighborhood a few blocks from his home and Bijou’s uncertainty about Alex’s ability to fit in with her Haitian community and really get her. I think a real strength is Bijou herself who may challenge readers’ idea of Haitian life as she did not live in poverty in Haiti before she came to the U.S. (9780802733948. February 2013. Gr. 6-8)
Serafina’s Promise offers another view of Haiti and the 2010 earthquake. This novel in verse begins with Serafina climbing a hill slowly (One foot forward— / stop. / The other foot forward— / stop.) to avoid spilling the water she is bringing home for her family. She does this twice a day along with many other chores to help her family, who struggle to get enough food to eat. Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but her family can’t even afford to send her to school. Then the earthquake creates even more chaos in Serafina’s life. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful story that portrays a strong and determined young girl with a dream. (9780545535649. October 2013. Gr. 6-8)
Sarah Crossan looks at the life of an immigrant from Poland to the UK in The Weight of Water. Kasienka’s verse narration creates an emotional portrait of life in an unfamiliar place—not fitting in with kids at school, being placed in a lower grade due to her poor English skills, and living in poverty with her mother. Nothing is quite right in her new home, but eventually Kasienka finds bits of belonging. She finds a friend (a fellow immigrant) and a way to cope (swimming). Soon she even has a love interest. There are some complex issues here, but at its heart, this is a story about growing up. (9781599909677. May 2013. Gr. 6-8)