Title: I’m New Here
Author: Anne Sibley O’Brien
Illustrator: Anne Sibley O’Brien
Audience: K-Gr. 2
Summary: Three children from other cultures struggle and succeed in adapting to their new elementary school in America.
Literary elements at work in the story: Author/artist Anne Sibley O’Brien concentrates on emotionally evocative details which help the reader to feel the loneliness and disorientation that come with a move to a new culture. Text and illustrations work together seamlessly. Maria, from Guatemala, remembers what it was like back home to play soccer with her friends and understand the language, where voices “flew between us like birds.” One page shows Maria happily playing with her friends at her old school; on the facing page she stands on the far periphery of her American playground, where the cacophony of a foreign language is spelled out in undecipherable phonetics. Jin feels the same about writing and reading. He was a competent and creative writer in his native Korean, but English letters “lie on the page like scribbles and scratches.” Fatimah fit “like one of many stars in the night sky” in her native Somali classroom. In her new school, though, we see her sitting all alone, and she cannot understand what she is supposed to do.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? This story shows that while differences in language and culture may separate us, barriers can be overcome with kindness and hard work. In her endnotes O’Brien shares a way to create a welcoming community through the sharing of children’s literature, including an extensive list of recommended titles about new arrivals: www.imyourneighborbooks.org .
Theological Conversation Partners: Each news day brings more stories of people on the move, fleeing from persecution or intentionally uprooting families to come to the United States for a better life. Scripture clearly mandates the response God requires. From the Old Testament – “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34) – to the New Testament – “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matthew 25:35) – we hear over and over again that God wants us to welcome the stranger in our midst. O’Brien’s simple story demonstrates what this process can look like when we are intentional about kindness. We are to notice the things we have in common, and we are to be curious about things that are new to us. In every case, we are to draw the stranger in – to the soccer game, to the writing desk, around the drawing table, and into our community.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Have you ever been the new kid in class? What was it like?
- Look at the pictures of Maria, Jin, and Fatimah at the beginning of this story. How do you think they are feeling?
- Look through the book and name some of the things that the other children in the class do to help the new students feel at home.
- What are some of the talents that Maria, Jin, and Fatimah have? Who notices them?
- I wonder if there are things you could do at school or at church to help someone new feel at home?
This review is written by Union Presbyterian Seminary Alum Beth Lyon-Suhring
I’m New Here by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.