I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

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I’M NEW HERE
Written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
(Charlesbridge; $16.95, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

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Across America the back-to-school season is in full swing. Some kids are returning to school, others are first timers. Many are not just entering a new school, but starting again in a new city. I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, introduces three students, Maria from Guatemala, Jin from South Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia, beginning their educational life in an entirely different country, our country, and facing perhaps the biggest challenge when many have come here under a variety of circumstances.

We easily get into the head of each character and learn their hopes and fears. There are new words to learn, sounds strange to their ears and memories of life back home that at first makes adjusting difficult at many levels. Who hasn’t been new at something, full of apprehension and self-doubt? Will I ever learn the new ways in this new land?

“Back home I knew the language.
My friends and I talked all day long.
Our voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds.”

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Interior artwork from I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2015.

“Here I am alone.
Here I am confused.
Here I am sad.”

But when Maria uses some newly acquired English words in an attempt to join a soccer game, “someone understands.” The same for Jin when he discovers a fellow classmate also shares his love of super heroes and creating comics. Fatimah’s artistic talent attracts positive attention, too. Ultimately the story reinforces a positive message of acceptance, encouraging our kids to see life through someone else’s eyes and maybe make an interesting new friend at the same time.

O’Brien’s lyrical language gently moves the story forward and helps us walk in the main characters’ shoes. We understand they are not whining or complaining, just expressing real concerns that children in their situations are apt to feel. Often though, assisted by O’Brien’s evocative, muted watercolor illustrations, few to no words are required.

 

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Interior artwork from I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Charlesbridge Publishing, ©2015.

In the end page’s A Note from the Author, O’Brien explains that children like Maria or Fatimah, “may have left home not by choice but by force, fleeing from political persecution, violence, or war.” Others, like Jin “may have left behind close family members.” Keeping this in mind when you read the story with your children, you’ll help build awareness and empathy that may encourage youngsters to reach out to children just like Maria, Fatimah or Jin in their schools and make them feel welcome and a part of the community.

To learn about I’m Your Neighbor — a project cofounded by O’Brien promoting the use of children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures and groups — please head to www.imyourneighborbooks.org.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 


To Market to Market

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I cherish the unusual when it comes to reading a children’s book – especially when the author’s personal experiences led to the creation of the unique story. I also seek out titles that educate the youngest readers about different cultures and places. The Market Bowl ($16.95, Charlesbridge Publishing, Ages 5-8) meets all of the above and more.

Jim Averbeck spent four years in Cameroon – an African nation few Americans have visited – as a Peace Corps volunteer.  While there he ate many local dishes including Bitterleaf Stew. And so the story begins…

Yoyo is a young girl who goes to the market with her mother every day to sell her mama Cecile’s delicious bitterleaf stew. Mama teaches Yoyo exactly how to make the stew, taking no shortcuts and also tells her daughter that she must not ever reject a fair price for the stew in the market. Together they are successful selling mama’s secret recipe stew day after day.

One day Yoyo decides to make her own stew in her own way and try to sell it at the market when her mama was not there. Because the stew is sub par, a buyer grabs the bowl and offers Yoyo much less money for the stew than her mama was used to getting paid. Yoyo yanks the bowl back, and after that the family’s luck changes and Yoyo’s mama can no longer get a fair price for her food. When you read the book, you’ll see that the way Yoyo solves the problem is both brave and clever.

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The story has a folklore quality to it that I absolutely love. Along with the words are glorious, vibrant illustrations that bring the story to a whole new level. You’ll enjoythe way your children learn subtly about the Cameroon culture, too. In the front of the book are some vocabulary words and in the back is a reciepe for Bitterleaf Stew, the national dish of Cameroon.

There’s nothing else quite like The Market Bowl. It is a wonderful book for teaching children about cultures, honesty and quality work. And after reading this book, perhaps your child will even be willing to try tasting a new dish.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade