I’M NEW HERE
Written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
(Charlesbridge; $16.95, Ages 5-8)
★ Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
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.”
“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.
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