Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I'm delighted to announce that the project I shared this spring, I'm Your Neighbor Books, has just received a grant from the Maine Humanities Council! The grant is seed money for our local launch of the project, a community read co-sponsored with the Portland Public Library, "I'm Your Neighbor Portland."

I'm Your Neighbor Books promotes the use of children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures and groups to engage the entire community in a discussion of commonalities and differences. The project features a recommended list of books and an evolving list of engagement projects for educators, librarians, and community organizations who seek to build bridges. 

The inspiration for the project emerged from the recent publication of 7 titles about immigrants and refugees settling in Maine, including a nonfiction book for adults, an anthology of autobiographical stories by teenagers, three novels and two picture books (see below).

Next we'll be looking for additional funding for activities to enrich the community read, and for a school-based version of the project. All of the events will be documented so that they can serve as models for similar projects elsewhere in Maine and across the country.

Meanwhile, our website's booklist has an amazing collection of fiction, biography and memoir, from picture books through YA novels, about the contemporary immigrant and refugee experience, searchable by region, country, age and theme. Check it out! 

And please share any titles you don't see listed.

The Maine “I’m Your Neighbor” collection, with the theme of each book discussion event,  includes:

Description: Fifteen students, from countries such as Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, and Iran are represented in this anthology. In it, you meet Ali killing hyenas and Arunda speaking to his father by phone after ten years of believing he is dead; Kahiye, revealing his first experience of snow, and Stella doing something once forbidden to her, playing a game she loves: soccer. These rich stories were written as part of The Telling Room’s yearlong Story House Project, a multi-media initiative built on the collaborative efforts of local artists, writers, filmmakers, sound technicians, teachers and the 15 young storytellers who bravely told their tales of leaving home in hopes of finding a new one in America.
Publisher: Telling Room (Maine)
Setting: Greater Portland, ME
Featured Community: Multicultural
Ages: 10-Adult
Theme: Journeys

New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors 
by Pat Nyhan (Maine author), Jan Pieter Van Voorst Van Beest (Maine photographer),
Reza Jalali (Foreword-Maine author)

Description: Who are these new Mainers, and why have they come here? They are from war-torn countries such as Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Cambodia; from poor Latin American nations; and from economically vibrant places like Hong Kong, India, and Europe–in other words, from across the global spectrum. They came to Maine for a job or to reunite with their family or because they fell in love or to attend college here or to flee persecution in their homelands. Although the twenty-five immigrants who tell their stories had widely varying reasons for coming to Maine, many have made remarkable contributions to the state. The journeys of these immigrants have not been easy, but all of them are glad they wound up in this state and are proud of their new identities as Mainers.
Publisher: Tilbury House (Maine)
Setting: Greater Portland, ME, Maine
Featured Community: Multicultural American
Ages: 12-adult
Theme: Journeys

A Path of Stars
by Anne Sibley O’Brien (Maine author/illustrator)
Description: A refugee from Cambodia, Dara’s beloved grandmother, Lok Yeay, is grief-stricken when she learns her brother–left behind in Cambodia–has died, and it is up to Dara to bring Lok Yeay back to a place of happiness.

Publisher: Charlesbridge / Maine Humanities Council (Maine)
Setting: Greater Portland, MEFeatured Community: Cambodian AmericanAges: 7-AdultTheme: Home
The Good Braider
by Terry Farish (New Hampshire, formerly Maine author)
Description: Follows Viola as she survives brutality in war-torn Sudan, makes a perilous journey, lives as a refugee in Egypt, and finally reaches Portland, Maine, where her quest for freedom and security is hampered by memories of past horrors and the traditions her mother and other Sudanese adults hold dear. Includes historical facts and a map of Sudan.Publisher: Amazon Children’s PublishingSetting: South Sudan, Portland, MEFeatured Community: Sudanese AmericanAges: 14-AdultTheme: Home

Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle
by Reza Jalali and Illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien (Maine author and illustrator)
Moon Watchers offers an inside view of daily life in a modern Muslim family during Ramadan. Shirin and her older brother Ali have a history of not getting along, so when she discovers him sneaking food one afternoon during his Ramadan fast, she is tempted to tease him about his weakness. Instead of tattling, Shirin decides to mind her own business. She is determined to prove to her parents that she is ready to participate in this important rite of passage. Ultimately the little sister is surprised by a gift from her brother. Readers from all faiths will appreciate this universal story with its thought- provoking focus on family life.

Publisher: Tilbury House (Maine)Setting: Greater Portland, ME
Featured Community: Iranian American, Muslim American
Ages: 7-Adult
Theme: Traditions
Out of Nowhere
by Maria Padian (Maine author)
Description: Enniston has become a “secondary migration” location for Somali refugees, who are seeking a better life after their country was destroyed by war–they can no longer go home. Tom hasn’t thought much about his Somali classmates until four of them join the soccer team, including Saeed. He comes out of nowhere on the field to make impossible shots, and suddenly the team is winning, dominating even; but when Saeed’s eligibility is questioned and Tom screws up in a big way, he’s left to grapple with a culture he doesn’t understand and take responsibility for his actions. Saeed and his family came out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. And Tom may find himself going nowhere, too, if he doesn’t start trying to get somewhere.
Publisher: Knopf
Setting: Fictional Maine town based on Lewiston, Maine
Featured Community: Franco American, Catholic American, Somali American, Muslim American
Ages: 13-Adult
Theme: Traditions
Something About America
by Maria Testa (Maine author)
Description: After ten years of living in America, a young girl is happy with the new world in which she lives and doesn’t understand why her parents yearn to return to their war-torn land of Kosova, yet when a sudden damaging act reestablishes old fears of hate, the Americanized student is forced to reexamine everything she thought she knew.
Publisher: Candlewick Press

Setting: Portland, ME, Lewiston, ME
Featured Community: Kosovar American
Ages: 10-Adult
Theme: Neighbors

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