Thursday, July 30, 2015

Spotlight On: REFORMA’S Children in Crisis Project

-- Contributed by Hannah Ehrlich, LEE & LOW BOOKS

For this piece, we are highlighting an inspiring project we read about on the LEE & LOW Blog that focuses on delivering books for immigrant children held in detention centers. This special project was implemented by the Children in Crisis Project from REFORMA, the National Association To Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos. Their project underscores the power of books to create a space for empathy, understanding, and hope. To read the original blog post, please click here.

Preparing books for donation (image from REFORMA website)
Last year, over 70,000 unaccompanied children crossed the Southern border into the United States. This is a true humanitarian challenge, with many of these children ending up in detention centers, awaiting immigration processing or deportation. They have few or no personal belongings, don’t know English, and have been separated from their families with no sense of if or when they will be reunited.

Oralia Garza de Cortes, Lucía Gonzalez, and Patrick Sullivan are three longtime members of REFORMA who were moved to help. They implemented the Children in Crisis project to solicit donations, purchase, and deliver books and backpacks to the children in detention centers. In the first phase of the drive, they raised enough funds and donations to deliver 300 books to children in the McAllen Texas Centralized Processing Center, and they have since delivered several hundred more. Currently they are coordinating donations of backpacks that will contain books as well as paper, pencils, erasers, crayons and a writing journal for children to use in their journey toward their destination.

The project is a moving illustration of how librarians essentially serve as caretakers of their communities, bridging the gap between resources and the people who need them. “As the immigrant child that I was, I remember that first librarian taking me to the Spanish section with three or four Spanish books. I hope every child will find that librarian, like an oasis in a desert,” said Lucía Gonzalez.
When asked why they felt that librarians should have a role in outreach to these children, Oralia Garza de Cortes said, “We reached out as a humanitarian cause, just something so overwhelming that we really had to come together to do something.”
Patrick Sullivan added, “It’s also a counterbalance to some of those xenophobic Americans. The initial reception that some of these people received . . . was depressing and doesn’t show how we are as Americans. Librarians reach out to their communities every day and this was something we had to respond to. ”
The process for getting the books into children’s hands was a challenging one, given detention centers’ heavy regulation and policing. The group made contact with the border patrol, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even contractors in order to find a way to deliver the books. “The books were welcome, but the problem was getting in touch with the right people,” said Sullivan. They were prohibited from entering the detention facilities themselves to deliver the books.
Delivering books to a shelter. (image from REFORMA website)
Although it would be an added effort, the group decided to include bookplates in each donated book, an idea that came from longtime REFORMA member Sandra Valderrama.  “It was cumbersome, but to have the message in the book saying, ‘This is your book, and you’re free to take it wherever you want and it will give you light and be your companion,’ it was a very powerful message,” said Garza de Cortes.
Said Gonzalez, “For many of them this is the first book they own and it is a very unique experience.”
The group hopes the donated books will serve as the beginning, not the end, of children’s relationship with their libraries. “What we’d like to do is interject ourselves to those kids who will eventually end up in the United States,” said Sullivan. “There are contacts that can happen that go beyond just the books. We’re trying to convey the idea that libraries are these free open places with lots of information.”
“The families need guidance,” said Gonzalez. “If they don’t have a place like the public library, where are they going to go? How are they going to get this information?”
Garza de Cortes, Gonzalez, and Sullivan were named 2015 Movers & Shakers by School Library Journal for their work. You can learn more about ways to help here.

This piece was written by Hannah Ehrlich, Marketing & Publicity Director at LEE & LOW BOOKS an independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity. It is the company’s goal to meet the need for stories that children of color can identify with and that all children can enjoy. LEE & LOW makes a special effort to work with artists of color, and takes pride in nurturing many authors and illustrators who are new to the world of children’s book publishing.

Additional Resources:
  •  At the Crossroads for Unaccompanied Migrant Children (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services) – This report highlights the challenges and vulnerabilities facing unaccompanied children before and after they arrive in the U.S. Based on the policy, practice, and protection wisdom, the LIRS developed a set of child protection principles to guide governmental and non-governmental work with unaccompanied children. A condensed version of the report by the American Immigration Council and a moving story from migration counselor, Elvis Garcia, can be found here.

We offer free lesson plans, resources, book/film reviews, and grants to #teachimmigration. Stay connected! Follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Here's Why You Should Participate In the 2016 Celebrate America Creative Writing Contest

...because the 2015 contest was such a success! Scroll down below to see how this contest is so valuable for 5th grade students.  If you are interested in participating, (or know someone who is), please see our contest website: to find your local contest coordinator to get started and register to participate.  You can also share this information by clicking on the social media buttons below. Email us with any questions at

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Juan Felipe Herrera Offers Insight and Inspiration into the Migrant Farmworker Experience for Youth

Recently, I excitingly told my young daughters we were going to wake up early and go berry picking at a “pick your own” farm. My three year old exclaimed “I don’t want to pick berries at a farm I want to pick them at a store.” Although it was funny, it made me realize how disconnected we are as a society to our food sources and the nameless people who make it possible for us to have fresh fruits and vegetables on our tables. 

The stereotype of a farm worker is an adult male, but according to the National Farmworker Ministry, there are up to 500 of children and teens (under the age of 18) hired as farm laborers in fields across the United States. Many of these young people are undocumented immigrants or are part of migrant farm working families. Unfortunately, most of these hardworking people go unnamed and unnoticed.

Migrant farm workers often follow the crops to sustain employment and many of the children of migrant workers go to school during the day and work several hours as well.  This lifestyle can be very disruptive to students because they move several times a year and go from classroom to classroom often not bonding with teachers or other students.  One child of migrant farmers influenced by the lifestyle and work ethic instilled by his parents was Juan Felipe Herrera, a poet, performer, writer, cartoonist, teacher, and activist, who in 2015 was appointed as the nation’s first Chicano poet laureate.

Herrera’s publications include fourteen collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children with twenty-one books in total published in the last decade.

Two of Herrera’s books that depict the life of young migrant workers and the children of migrant workers are Calling the Doves/El Canto de Las Palomas (1995) and The Upside Down Boy/El Niño De Cabeza (2000). Both books are bilingual and are appropriate for elementary-age children and above.

The Upside Down Boy is a memoir of the year Herrera’s migrant family settled down near San Diego, California in order to allow him to attend school for the first time. Juanito is overwhelmed by the new school, and he misses the “campesino” way of life. Everything he does feels abnormal and makes him feel upside down. He doesn’t synch with the routine at school and when he tries to speak English, “his tongue feels like a rock.” Eventually he is able to find his voice through poetry, art, and music, with the help of a patient teacher and his supportive parents. Herrera's choice of words and the accompanying illustrations by Elizabeth Gomez tell a very important story about feeling “upside down” in a new situation in a way that young children can relate to and older students can use as a starting point for a deeper, empathetic discussion. The book was dedicated by Herrera to his third grade teacher, Mrs. Lucille Simpson, who inspired him “to be a singer of words, and most of all, a believer in [his] own voice.”

Calling the Doves won the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, an award that celebrates and inspires exceptional new writers and illustrators, who are seldom recognized in the early stages of their careers when Herrera was not well known and new to the children’s book circuit. The book bravely tells the stories of migrant workers, their struggles and their stories of travel, life on the road and random opportunities for work. The poetic vignettes and accompanying illustrations capture the unique culture of migrant workers from the point of view of a young boy. Like Upside Down Boy, this book is an excellent resource to discuss migrant workers. Herrera dedicated this book to Cesar Chavez to honor his work with United Farmworkers Union and to his parents who taught him that “inside every word there can be kindness.”

Additional Resources:

  • Lee & Low Books, great friends of ours, have both reviewed books plus two more in a four book collection at a discounted rate. Click here to learn more and continue to build a diverse classroom library.  Lee and Low also provides a resource for using the books to teach and discuss “Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera with Students.”  
  • Watch this video to see how Juan Felipe Herrera introduces Calling of the Doves and inspires young writers with tips for story writing.  Plus he reads an excerpt in English and Spanish which makes for a great classroom introduction!   
  • After using Juan Felipe Herrera children’s’ books as a start for discussion, dig deeper with older students in this lesson plan, Interpreting the Impact of Cesar Chavez’s Early Years, to see how Chavez’s later work was influenced by his childhood as a migrant farmworker. 

We offer free lesson plans, resources, book/film reviews, and grants to #teachimmigration. Stay connected! Follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration and our blog Immigration In and Out of the Classroom.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Empowering Educators to Teach Immigration

On June 29th, 2015 just three days after the last official day of school and three days into their summer break, a group of 16 dedicated Long Island educators, social workers, and administrators participated in a full-day training on immigration as an introduction to the American Immigration Council’s Teach Immigration project. This project is an educational imitative designed to increase and improve teaching and learning about immigration law and policy at selected high schools on Long Island.

On this day, we focused on unpacking key concepts and issues in immigration that are integral to fostering informed and honest classroom discussions, sorely desired by both educators and students. As teachers gathered for the training, many conversed about their recent commencement ceremonies and beamed with pride on their students’ achievements. We began by facilitating an Immigration Status Privilege Walk, where asked participants to literally walk through the benefits and limitations conferred with an immigration status from a series of scenarios. We debriefed on what it felt like to be excluded and included, and how everyone to different degrees is affected by the privilege of immigration status. Soon after, teachers shared stories of separated families and interrupted educations many of them heard about. Throughout the day, they cited examples of how forming relationships with students and their families helped to address their students’ needs, while also recognizing the importance of staying informed on immigration issues so that they could speak about them in such a way as to engender positive school climates and attitudes on immigration.

To address this latter concern in our training, we looked at writing our way into the multiple reactions to executive action. By weaving non-fiction accounts taken from article clippings into creative writing, educators were able to write their way into understanding the multiple perspectives that surround this immigration issue, and importantly use this as critical writing and thinking lesson with their students. To deepen understandings and empower students to discuss immigration issues, our partner, Lena Moreale Scott from Street Law, trained teachers on deliberative dialogue, a strategy which provides a thorough understandings of both sides to an issue and allows students to deliberate using evidence and logic. 

In order to meet the need of fostering a positive school climate, Eileen Gale Kugler, author of Innovative Voices in Education: Engaging Diverse Communities, also spoke to educators on the need for reflection on assumptions and identities we all have of ourselves and others with practical ways to allow for students and school professionals to build fuller understandings of who they are and what they bring to the classroom.

As teachers left the training, many were enthusiastic about trying new strategies for the classroom. One teacher wrote to us saying she was “looking forward to using some formats as models for the classroom. [The training emphasized] excellent critical thinking and writing! Teaching our students to deliberate about immigration policy was very relevant and helpful with developing curriculum.” Another told us that what benefitted him most was “meeting like-minded individuals and receiving truly applicable activities that meet K-12 academic goals.” Still another teacher stated, “You are reminded that when we talk about immigration issues, we are talking about real people!”

The attendees are invited to continue the journey with Teach Immigration by partnering with a local immigration attorney who will help co-teach lessons about immigration law and policy and will serve as an issue expert and local contact. The educators are also invited to bring their students to a student forum to be held in the fall of 2015 on Long Island.  Students who participate in the program will be eligible to apply for a student leadership program which will match up to three outstanding students with local organizations in a summer internship. The internship will allow students to build their resume, network, learn new skills and earn a stipend while serving as a peer leader.
We look forward to continuing our work with this engaged group of educators on Long Island through the Teach Immigration project and to share our work and lessons learned. Many of the lessons and resources we offer them are available for free on our website.  

Additional Resources:

We offer free lesson plans, resources, book/film reviews, and grants to #teachimmigration. Stay connected! Follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration and/or email us at