Immigration: An Alternative to Thanksgiving (Part II)

It turns out I have a lot of ideas about teaching immigration. I broke yesterday’s post into two, out of respect for your time and eyeballs, but really there’s even more I could say. If you’re interested, use that cute little ‘write to me’ tab up there, and we can chat some more.

In the meantime, onward we go…

immigration book

Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey is, simply, a work of art. Detailing Say’s own grandfather’s story, the book moves from Japan to North America and back again. The paintings evoke the emotions that Say describes, including his grandfather’s joy at seeing new places, as well as his sadness in having to leave some places behind forever. The book is firmly rooted in its historical context, with World War II eliminating some of Say’s grandfather’s dreams for his life. Also, the family’s movement between countries echoes the experiences of many Asian-Americans, who were more likely to return ‘home’ than most Europeans who immigrated to the East Coast. If you’re looking to extend the conversation a little, this is a great opportunity to learn more about Angel Island, the immigration station near San Francisco, where many Asian immigrants first entered the United States.

immigration book

I know, it’s probably heretical to discuss a YA novel during Picture Book Month, but I just can’t leave this one out! Dragonwings, by Laurence Yep, tells the story of a boy and his father. Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco, their lives are challenging, and belittled by prejudice and discrimination. Nonetheless, like many Americans at the time, they catch airplane fever, and work to build their own flying machine. There’s a lot of triumph in these pages, sprinkled with great historical references, and I’ve found it be a very engaging book for upper elementary and middle grades students. There are other books in the Golden Mountain Chronicles series, too, if you manage to snag a reluctant reader’s interest with this one.

immigration book

Now for the discussion of that old chestnut I promised – Molly’s Pilgrim, by Barbara Cohen. This is the sort of text that Charlotte Mason would call a “living book.” The story never dies, and comes alive for all children, almost regardless of circumstance. Molly comes from an immigrant family, and endures a great deal of teasing from the children around her. When her class is assigned to make a pilgrim as part of their Thanksgiving celebration, Molly makes a pilgrim that resembles her family’s experience. Naturally, the class mocks her for thinking differently, but the support of her teacher and mother helps her see the value in her work and thinking.

You can’t help but love this story, and you certainly have to admire the strength of Molly’s character. Further, her journey toward gratitude and thankfulness – even in a trying situation – is something that you’d love for children reading the book to emulate. The trick is to read this book with the advance knowledge that you’ll need to address the stereotypical view held of the Pilgrims, and be aware that the dark side of the Thanksgiving story doesn’t appear. And that may be okay with you and your family or class. Personally, I think there’s a way to read this story alongside children, helping them see that Molly found comfort in the idea that the Pilgrims immigrated with the goal of religious freedom, while still separately addressing the reality that the Pilgrims attained their religious freedom by trampling on the Wampanoag’s very existence.

No one ever said history was easy.

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