June 2017 | Volume XXXV. Issue 3 »

Immigration at an Early Age: Resources for Readers

May 17, 2017
Sarah McHone-Chase, Northern Illinois University Libraries

As librarians, we know that literature has the power to transform. Although first- and second-generation immigrant children may face feelings of isolation and otherness in American society, literature in which these children can see characters like themselves and situations like their own can at least somewhat ameliorate these lonely feelings. Ladislava Khailova, Northern Illinois University (NIU) Libraries’ education subject specialist and coordinator of services for users with disabilities, has produced a database collection of carefully curated, award-winning titles in multicultural literature for younger readers. The current collection of 150 titles (and possibly growing!) contains both fiction and nonfiction, and each entry is indexed and thoroughly annotated by Khailova, who was able to create this valuable educational resource with funding assistance provided by an ALA Carnegie-Whitney Grant.  

Called Stories We Share, the database is hosted by NIU and available to the public at
http://library.niu.edu/ulib/projects/stories/index.html. Searching is multifaceted: by keyword or phrase in author, title, or annotation, with options to further limit results by publication date (from 1970); national/ethnic/religious affiliation (a long, inclusive list); first- or second-immigrant generation; male or female gender. Users may also custom select genre, reader grade level, and historical period, and the database can be perused page by page. The result is incredibly versatile, useful in meeting the needs of this particular audience, but interesting and easy to browse, even just for fun.

The database engages users through a variety of features. Much thought went into the pull-down menu for national/ethnic/religious affiliation, offering many choices and intuitive organization. The entry for each title contains not only a picture of the cover and the descriptive information you would expect to find (author, title, publisher, publication date, ISBN), but additional information makes this database such a valuable educational tool: fields such as appropriate grade level(s), the gender of the protagonist, the historical time frame of the story, whether the protagonist is a first- or second-generation immigrant, the national/religious affiliation of the protagonist, and a paragraph summary of each book that describes the plotline succinctly and offers a thoughtful, critical annotation.

Khailova has also authored a book that significantly expands on the database by offering discussion guides, overview of immigration trends pertaining to specific groups, as well as additional resources on the topic. Titled The Stories We Share: A Guide to PreK–12 Books on the Experience of Immigrant Children and Teens in the United States, the book is due to be published by the American Library Association in 2018. In the second chapter, she details the process and deliberation that went into the creation of these resources. During her research in the Database of Award-Winning Children’s Literature and Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD) to initially identify the mono-graphic materials to include, she paid particular attention to finding children’s books depicting the immigration experiences of a child or teen protagonist in the United States. Her goal was to include a broad range of reading-age levels, variety of immigrant experiences, and as many diverse countries and regions in the world as possible. The decision to narrow titles to those published between 1980 and 2015 (in the U.S. and in Canada) increases the likelihood that a book identified via the database can be more easily found (via interlibrary loan or for purchase), although the time periods depicted in the books may indeed be historical or contemporary. The second chapter of her book also describes how Khailova further focused the field by examining each book for qualities such as “authenticity, thematic relevance and depth, plot construction, character development, use of language, and quality of illustrations” with the overall goal being to find books with the most authentic depictions, those that seem the most relatable. The books chosen for inclusion depict immigrant cultures the most realistically, while still being exceptionally well written with stories told in an interesting and engrossing way. Recipients of literary awards and honors were noted as additional criteria in assessing the value of the works. It is this “trueness” of the stories, their cultural authenticity, which stands out in the entries in the database, making it a great tool for aiding first- and second-generation migrant youth with feelings of loneliness and difference. Khailova approached this audience/topic with deep sensitivity and compassion, in part through her own experience as a first-generation immigrant in the United States. At the same time, she is quick to point out that her own experience does not serve as a model that can be applied across the board. Keeping this important distinction in mind was part of the rationale for finding and including titles that received noteworthy literary awards or honors. In addition, Khailova limited selections to titles favorably reviewed for their accurate depictions of the various immigrant experiences. 

Stories We Share is a versatile database that will prove a valuable resource for collection development and curricula planning. It is a niche resource, but one that fills a contemporary community need. This database is thorough in its organization and sensitive in its approach toward its topic. It will no doubt be a reliable research tool for serving first- and second-generation immigrant child readers, but will also prove beneficial for serving children who are not immigrants, teaching them about the experiences of children around the world and empathy for others.

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