Where Are You From? By Yamile Saied Méndez, illustrated by Jaime Kim

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“Jason speak such good English!” my son’s first grade teacher said more than twenty years ago.

“Um, we are from the United States, ” I answered, “it’s the only language he speaks.”

“Oh, he told us he was from The Netherlands,” his befuddled teacher shrugged.

“Ah, well he is. He was born in Amsterdam,” I clarified.

Fast forward to last week.

“How many of you have been a bit unsure of how to answer this question?” I began as I held up our read aloud.

Many hands waved in the air, as students shared examples of not having lived in their “home country”, having more than one answer, or an answer that might depend on who was asking, and a few for whom the answer was easy.

As we always do, we “undressed the book” to notice the dust jacket was the same as the book underneath. We then looked at the end papers and noticed it seemed to give us information about the story, students noticed the illustrator had portrayed the same setting, first at the start and finally at the end of day. We also appreciated the author and illustrator biographies included (where students made more connections) and the author’s pronunciation key for her first name, as we have talked about how important names are (great connection to Alma and How She Got Her Name).

The poetic story is about a young girl being asked where she is really from and she asks her Abuelo, because “he knows everything.” The book is a story about belonging and can be read and enjoyed on many levels. It is definitely one you will want to come back to again and again.

Some third graders’ thinking:

  • You can be from anywhere.
  • I learned, “I am from the heart.”
  • Even if you think where you are born is not your country or where your parents are from is not your country it is.
  • Even if you are the only person in your class from your country it doesn’t mean you can’t play with other people. You can play with anyone and can have connections to people from anywhere.
  • It’s not right to leave people out because of where they are from. I saw that at my old school.

The beautifully illustrated text is available in both English and Spanish. We will come back to this book again as a mentor text for many features of narrative writing. Within conventions, I noticed: the use of italics and different fonts. Within elaboration and craft, I saw purposeful repetition, examples of ways to show the detail of small actions coupled with dialogue, sentence variety, figurative language, really strong imagery, and more. I also saw opportunities to discuss many issues raised in the book. We paused over, “From this land where our ancestors built a home for all, even when they were in chains because of the color of their skin.” We also could have lingered on references to the May Revolution of 1810 and others alluded to in word or pictures.

As we build our understanding of identity this school year this is a book that will stay in our hearts! Where are you from?

 

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