Book review: The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henríquez

Story can do many things, but its greatest capacity, particularly in this time of division, is the power to inspire understanding of lives outside our own. Some books are a deeply-felt, resonant encounter with another’s truth.

My first read of 2017 was one such book. 

The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henríquez is told from the alternating perspectives of the working-class residents of an apartment building, all immigrants from Latin America. The principal storyline follows the newest tenants: Alma and her husband Arturo, who seek a better future for their teenage daughter Maribel, who suffered a tragic accident in México. Once they arrive, a bond develops between Maribel and the neighboring family’s teenage son, Mayor – a closeness that skirts a first, blushing romance.

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This is a story about the passions, fears, celebrations, and determination of immigrants to the United States.

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6 Things I’m Thinking About 11/9

This week’s round-up is focused on celebration – celebrating up-and-coming children’s books artists, Latino American stories, and the young first-gen and immigrant-origin youth that are making the United States a better, brighter place. Read on for more!

  1. We Need Diverse Books announced their 2016 Walter Dean Myers Award Winners! These are the up-and-coming children’s/YA authors to look out for. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for their work!
  2. Are you thinking about holiday shopping for little ones? (Or maybe you’re a children’s lit fan yourself! If so, you’re in good company.) Here’s list of Latino children’s books everyone should have on their bookshelves. Enchanted Air made the list in the YA category!fullsizerender-2
  3. I really resonated with Latina American author Meg Medina’s reflections on Writing the American family: “My parents came to the United States during the mass political exodus of the Cuban upper and middle class in the 1960s. All these years later, I still find joy in writing about families grappling with transition and about how children fit into that dynamic over time.” Lots of great book recommendations here, too!
  4. Dreamers – the young, bright undocumented students protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act – are some of the United States’s greatest assets. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein explains in an editorial.
  5. A study from the U.S. Dept. of Education finds the real, measurable economic gains propelled by… new American graduates! First-gen and immigrant youth reading this blog, your voices are SO important, and you’re going to make us all proud 🙂

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    First snowfall! The white-frosted view on the way to my 9am Spanish class.

  6. Last of all, snow has powdered the grounds of my university! Which also means final exams are around the corner. I’m going to take a hiatus for the next week or so as I replace reading YA with some old French philosophers. Wish me luck, and I’ll see you on the other side!

6 Things I’m Thinking About

Read on for 6 things about undocumented immigrant children and how, on the policy level, schools support immigrant-origin students!

  1. Still waiting to receive your copy of Something in Between? In the meantime, read “My Life as an Undocumented Student”, an extremely moving essay by Pultizer Prize-winning Filipino American journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.
  2. How did people in this country fight for immigrant students’ right to education? Let’s talk about Plyler v. Doe.
  3. Mexican American children’s book author Duncan Tonatiuh talks about the importance of seeing more Latino kids in children’s books. Though I blog YA, his Pura Belpré Award-winning book Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & her Family’s Fight for Desegregation is definitely on my to-read list.  

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    Source: Goodreads.com

  4. Unfamiliar with the landmark Mendez v. Westminster case for desegregation of “whites only” and “Mexican only” schools, a desegregation case that took place 10 years before Brown v. Board? It took place just by my hometown, and I didn’t even find out about it until I visited the Civil Rights Museum in college!  Catch up on this compelling case here.
  5. I’ve never thought of this before, and now I realize its little talked-about cruciality. This NPR article on how schools can act to reach children of migrant farm workers will put our educational system in an entirely new light. Every child, no matter what, has a right to a quality education.
  6. Are you looking for more picture books? (Always.) One that I think is particularly salient is Mamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestre, a bilingual book by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Laura Lacamra. It’s about a little girl who sees her mother’s resident alien card and immediate jumps to fantastical conclusions. I had the pleasure of working on this book as a publishing intern. Read Lainez’s essay illuminating “No More ‘Illegal Aliens’” essay here!
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Source: Lee & Low Books

Have a fantastic weekend! What will you be reading?

6 Things I’m Thinking About

A rare Saturday edition! My apologies for the late post. (Midterms are hitting hard.) Rest assured that every Friday hereafter, you can look forward to 6 things  🙂 Now, onward to discussing the multidimensional immigrant experience, first gen/immigrant students at school, and YA!

    1. This a reminder of why I started this blog! A compilation of immigration stories, from Latino NPR reporters’ families, shows that there is no single immigration story. They’re multidimensional and should be celebrated and appreciated in their nuance.
    2. More from NPR, how we teach English Language Learners. Not an exhaustive article, but still an illuminating read both for teachers in the classroom and for people outside of education.
    3. Supplementary reading: I recently wrote an article for my school’s arts & culture magazine on American Born Chinese, the ten year old graphic novel that opened up the possibility for first gen Asian Americans to appear in literature. Isn’t the artwork stunning?

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      Source: Artwork by Michelle Ng, for Post- Magazine.

    4. Have you been keeping up with these Filipino American History Month tweets? I look forward to them every day.
  1. But has grit really even left YA? The New York Times follows the shifting of this dynamic genre.
  2. Need some inspiration and perspective? (Midterms aren’t exactly making my life better, either.) Buzzfeed collected these powerful quotes about the immigrant experience. Which one is your favorite? I’m fond of this one:

“It's said you can never go home again, and it's true enough, of course. But the opposite is also true. You must go back, and you always go back, and you can never stop going back, no matter how hard you try..jpg

Hope you’re off to a wonderful weekend!