It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

I have been meaning to feature these two vibrantly coloured and beautifully told narratives for awhile now. Our current reading theme is a perfect fit for both of them.

Where Are You From? [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Yamile Saied Mendez Illustrated by Jaime Kim
Published by Harper Collins (2019)
ISBN: 0062839934 (ISBN13: 9780062839930). Literary Award: CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards Nominee for Talk (2020) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

As a woman of color who has lived in two countries different from my country of birth, this is a question that I often get asked. My own teenage daughter and my husband have their fair share of similar queries. Often, we are left feeling stumped, as we are unsure whether to mention our country of birth, or the country we just moved from, or where we are presently living.

I actually like the answer of the little girl above: “I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else, I say.” Sadly, people are often not satisfied with such a vague response. In the image above, I like how the artist, Jaime Kim, played with the book’s gutter, as it powerfully served as a barrier between the girl and those who are asking this seemingly-innocuous-but-actually-fairly-loaded question. The young girl then asks her abuelo, because “like me, he looks like he doesn’t belong.”

The abuelo’s response is a poet’s view of the universe, the chanteuse’s song of freedom, and the bird’s trill in the open skies. I am certain it will not pass the scrutiny of immigration officials, but it warmed this cynical reader’s heart.

While the message is ultimately empowering and joyful, the narrative does not shy away from historical roots of oppression without meaning to lecture or pontificate. There is just this single, powerful statement that is a perfect take-off point for discussion in the hands of a skilful and thoughtful adult who can then initiate meaningful conversations about race, identity, and sense of place. I hope this book finds you – and you get a chance to read it to as many young people as possible.

Your Name Is A Song [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow Illustrated by Luisa Uribe
Published by Innovation Press (2020)
ISBN: 1943147728 (ISBN13: 9781943147724). Literary Award: CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards Nominee for Sing (2021). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

A young girl shares with her mother how upset she was that her teacher was unable to pronounce her name and how her classmates made fun of her name thereafter. While she seemed angry as evidenced in the stomping of her feet, it was also pretty obvious that she seemed more hurt than mad – and her mother astutely recognized this.

Instead of offering her well-meaning platitudes, Mother told the young girl how her name is a song. She makes mention of various other names coming from Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, African roots – showing how they can be melodious, with its own heartbeat, fire, and joy.

For each sad incident that the girl recounted, her mother has a powerful rejoinder – a way of transforming pain into beauty, tragedy into something hopeful. And so when the girl shares that her classmates teased her that her name is a made-up name, this was the mother’s response:

Made-up names come from dreamers. Their real names were stolen long ago so they dream up new ones. They make a way out of no way, make names out of no names – pull them from the sky!

The book creators cleverly inserted Trayvon’s name as can be seen in the image above, which in their glossary they characterized to be of “African American origin. The author included this name to honor the memory of Trayvon Martin, an innocent victim of gun violence.”

I truly love how contemporary picturebooks as of recent are able to boldly and beautifully touch on these themes with a feather touch and such poetic grace – undergirding a fierceness that glow and burn. These are both exquisite stories. Find them and be blessed by the joy they bring.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 6-7 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

8 comments on “[Monday Reading] Your Name And Where You Are From

  1. Love Your Name is a Song. I liked that the author has a video in which she pronounces the names from the book. It helped when I was reading it aloud to students.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Two really wonderful books! I enjoy recommending both of these regularly. Thanks for sharing!


  3. What a great pair of picture books to read together!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Both are on my list and certainly look fabulous. Thanks for sharing extra pages, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. These were both beautiful books! I enjoyed both as online read alouds, but I hope to get the print books locally soon. Thanks for sharing, Myra!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Completely Full Bookshelf

    Both of these books sound like very powerful stories! I’ve seen a lot of praise for Your Name Is a Song, and I imagine that Thompkins-Bigelow does a great job with this story—I read an excellent short story by her in an anthology called Once Upon an Eid. I hadn’t seen Where Are You From?, so I appreciate you bringing that book to my attention as well! Thanks for the great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for sharing these today. I just read an adult memoir where the young boy’s name was changed when he came to Canada. I hate it when this happens.
    Names matter. When I read a child’s name and am not sure how to pronounce it, I will apologize in advance or just say that I don’t want to make a mess of it – spell it and ask for help. When I get the proper pronunciation I always say something positive.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: [NAGC 2022] Dismantling Systemic Racism in Gifted Education thrugh Diverse PictureBooks – Gathering Books

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