#SurvivalStories2021 Books Early Readers Genre Lifespan of a Reader Picture Books Reading Themes Stories Of The Dispossessed

Of Migrants’ Songs and White Butterflies in 2021 diverse picturebooks

"A Thousand White Butterflies" by Jessica Betancourt-Perez and Karen Lynn Williams and Gina Maldonado | "Nathan's Song" by Leda Schubert and Maya Ish-Shalom.


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A Thousand White Butterflies [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Jessica Betancourt-Perez and Karen Lynn Williams Illustrated by Gina Maldonado Published by Charlesbridge (2021)
ISBN: 9781580895774 (ISBN10: 1580895778) Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

The first day of school for this young immigrant girl from Colombia named Isabella happens to be a snow day. Her excitement to make new friends in her new school had been foiled by the cancellation of classes due to heavy snow, or “Hay mucha nieve” as her mother noted after watching the news on TV.

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The persistent grey clouds and the heavy snow outdoors made Isabella miss the greens of her home country and her father who was still “waiting for permission to travel” to the United States where Isabella, her mother, and grandmother are.

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Isabella’s spirits lifted when she saw a young girl her age in the snow outside. Fearing that the girl may have slipped or hurt herself, Isabella rushed out to provide assistance – only to discover the joys of snow and the gift of a new friend.

Inspired by Jessica Betancourt-Perez’s own narrative as an immigrant, her Author’s note provided even more layers to this seemingly-simple narrative:

I came to the United States from Colombia in 2005 when I was a teenager. My family split up in order to begin a new life in the United States with my grandmother, who was already here. We had to learn a new language and adapt to cultural differences in this new country.

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She went on to share how it took seven long years before she was able to reunite with her father in the United States.

While the art did not really resonate with me, this is a lovely story of a young girl experiencing snow for the first time and finding a place in her new home.


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Nathan’s Song [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Leda Schubert Illustrated by Maya Ish-Shalom
Published by Dial Books (2021)
ISBN: 9781984815781 (ISBN10: 1984815784) Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Nathan was a young boy in Russia who loved to sing. It was the presence of a famous opera singer from Italy who gave a concert in a small village next to Nathan’s place that made him decide to leave his family in Russia and travel all the way to Italy to get training from the world’s best in classical vocal training.

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It took years, however, for Nathan and his family to save enough funds for him to travel and leave home. The plan was for Nathan to study, earn a living, and eventually send for his entire family when he has settled in Italy.

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However, life had other plans for Nathan, when he wrongly boarded a ship bound for New York instead of Italy. Despite this unexpected turn, Nathan made the best of his experience, found a job making and selling hats in New York, and sang in the streets where he was discovered by a voice teacher who volunteered to teach him for free. Evidently, Nathan’s song is meant to be heard by the world, regardless of where the wind takes him.

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What made this story come alive for me is the Author’s Note indicating how this story is inspired by the author’s grandfather, a Russian Jew who lived in Bessarabia towards the end of the 19th century. Similar to Isabella’s story above, the family had to initially be separated before they can come together many years later:

Like many immigrants today, one member of a family frequently left for America first. He or she worked hard to accumulate enough money to send for other family members, one by one.

While a lot of things may have changed, it is evident that the world still has a long way to go towards being open and inclusive to diverse individuals who are determined to find opportunities to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. These stories are good primers for young people to raise awareness and hopefully encourage  the forging and building of diverse communities.


#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 61/62 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).

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