How to talk with kids about migration? Try picking up a book.

Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters
A migrant rests with her daughter outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 14, 2019. They returned to Mexico from the United States to await their court hearing for asylum, as part of a new policy established by the U.S. government.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

Talking about migration with adults is difficult enough. What about with kids?

Increasingly, images from the southern border capture the most innocent and vulnerable migrants and asylum-seekers: children themselves. And that’s making many parents wonder whether they should discuss this complicated topic with their own children – whether they themselves are outraged that someone would bring his or her child on the perilous journey from Central America, or are taken aback by U.S. policies that can make it even riskier to ask for refuge.

Why We Wrote This

When children pick up a newspaper or look at the TV and see other children in trouble, what do you say? Our Mexico City correspondent shares stories that have helped her family talk about migration.

In my family, the answer was yes. Although my toddler is growing up in Mexico and isn’t exposed to a tremendous amount of U.S. news, understanding the long history of migration from Mexico and Central America toward the U.S. is important no matter which side of the border she grows up on. At her age, we’re tackling the topic through children’s books, which touch on some of the realities of migration, assimilation, and asylum. 

Here are three we have in heavy rotation. Their vivid illustrations appealed to my daughter from even before she turned 1, and the texts offer launching-off points for conversations of varying, age-appropriate depths on sacrifice, empathy, and leaving home.

As migration to the United States continues to overwhelm headlines, increasingly the images we’re seeing are of some of the most innocent and vulnerable: children. 

Events have escalated from youths separated from their parents, to minors held in unsuitable government facilities, to toddlers lying lifeless on the side of a river. Whether outraged that a parent would bring his or her child on the perilous journey from Central America, or taken aback by U.S. policies that can make it even riskier to ask for refuge, many families are starting to wonder: Should we be talking to our own kids about this?

In my family, the answer was yes. Although my toddler is growing up in Mexico and isn’t exposed to a tremendous amount of U.S. news, understanding the long history of migration from Mexico and Central America toward the U.S. is important no matter which side of the border she grows up on. At her age, we’re tackling the topic through children’s books, which touch on some of the realities of migration, assimilation, and asylum. Here are three we have in heavy rotation. Their vivid illustrations appealed to my daughter from even before she turned 1, and the texts offer launching-off points for conversations of varying, age-appropriate depths on sacrifice, empathy, and leaving home.

Why We Wrote This

When children pick up a newspaper or look at the TV and see other children in trouble, what do you say? Our Mexico City correspondent shares stories that have helped her family talk about migration.

 

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale, by Duncan Tonatiuh

Father Rabbit has been in “El Norte” for the past two years, working in the vast lettuce and carrot fields. He and a handful of other fathers from the ranch left home because of drought – they couldn’t grow food or support their families. When Father Rabbit doesn’t return in time for his welcome-home party, his eldest son, Pancho Rabbit, is too worried to wait. He packs up Papá’s favorite foods, like mole, tortillas, and rice, and sets out to find him. He soon meets a coyote who offers to help him navigate his way north – a perilous journey punctuated by sacrifice and hope.

The animal-centric parable illuminates universal themes driving migration – such as a desire to provide for loved ones sometimes clashing with a yearning to keep one’s family together and safe. Small details – like children in broad-billed baseball caps alongside elders in traditional dress, or Pancho losing his balance on the speeding train La Bestia – add layers of conversation starters about themes that go far beyond why families might split up, or what pushes many to migrate north.

 

Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

There’s a much more ephemeral, dreamy feel to illustrator Yuyi Morales’ latest book about migrating to the U.S. It shares her personal story – arriving with a baby, no English-language skills, and zero support – and the vibrant illustrations tell just as much of the narrative about adapting to a new world as her text.

This book is a great entree into themes like assimilation, what migrants bring with them and what they might be forced to leave behind, and how small gestures and an effort to understand others can affect a newcomer’s trajectory in a new land. Ms. Morales’ story captures the conflicting things migrants hear and sometimes feel in a way that seems universal. One page stands out with its backward text, seemingly written in the clouds, that exclaims things like “Say something!” or “Speak English!” floating behind a banner that cheerily reads “Give Thanks.”

 

Teacup, by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley

A boy, a boat, and the urgent need to leave home and find another: “Teacup” is a subtle yet powerful story that encapsulates the mix of hope, fear, and promise that define many asylum-seekers’ seemingly endless journey to find their place in the world.

There’s a memory sequence while the boy is out to sea in which birds, whales, and the taste of saltwater on his lips draw his imagination home. The happy sequence ends with a reminder that “things can change with a whisper,” as dark clouds move onto the page, alluding to the bleak events that drove him to leave home in the first place. But the story doesn’t just look back at what he’s left behind. It focuses on the glimmer of possibility that might lie ahead.

The artwork is haunting and text relatively sparse, which means the story can spark discussions for a broad range of children about migrants and refugees on the move today, whether from Africa, the Middle East, or Latin America.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to How to talk with kids about migration? Try picking up a book.
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2019/0722/How-to-talk-with-kids-about-migration-Try-picking-up-a-book
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe