Children’s picture book Our world is one family: Our community can change the world (Sourcebooks Explore), written by Miry Whitehill and Jennifer Jackson and illustrated by Nomar Perez, addresses a current topic: refugees. The book, published on March 8, explores why people become refugees and how children can help refugees who are newcomers to their communities.
Whitehill is the founder of the non-profit organization Miry’s List, which helps families who emigrate to the United States with housing, food, and supplies, and community building. They have supported 840 families since the group’s founding in 2016.
Whitehill started Miry’s List when her own children were newborns and three-year-olds, respectively, and they joined her on many of her family visits to help newly arrived refugees. Regarding these interactions, Whitehill says: “It was actually remarkable to see because adults, especially when there is a language barrier, often feel a sense of social awkwardness that prevents us from relaxing when in a new or unfamiliar environment. Children have this amazing ability to ignore or even not notice the discomfort. ” She found that as she continued this work, she needed “a language to explain to my children in more detail what the situation was for their new friends and why their homes were not as crowded and cluttered as ours.”
To pass this message on to a wide range of younger readers, Whitehill says it took a lot of trial and error to perfectly explain concepts involved with refugees to the book’s target audience ages three to eight. Whitehill met with 12 children in third-grade kindergarten once a week for six weeks at an after-school center called People of the World, which she has developed into a curriculum for others interested in following suit. “We spent our time talking through various topics in the field of resettlement, potential solutions, crafting and tasting food from other countries and cultures. These conversations with children, their feedback, questions and ideas are how we put words to Our world is one family to action, ”Whitehill said in an interview.
The book came about after Jackson, who met Whitehill in a parent group, was touched by Whitehill’s work on Miry’s List and suggested that the couple co-author a children’s book. Jackson said in an interview that the two have a “seamless” way of working together, elaborating: “She wants to share this incredible idea that already has the core of the message. Then I will transform it until it takes the form of a whole “From there, we work together to get the language right, mocking the pages to make sure it reads well, and in this case, to match the mission of Miry’s list.”
Whitehill says the topic of refugees is very important for children in the book’s intended age group. “What most people are not aware of is that children are often the first line that welcomes the resettlement of children and students,” she explained. “These interactions in a classroom and on the playground are an integral part of the newly arrived students’ experiences and integration into their new school and community. I think a lot of what we do is empower people with information that ultimately builds trust. ”
Whitehill also said this is not a topic that is too dark or complicated for children to understand. “Children are more emotionally intelligent than we often realize, and they can handle and understand a lot,” Whitehill said. “Now we have to be careful, because of course we do not want to create worry or anxiety for them, but there is plenty of room to be honest and age-appropriate in a way that allows young people to act to enhance the experience. Other people in their lives.”
Illustrator Perez, who is also the author and illustrator of a children’s book Coquí i byensaid his process involved creating “sketches based on cues, as well as using my own experience and artistic input to produce the illustrations. I wanted to be precise in the clothes and show a variety of cultures and backgrounds. I was happy to include a place from my birthplace in Puerto Rico that I always hold my heart high. ”
Whitehill believes it is important not only to address the plight of refugees, but also to make young children understand how they can be of help. “Toddlers can understand the thought of missing someone or something when you can’t see it,” Whitehill said. “They understand the idea of moving around the world. They understand what it means to be alone versus with the people you love the most. That’s the top line of the message for the little ones. But the most important part is translating. that in practice. “
Similarly, Jackson hopes the book will inspire young readers to not just read passively, but to get involved. “We hope that after reading this book, children and families will feel a deep sense of empathy and understanding of what refugees may need in their new communities, and then they will hopefully be inspired to act,” he said. Jackson. “There are so many ways to welcome newcomers, from learning words in their language, to sending a gift on your own or through Miry’s list, to sharing favorite food.” Miry’s list includes a guide aimed at children aged 10-15 with an example of a welcome letter that can be written for newly settled children.
Whitehill said that in the wake of the war in Ukraine, Miry’s List has been even more active, reaching out to Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking volunteers so they are ready if families from Ukraine and Russia start arriving in the United States. “It has been wonderful to engage with schools here in Los Angeles and across the country that have proactively reached out to us and asked for more teaching materials in support of talking about refugees in the classrooms. We received hundreds of handwritten welcome letters from students, scout troops and families who have been inspired to make these human connections with our new neighbors, ”Whitehill said.