Tag Archives: Stories

Using Literature to Shatter Our Entrenched Views, Part II

Pulitzer-Prize–winning journalist Sonia Nazario was the keynote speaker at NCTE’s 2014 Annual Convention. What follows is her reflection three years after the publication of Enrique’s Journey. This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.

I’ve always focused on those not getting enough ink – women, children, the poor, Latinos. The journey of these children, of Enrique, had to be told. Amid all the noise, information, and rhetoric, and regardless of where one lies on the political spectrum, these children are still migrating. Their stories have forced me to rethink my own entrenched views, challenge the narrative we’re fed, and find new solutions. As I stressed in my NCTE keynote, stories penetrate where stand-alone facts do not. They inspire common values and purpose. Immersive nonfiction can bring change. We have seen it time and time again through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath, The Jungle. These stories help us better understand our collective reality and ignite a fire for improving our communities and the world.

Enrique’s Journey is doing that. This one boy, this one story is humanizing immigrants in the United States.

Since the publication of Enrique’s Journey, I have been contacted daily by students and teachers about how this story has changed their perspective about immigrants. I get emails from students raised by white supremacists and skinheads in Arizona. From African American students in south Chicago who shared that black and Latino students did not interact but now relate better—after all, so many African American families were torn apart as part of the great migration out of the south during Jim Crow.

And I hear from so many Latino students. These students finally see themselves in a story, feel a sense of pride at being part of the fabric of this nation’s story. Many also begin to understand they are not alone in the resentment so many hold towards parents who made the difficult decision to leave them for so long. A rage like that is so consuming that their education suffers. Teachers share stories of finally connecting with students that they were previously unable to relate to. For the first time, some students don’t want to leave class at the end of the period– they aren’t done listening; they aren’t done sharing.

This engagement is critical for children landing in classrooms across the country. Children of undocumented parents are growing seven times faster than others. The current crop of kindergartners will see the number of Latinos grow from 17% to 30% of the population by 2050. These children will fill the void as we “baby boomers” fade away. Unfortunately, this same group has the lowest educational attainment of any group.

Unlike when I started to study child migration two decades ago, today many immigrant children landing in American classrooms are running from threats, from governments that cannot or will not protect them. These children are refugees. I used to believe immigration was an issue that had to be addressed in the US. Now I know the solutions must be focused on addressing what is pushing children out of a handful of countries—El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala. The most effective funding will be spent on US programs that are showing promise in reducing violence in Enrique’s home country of Honduras.

For better or worse, I will continue to be these migrant children’s voice and advocate so they do not have to return to a country where many face danger and even death.

I invite you to keep sharing Enrique’s story and to view my TEDx talk to help bring new solutions to your students.

Thank you for continuing to educate others about this country’s newcomers.

Sonia Nazario is an award winning author and journalist who writes about social and social justice issues. Enrique’s Journey, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize, is among the most assigned nonfiction books as a common or summer read at high schools and middle schools in the U.S.


Read NCTE’s Resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented and Unaccompanied Youth here.

Also read an interview with Sonia Nazario in the November 2014 Council Chronicle: Sonia Nazario Believes It’s an Educator’s Role to Expand Students’ Horizons.

Read-Alouds for Life

This post is written by member Rick Joseph, the 2016 Michigan State Teacher of the Year. 

rickjosephI love to read. I believe in the power of story to change lives. After soliciting ideas on social media, I selected The Junkard Wonders, by Michigan author/illustrator Patricia Polacco, as the Official Book of the Michigan Teacher of the Year 2016.

The story compels readers to realize that no matter their ability, they are geniuses. It encourages readers to seek out their genius, nurture it through hard work, and use it to contribute to the betterment of others and the world. We all belong, and we all have something to contribute to our communities.

This is a message that everyone needs to hear constantly. But no group needs to hear this idea more than our children—especially in the form of stories, read out loud.

As humans, our brains are hardwired for stories. We tune in naturally to the familiar architecture of a story arc, with its problems, solutions, characters, and settings. Joseph Campbell writes about the Hero’s Journey as a global story archetype, one that is common to all cultures around the globe. Our stories have always helped us not only to communicate, but to make sense of our world and realize our place in it. By reading aloud, we share these stories, and in doing so, we create community.

People have also known for years that stories develop children’s vocabulary, improve their ability to learn to read, and—perhaps most important—foster a lifelong love of books and reading.

The ability to develop a passionate reading life is crucial, according to Jim Trelease, author of the best-selling Read-Aloud Handbook. “Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain,” he writes. “You could even call it a commercial, conditioning the child to associate books and print with pleasure.”

This reading “commercial” is critical when competition for a child’s attention is so fierce.  Faced with many options— television, movies, the Internet, video games, and myriad after-school activities—a child may overlook the pleasures of sitting down with a book. In addition, negative experiences with reading—whether frustrations in learning to read or tedious “drill-and-kill” school assignments—can further turn children off from reading.

A child who does not have a healthy reading habit may suffer long-term consequences. As Trelease succinctly puts it, “Students who read the most, read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don’t read much, cannot get better at it.”

This is a relatively simple idea, and comes down to the importance of building a habit. Additionally, reading aloud is, according to the landmark 1985 report Becoming a Nation of Readers, “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.”

Recently, I read The Junkyard Wonders aloud to  5th graders at Auburn Elementary Schools. The kids were enthralled with the story and connected easily with Polacco’s message of optimism, hope, and perseverance against all odds. The next day, in an unrelated visit to Auburn, I stopped in the same classroom. What was most remarkable was that as soon as I entered, I was swarmed with kids who were thrusting their books in my face.

“Mr. Joe, have you read The Crossover?” came an inquiry from an eager 5th-grade boy.

“I’m reading El Deafo. Have you read this book?” spat another.

“Look what I’m reading: Wonder. I love this book. Have you read it?” another asked.

I was flabbergasted that a read-aloud from the day before to complete strangers had created this instant reader-to-reader bond. I was reminded of out-loud reading’s intense power to stimulate a desire in the listener to grab a book and read more.

I felt part of a community of readers who talk about the stories they’ve read, try to make sense of them, and connect them to their own lives. Kids were so hungry to share their books with me. And they were hungry to communicate their excitement about stories—and to urge me to read, read, READ!

Rick Joseph is a National Board Certified Teacher and has taught 5/6 grade at Covington School in the Birmingham Public School district since 2003. Prior, he served as a bilingual educator and trainer for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools. He is thrilled to serve as the Michigan Teacher of the Year 2016.