Few issues are as emotionally charged as the recent detention of migrant children who have been separated from their families by the United States government. Opinions vary greatly on what to do about undocumented immigration in the United States and around the world. People question who should be allowed in and who should be returned to their home countries. As with any important issue there are many factors influencing every decision and tremendous consequences can result. However, there is one truth that we can all accept: the risk to life, livelihood, and liberty is enormous for every individual or family who makes the decision to leave their home country to find refuge elsewhere.
Eoin Colfer, the author of the Artemis Fowl series, has collaborated with Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano to create Illegal, a story of one family’s journey from Ghana to Europe. The main character in this book is Ebo. He is twelve years old and sets out by himself to follow his older brother and sister to Europe. He sells antiseptic wipes in the capital city of Niger, travels the desert in a truck filled with dozens of migrants like him, sleeps in a storm drain in Tripoli, and floats in the ocean on an inflatable raft he can only hope is headed for Europe.
While dialogue tells most of Ebo’s story, the use of many text boxes throughout the book provides even more descriptive detail about his experiences. When Ebo boards a boat, the text boxes relate his first thoughts, “Everything smells of oil. Oil and people.” The images in the book tell a story as well. Hope and hopelessness are equally well depicted throughout.
Students in our classrooms know and wonder about undocumented immigration. This book would be a great resource for upper elementary and middle school classrooms that are grappling with these issues. Many books have recently been published about the refugee experience including Refugee by Alan Gratz and Stormy Seas by Mary Beth Leatherdale. Teaching Tolerance also has dozens of lesson plans specifically related to immigration.
I would recommend talking with your teaching partners about the best ways to discuss the immigrant experience in classrooms. We should be aware that students are dealing with these issues individually and collectively regardless of whether we talk about them at school. Providing a safe space for these conversations where teachers can monitor the narrative could be a saving grace for some of our students.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Identity 3- I know that all my group identities are part of who I am, but none of them fully describes me and this is true for other people too.
Diversity 8- I want to know more about other people’s lives and experiences, and I know how to ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.
Justice 11- I try and get to know people as individuals because I know it is unfair to think all people in a shared identity group are the same.
RL.3- Compare and contrast two characters, settings, or events.
RL.6- Describe how a speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.
RL.7- Analyze how visual elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of the text.
SL.1- Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions.