Feeling Seen in the Books We Read

Finally Seen is Kelly Yang’s newest work for middle grade readers and will be on-sale starting on February 28. One of my favorite authors, Yang has once again developed a character and story that will resonate with readers young and old. Finally Seen is a timely work, dealing with issues of bilingualism, immigration, book bans, and belonging. Most of all, though, it is the timeless quality of connection that stands out in this excellent new novel for young readers.

It has been five years since Lina Gao has seen her parents or her little sister Millie. She stayed behind in Beijing with her Lao Lao (grandmother) when her immediate family moved to the United States so her father could pursue his doctorate in microbiology. But now they have a beautiful two-story house, her parents have great jobs, and it is time for Lina to join them in sunny California. What could go wrong?

When her family pick her up from the airport and drive her home, Lina realizes that the story she has been hearing about life in America was not entirely true. She will be sharing a room with Millie in her family’s small apartment, while her parents sleep on yoga mats in the living room. The pandemic led to Lina’s mom losing her job and even staying in the apartment looks like it could be difficult. In the meantime, Lina has to start at a new school, with very little diversity, and no support for those who are learning English.

As with every book by Kelly Yang, there is no shortage of challenges for the Gao family, but there is also an unlimited amount of love and courage both within their family and in the community that surrounds them. Lina starts to work with an extraordinary ESL teacher who introduces her to graphic novels that reflect her own experiences. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s theory of mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors is brought to life in Finally Seen. Unfortunately, so is the attack on books and school libraries that we are seeing so frequently all across the country.

I have a, possibly naive, hope that if parents and districts that are trying to ban books would pause for a moment and read the fantastic children’s and young adult literature that reflects the experiences of marginalized communities, they might be moved to change their minds. However, if the characters in Finally Seen have their way, there will be so many open-minded individuals speaking out to advocate for the power of literature that book bans will have no chance of taking effect. I hope that becomes our reality very soon.

Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards:

Identity 4: I can feel good about my identity without making someone else feel badly about who they are.

Diversity 6: I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.

Action 17: I know it’s important for me to stand up for myself and for others, and I know how to get help if I need ideas on how to do this.

Published by socialjusticeinchildrenslit

My name is Leah Cole and I was a teacher in Iowa for nine years. My passions for education, social justice, and children's literature led me to create this blog. Students are faced with issues of justice and fairness from the time they are very young. The Social Justice Standards developed by Teaching Tolerance help teachers to support the development of students who recognize and embrace their own identities while respecting and valuing those who are different. In this blog, I will attempt to identify and review books that support the social justice standards.

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