Thriving, catching up or falling behind: Immigrant and refugee children’s kindergarten competencies and later academic achievement, by Monique Gagné, Martin Guhn, Magdalena Janus, Katholiki Georgiades, Scott D. Emerson, Constance Milbrath, Eric Duku, Carly Magee, Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl and Anne M. Gadermann.
Excerpts from the Abstract and the Impact Statement:
“Immigrant and refugee children and adolescents form a growing socially, culturally, and economically diverse group with the potential for wide-ranging adaptation outcomes. The goal of the study was to examine whether developmental competencies (social-emotional and academic) and sociodemographic disparities (e.g., SES and migration class) identified in kindergarten forecast the academic achievement trajectories of first- and second-generation immigrant and refugee children, from childhood to adolescence. The study used a retrospective, longitudinal, population-based design by making use of linked, individual-level administrative data from four sources… to identify a study cohort of immigrant and refugee children in British Columbia, Canada …. We utilized an analytical approach (group-based trajectory modeling) that allowed us to capture heterogeneity in the Grade 4 to Grade 10 academic (literacy and numeracy) trajectories.
“The resulting literacy and numeracy achievement trajectories were wide-ranging–some children thriving, some catching up, and some falling behind over time. Children’s developmental competencies assessed in kindergarten (literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional) were found to predict later trajectory group membership in significant and, at times, interacting ways. Trajectory group membership also differed by migration class (refugee/immigrant), generation status, socioeconomic status, English language learner status, and sex. The findings highlight the need for early, targeted school and community interventions that will help set all immigrant and refugee children onto long-term paths of positive adaptation.”
“This study tracked the academic achievement of 9,216 immigrant and refugee children in British Columbia, Canada from childhood to adolescence (Grade 4 to Grade 10) and found groups that thrived over time, that were catching up, and that were falling behind. Children’s likelihood of following each of these paths depended upon their academic and social-emotional competencies in kindergarten as well as a number of other sociodemographic factors (e.g., socioeconomic status). The findings highlight the need for early, targeted school and community interventions that will help set all immigrant and refugee children onto long-term paths of positive adaptation.”
Danny Ramadan is a Canadian author, based in Vancouver, BC, originally from Syria. Ramadan was inspired to write a children’s book by his own experience as a refugee and his yearning to have a sense of belonging.
Part I: Changing the discourse around citizenship and immigration. A Comparison of the 6 Degrees Dictionary and the International Organization for Migration Glossary
In preparation for the upcoming federal election in Canada, this summer the Canadian Council on Refugees (CCR) has issued an open letter to the leaders of Canada’s federal political parties, asking them to agree to a set of principles as they discuss and debate immigration and refugee issues and policy. Specifically, the CCR asks that people “engage in discussions about migration in ways that recognize:
Our shared humanity,
That Canada finds opportunity through diversity,
That refugees strengthen our communities,
That refugees help build our economy,
That Canada has legal obligations to respect and uphold the human rights of those fleeing persecution”.
In his 2017 Policy Matters article “How to debate immigration issues in Canada”, Andrew Griffith, former director general of Citizenship and Multiculturalism Canada and current prolific blogger at Multicultural Meanderings, called for “more respectful and informative debates”. He argued that “All participants need to be mindful of the impact of their arguments and words and need to formulate their arguments in a manner that fosters informed debate and contributes toward better pubic discourse and policy development”. The core principles shared by the CCR do set clear guidelines, but there must also be agreed upon definitions of the language used in these debates. Fortunately, two well known and respected organizations have recently released some definitions for consideration.
Co-founded and run by The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, 6 Degrees is a program of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC). The ICC is the national champion for inclusion and active citizenship in Canada. Last year, at their annual event, 6 Degrees, they released “The 6 Degrees Dictionary, A User’s Guide to Inclusion”. The 6 Degrees Dictionary focusses on inclusion and supports the notion that as a community, as a society, we all need to learn and use new agreed-upon language when we talk about citizenship and immigration.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is a leading intergovernmental agency providing governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners with services and advice in promoting humane and orderly migration for all. In 2019, the IOM Glossary was developed “to give definitions for commonly (and on occasion not so commonly) used terms when speaking migration”. The IOM Glossary is clearly intended and written for policy makers, analysts and legislators. But both organizations want to change the discourse around migration and citizenship.
6 Degrees wants to provoke and inspire us; The IOM wants a “correct and balanced approach”. The 6 Degrees Dictionary offers us twelve terms to consider. Six of these terms are also defined in the IOM Glossary, and six are not. This paper reviews the six that are common to both.
Let’s see how their definitions are different, and ask whether the definitions are provocative and inspiring (6 Degrees) or if they help to bring harmony in the way the terminology is used and puts an end to dehumanizing terms (The IOM).
The IOM Glossary doesn’t have a definition for ‘citizen’. Instead it refers readers to ‘nationality’, which is defined as “The legal bond between an individual and a State”. A short, decisive definition. The 6 Degrees Dictionary presents, as it does with all its “definitions”, a series of statements, challenging notions about the terms rather than defining them (in this way, I suggest that it is less a dictionary and more of a glossary). This approach lends itself well to being provocative and, some might say, controversial.
The 6 Degrees definition:
Athens! The French Revolution!
The source and guarantor of legitimacy of any nation-state, democratic or not.
Under constant attack and denial by those with power, whether public or private.
Not to be confused with a taxpayer.
The opposite of stakeholder, a Mussolinian term which reduces an individual to membership in an interest group.
Volunteerism is a manifestation of the engaged citizen, not a sector.
The citizen cannot be a client of government services. The citizen owns the state.
immigrantchilren.ca finds much happiness in the fourth definition; “Not to be confused with a taxpayer”. Children, migrant or otherwise, are citizens in the country they find themselves in, regardless of their ability to pay taxes. The notion of volunteerism as a condition of, or a pre-requisite to ‘citizenship’ is a stimulating one. The 6 Degrees final definition of the citizen owning the state is an aggressive challenge to the IOM definition.
The IOM Glossary defines “immigrant” as “From the perspective of the country of arrival, a person who moves into a country other than that of his or her nationality or usual residence, so that the country of destination effectively becomes his or her new country of usual residence”. It’s very matter of fact. The 6 Degrees Dictionary defines “immigrant” in 6 different ways. After a short, declarative definition, The 6 Degrees Dictionary assigns attributes, effectively editorializing and being intentionally provocative and inspiring in its last five definitions:
The 6 Degrees definition:
An individual who leaves one country to become the citizen of another.
A noble term describing someone with the courage, decisiveness, and consciousness to wish to change their lives by changing their country.
An individual whose qualities enrich their new society through public structures, culture, politics, and economics.
On average, more comfortable with risk than those born in the country.
Tends to be more ferociously loyal to their new country and its ideas of justice than those born there.
An immigrant is to engagement what a citizen is to marriage.
Attributing immigrants as courageous, contributing and (more) loyal and (more) risk-taking in their new country is, again, deliberately provocative and challenging to the status quo view of immigrants taking from the system and wanting accommodation. Not an unpopular view, regrettably but not one the IOM takes either.
The IOM defines “integration” as “The two?way process of mutual adaptation between migrants and the societies in which they live, whereby migrants are incorporated into the social, economic, cultural and political life of the receiving community. It entails a set of joint responsibilities for migrants and communities, and incorporates other related notions such as social inclusion and social cohesion”.
The 6 Degrees definition:
Probably better than assimilation, but a poor second to inclusion.
Unfortunately assumed to be a benign process by which someone is incorporated into a society.
A step, once understood as the only one necessary for dominant groups to deal with others.
Assumes a list of adjustments that newcomers must make to become acceptable.
Views societies as static and brittle that will crumble upon contact with difference.
Provokes fear under the guise of stability.
Discourages innate human curiosity.
Denies happy human complexity.
The IOM Glossary defines migrant as “An umbrella term, not defined under international law, reflecting the common lay understanding of a person who moves away from his or her place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons’.
The IOM takes the opportunity to expand the term and includes a number of well?defined legal categories of people, such as migrant workers; persons whose particular types of movements are legally defined, such as smuggled migrants; as well as those whose status or means of movement are not specifically defined under international law, such as international students.
The 6 Degrees Dictionary begins its series of definitions pedantically with “A bird, animal or butterfly with a regular and circular pattern of movement”, then adds flourishes and texture to the next five, presumably as they relate to humans.
The 6 Degrees definition:
A bird, animal or butterfly with a regular and circular pattern of movement.
In practice, an underpaid industrial or agricultural worker who is expected to return to their home in the off season.
In common usage, a label intended to exclude, marginalize, patronize, and dehumanize. As in, “When you’re finished picking my strawberries, go home.”
A term that is never self-applied, only imposed on others.
Not to be confused with expats or snowbirds.
Used to justify withholding citizen rights from immigrants for one or more generations.
The IOM defines “multiculturalism” as “A model of integration policies that welcomes the preservation, expression and sometimes even the celebration of cultural diversity. This approach encourages migrants to become full members of society while retaining their cultural identities. It combines the recognition of varied backgrounds, traditions and ways of seeing the world with certain universalist values, such as the rule of law or gender equality, that override cultural differences and guarantee the same rights for all. The integration relationship is then best captured in the image of a mosaic enabling minority ethnic groupings to live side by side with the majority constituency”.
The 6 Degrees definition:
An Indigenous concept that balances difference with belonging.
A policy devised to explain how people from culturally distinct and diverse backgrounds can live together.
A Canadian invention supporting – in theory at least – notions of equal rights, recognition, and opportunity for all regardless of their roots.
An example of how confused and blissfully optimistic policymaking can become a strength.
Misunderstood, to put it politely, by Europeans and Americans. And some Canadians.
On paper, the opposite of interculturalism. In practice, identical.
An important step on the road to pluralism and inclusion.
A rare unapologetic Canadian mic drop.
The IOM uses the 1951 Convention definition of refugee: “A person who, owing to a well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.
The 6 Degrees definition:
Someone who flees their home to save their life.
Not simply persecuted by others, as the legal definitions insist.
Victim of everything from war and prejudice to drought and economic collapse.
As in, a victim of calamity, human or nature made. It could be you.
Or an identified enemy of the state, for example, someone who speaks up. It could be you.
In both cases, an attempt by those with power to dehumanize those without. It could be you.
More popular than asylum seekers. Refugees may appeal to everyone’s fear of suffering, but an asylum seeker is a refugee looking for a place to live next door to you.
One who escapes despair, walks across the Sahara, is abused, raped, beaten, used as slave labour, and finally risks their life on a boat only to be categorized by Europeans as economic migrants. A form of persecution.
You don’t want to be one.
The 6 Degrees Dictionary calls itself a user’s “guide to inclusion”. Kudos to them to want to ‘provoke and inspire”. Some of the definitions are stimulating, confrontational and a little cheeky. The IOM Glossary takes a more conventional approach. Both documents are useful, and both are considered “living documents”, offering opportunity to add and edit. I hope we can revisit and reopen the Six Degrees Dictionary at this week’s upcoming Six Degrees event. What do you think of the definitions?
Part II: Reviewing the discourse around citizenship and immigration in each of the 2019 federal party platforms.
“Effective cooperation among relevant actors is probably more important in the migration field than in any other policy areas. Not only do States sometimes speak different languages when dealing with migration, but also actors within the same State often use an inconsistent vocabulary. Variations in the use of terms are also common depending on the person’s field of work.
“International law contributes to create some common denominators, through the definitions provided by international instruments that are binding on the States that are parties to them. Among the most significant examples are the definition of a refugee in the 1951 Refugee Convention or the ones contained in the two Protocols on Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crimes. Transnational cooperation would never be effective without a common understanding of the elements of the crimes prosecutors are responsible to fight, and burden?sharing could never become a reality without the commitment of many States to protect those who flee persecution.
“In other instances, States have pushed for a more humane approach to migration by calling on the international community to put an end to the use of dehumanizing terms associated with migration, such as “illegal migrants”, in favour of the more neutral attribute of “migrants in an irregular situation”. And these types of shift in the use of terminology are not only for the sake of political correctness but also to contribute to shaping the perception that we have of migration realities. The rise in the use of negative or alarmist terms in recent public discourse around the world have similarly impacted, although negatively in this case, the way migrants are perceived.
“At the time of releasing this Glossary, the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration has sparked renewed attention to migration realities. It is thus a critical moment to try to contribute to the consolidation of not only a uniform but also a correct and balanced approach to migration terminology”.
Regrettably, the glossary uses some outdated terminology that can be seen as stigmatizing. i.e., “acquisition of nationality”
“Any mode of becoming a national, i.e. by birth or at any time after birth, automatic or non?automatic, based on attribution, declaration, option or application.
Source: European Union Democracy Observatory on Citizenship, The EUDO Glossary on Citizenship and Nationality (2008–2016).
Note: The acquisition of nationality can occur at birth or after birth. The most common modes of acquisition of nationality at birth are the acquisition based on descent (jus sanguinis) or based on birth on the territory of the State concerned (jus soli). Nationality can also be acquired after birth for example by adoption, legitimation of a child born out of wedlock, marriage, naturalization or as the result of the ceding of territory from one State to another.
The glossary also uses he/him/his (sigh). But kudos for this explanation of the term adoption which clearly and correctly states how the process removes a child’s rights:
“The statutory process of terminating a child’s legal rights and duties toward the natural parents and substituting similar rights and duties toward adoptive parents”.
Note: The Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with Special Reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally (UNGA Res 41/85 (3 December 1986)) set forth a number of commonly agreed principles and guidelines to ensure the protection of children in relation to national and inter?country adoptions.
The IOMs approach to talking about irregular migration also merits a shout out :
“Although a universally accepted definition of irregular migration does not exist, the term is generally used to identify persons moving outside regular migration channels. The fact that they migrate irregularly does not relieve States from the obligation to protect their rights. Moreover, categories of migrants who may not have any other choice but to use irregular migration channels can also include refugees, victims of trafficking, or unaccompanied migrant children. The fact that they use irregular migration pathways does not imply that States are not, in some circumstances, obliged to provide them with some forms of protection under international law, including access to international protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution, conflicts or generalized violence. In addition, refugees are protected under international law against being penalized for unauthorized entry or stay if they have travelled from a place where they were at risk”.
Other terms in the glossary with interesting definitions include:
“It started with a home printer and an old copy of Snakes-and-Ladders. Experiences of integration gleaned from research, from conversations with newcomers, and from media were collected and turned into ‘Experience Cards’ including:
difficulties with language learning
celebrating a child’s first friend
needing transportation in a rural area
trying to find food from home.
“A refugee student drew artwork for the gameboard, and a game designer, Rob Gosselin of Birdlight Games, gave professional insights to transform it into a product that could be ordered online.
“The end result is a game that is complex and engaging. It puts players into the shoes of a newcomer, moving forward or backward along the pathway of integration. Every player’s path is unique. Players receive an identity card detailing background and other aspects of identity. The journey of integration will be different depending on the cards drawn”.
If you’ve played this board game, immigrantchildren.ca would be interested to hear about your experience.
“La Maison Bleue is a community-based perinatal health and social centre in Montreal that provides services during pregnancy up to age five to families living in vulnerable contexts. The study aimed to describe: 1) the challenges and protective factors that affect the well-being of migrant families receiving care at La Maison Bleue; and 2) how La Maison Bleue strengthens resilience among these families.
“We conducted a focused ethnography. Immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants were invited to participate. We collected data from November to December 2017 via semi-structured interviews and participant observation during group activities at La Maison Bleue. Data were thematically analysed.
“Twenty-four mothers participated (9 interviewed, 17 observed). Challenges to well-being included family separation, isolation, loss of support, the immigration process, an unfamiliar culture and environment, and language barriers. Key protective factors were women’s intrinsic drive to overcome difficulties, their positive outlook and ability to find meaning in their adversity, their faith, culture and traditions, and supportive relationships, both locally and transnationally. La Maison Bleue strengthened resilience by providing a safe space, offering holistic care that responded to both medical and psychosocial needs, and empowering women to achieve their full potential towards better health for themselves and their families.
“Migrant mothers have many strengths and centres like La Maison Bleue can offer a safe space and be an empowering community resource to assist mothers in overcoming the multiple challenges that they face while resettling and raising their young children in a new country.”
CMAS, Care for Newcomer Children, have released a guide to support child care staff with information, resources and tools to working with refugee children who have experienced trauma.
The Resilience Guide, written by CMAS staff with advisory support from resiliency experts, shares information on:
• the impact of the refugee experience at different ages
• the developmental effects of trauma and resettlement
• key strategies to strengthen families’ capacity for resilience, and
• practical tip sheets.
Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it, even though they might not understand the feelings. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness. To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.
Beyond addressing issues of race and racism, this children’s reading list focuses on taking action. It highlights resistance, resilience and activism; and seeks to empower youth to participate in the ongoing movement for racial justice. These books showcase the diverse ways people of all ages and races have engaged in anti-racist activism, and highlight how race intersects with other issues, such as capitalism, class and colonization. The majority of books center activists of color, whose lives and bodies have been on the front lines of racial justice work, yet whose stories often go untold. The essential work of white activists is also included?—?to underscore that anti-racist work is not the responsibility of people of color; and exemplify the ways white allies have stood up against racial injustice. This list was curated by The Conscious Kid Library and American Indians in Children’s Literature, in partnership with Raising Race Conscious Children.
Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters: Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus and sparked a boycott that changed America. Harriet Tubman helped hundreds of slaves escape the South on the Underground Railroad. The lives of ten Black women activists are featured in an incredible story about courage in the face of oppression; about the challenges and triumphs of the battle for civil rights; and about speaking out for what you believe in?—?even when it feels like no one is listening. Ages 6–9.
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation: Almost 10 years before Brown v. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. Mendez, an American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Latinx community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California. Ages 6–9.
When We Were Alone: When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, one of resilience, empowerment and strength. Ages 4–8.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist: Meet the youngest known child to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. This moving picture book proves you’re never too little to make a difference. When nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks heard grown-ups talk about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws, she volunteered to get arrested, even though it meant she would have to go to jail. This is the remarkable and inspiring story of one child’s role in the Civil Rights Movement. Ages 5–10.
Fred Korematsu Speaks Up: Fred Korematsu liked listening to music on the radio, playing tennis, and hanging around with his friends?—?just like lots of other Americans. But everything changed when the United States went to war with Japan in 1941. The government forced all people of Japanese descent to leave their homes on the West Coast and move to concentration camps. This included Fred, whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Japan many years before. But Fred refused to go. He knew that what the government was doing was unfair. And when he got put in jail for resisting, he knew he couldn’t give up. Ages 6–10.
Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song: The audience was completely silent the first time Billie Holiday performed a song called “Strange Fruit.” In the 1930s, Billie was known as a performer of jazz and blues music, but this song wasn’t either of those things. It was a song about injustice, and it would change her life forever. Discover how two outsiders?—?Billie Holiday, a young Black woman raised in poverty, and Abel Meeropol, the son of Jewish immigrants?—?combined their talents to create a song that challenged racism and paved the way for the Civil Rights movement. Ages 8–12.
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom: Martha Tom, a young Choctaw girl, knows better than to cross the river, but one day?—?in search of blackberries?—?she disobeys her mother and finds herself on the other side. Thus begins the story about seven slaves who cross the big river to freedom, led by a Choctaw girl. It documents a part of history that is little-known: the relationship between the Choctaws?—?members of a sovereign nation?—?and the slaves who lived in Mississippi during that time before the Civil War, before the Choctaws were forced out of Mississippi to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. Author Tim Tingle says: “Crossing Bok Chitto is a tribute to the Indians of every nation who aided the runaway people of bondage. Crossing Bok Chitto is an Indian book and documented the Indian way. We Indians need to know and embrace our past. Non-Indians should know the sweet and secret fire, as secret as the stones, that drives the Indian heart and keeps us so determined that our way, a way of respect for others and the land we live on, will prevail.” Ages 7–13.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X: Malcolm X grew to be one of America’s most influential figures. But first, he was a boy named Malcolm Little. Written by his daughter, this inspiring picture book biography celebrates a vision of freedom and justice. Bolstered by the love and wisdom of his large, warm family, young Malcolm Little was a natural born leader. But when confronted with intolerance and a series of tragedies, Malcolm’s optimism and faith were threatened. He had to learn how to be strong and how to hold on to his individuality. He had to learn self-reliance. Ilyasah Shabazz gives us a unique glimpse into the childhood of her father, Malcolm X, with a lyrical story that carries a message that resonates still today?—?that we must all strive to live to our highest potential. Ages 6–10.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis: John wants to be a preacher when he grows up?—?a leader whose words stir hearts to change, minds to think, and bodies to take action. But why wait? When John is put in charge of the family farm’s flock of chickens, he discovers that they make a wonderful congregation! So he preaches to his flock, and they listen, content under his watchful care, riveted by the rhythm of his voice. Celebrating ingenuity and dreaming big, this inspirational story includes an author’s note about John Lewis, who grew up to be a member of the Freedom Riders; chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; demonstrator on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; and Georgia congressman, who is still an activist today. Ages 4–8.
She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland: Joan was a white teenager in the South during Segregation who put herself on the front lines of the Civil Rights struggle. She attended demonstrations and sit-ins and was one of the Freedom Riders in 1961 who was arrested and put on death row for months at the notorious Parchman Penitentiary. She was the first white person to join in the 1963 Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins in Jackson, Mississippi; and that same year, participated in the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King and the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 which contributed to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act that year. Ages 8–10.
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez: Cesar Chavez is known as one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders. When he led a 340-mile peaceful protest march through California, he ignited a cause and improved the lives of thousands of migrant farm workers. But Cesar wasn’t always a leader. As a boy, he was shy and teased at school. His family worked in the fields for barely enough money to survive. Cesar knew things had to change, and he thought that?—?maybe?—?he could help change them. So he took charge. He spoke up. And an entire country listened. Ages 4–7.
Nelson Mandela: Award-winning author-illustrator Kadir Nelson tells the story of global icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela. It is the story of a young boy’s determination to change South Africa, and of the struggles of a man who eventually became the president of his country. Mandela believed in equality for all people, no matter the color of their skin. Readers will be inspired by Mandela’s triumph and his lifelong quest to create a more just world. Ages 4–8.
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America: His white teacher tells her all-Black class, “You’ll all wind up porters and waiters”. What did she know? Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first Black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was poor and looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government. In Washington DC, Gordon went looking for a subject, but what he found was segregation. He and others were treated differently because of the color of their skin. Gordon wanted to take a stand against the racism he observed. With his camera in hand, he found a way. Told through lyrical verse and atmospheric art, this is the story of how, with a single photograph, a self-taught artist got America to take notice. Ages 4–8.
Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story: Born in 1905, Anna May Wong spent her childhood working in her family’s laundry in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. Anna May struggled to pursue an acting career in Hollywood in the 1930s. There were very few roles for Asian Americans, and many were demeaning and stereotypical. Finally, after years of unfulfilling roles, Anna May began crusading for more meaningful opportunities for herself and other Asian American actors and refused to play stereotypical roles. As the first Chinese American movie star, she took a stand against racial discrimination in the film industry and was a pioneer of the cinema. Ages 6–11.
As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr., and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom: Their names stand for the quest for justice and equality. Martin grew up in a loving family in the American South, with the country plagued by racial discrimination. He aimed to put a stop to it. He became a minister like his father, and he preached and marched for the cause. Abraham grew up in a loving Jewish family in Germany. In 1938, he was arrested and deported by the Gestapo and his mother and sisters were killed by Nazi’s. He found a new home in America, where he became a respected rabbi like his father, carrying a message of peace and acceptance. This is the story of two icons for social justice, how they formed a remarkable friendship, and turned their personal experiences of oppression into a message of love and equality for all. Ages 6–9.
We March: On August 28, 1963, a remarkable event took place?—?more than 250,000 people gathered in our nation’s capital to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march began at the Washington Monument and ended with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, advocating racial harmony. The thrill of the day is brought to life for even the youngest reader to experience. Ages 2–7.
That’s Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice: A vivid depiction of the early injustices encountered by a young Mexican-American girl in San Antonio in the 1920’s. Emma Tenayuca learns to care deeply about poverty and hunger during a time when many Mexican Americans were starving to death and working unreasonably long hours for 3 cents/hour in the city’s pecan-shelling factories. Through astute perception, caring, and personal action, Emma begins to get involved, and eventually, at the age of 21, leads 12,000 workers in the first significant historical action in the Mexican-American struggle for justice. Emma’s story serves as a model for young and old alike about courage, compassion, and the role everyone can play in making the world more fair. Ages 5–7.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom: Carole Boston Weatherford depicts Harriet Tubman’s initial escape from slavery and her mission to lead others to freedom as divinely inspired, and achieved by steadfast faith and prayer. On the eve of her being sold and torn from her family, Tubman prays in her despair. In response, “God speaks in a whip-poor-will’s song. ‘I set the North Star in the heavens and I mean for you to be free.’ The twinkling star encourages Tubman: “My mind is made up. Tomorrow, I flee.” A foreword introduces the concept of slavery for children and an author’s note includes a brief biography of Tubman. Ages 5–8.
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills: Born to parents who were both former slaves, Florence Mills knew at an early age that she loved to sing, and that her sweet, bird-like voice, resonated with those who heard her. Performing catapulted her all the way to the stages of 1920s Broadway where she inspired everyone from songwriters to playwrights. Yet with all her success, she knew firsthand how prejudice shaped her world and the world of those around her. As a result, Florence chose to support and promote works by fellow Black performers while heralding a call for their civil rights. Harlem’s Little Blackbird is a timeless story about justice, equality, and the importance of following one’s heart and dreams. Ages 3–7.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement: Despite fierce prejudice and abuse, even being beaten to within an inch of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats. Voice of Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength. Ages 9–12.
Josephine: Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait for young people of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Josephine used her platform to fight for racial equality and civil rights, and refused to dance in segregated American dance halls. Josephine is a powerful story of struggle and triumph. Ages 10–13.
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History: Frederick Douglass was a self-educated slave in the South who grew up to become an icon. He was a leader of the abolitionist movement, a celebrated writer, an esteemed speaker, and a social reformer, proving that, as he said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Ages 6–10.
Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers: Dolores wants to know why her students are too hungry to listen, why they don’t have shoes to wear to school. When she finds out that the farm workers in her community are poorly paid and working under dangerous conditions, she stands up for their rights. This is the story of Dolores Huerta and the extraordinary battle she waged to ensure fair and safe workplaces for Mexican and Mexican American migrant workers. Ages 6–8.
Rosa: Fifty years after her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus, Mrs. Rosa Parks is still one of the most important figures in the American civil rights movement. This tribute to Mrs. Parks is a celebration of her courageous action and the events that followed. Ages 4–8.
Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride: Born into slavery, Belle had to endure the cruelty of several masters before she escaped to freedom. But she knew she wouldn’t really be free unless she was helping to end injustice. That’s when she changed her name to Sojourner and began traveling across the country, demanding equal rights for Black people and for women. Many people weren’t ready for her message, but Sojourner was brave, and her truth was powerful. Ages 5–9.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down: This picture book is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the momentous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, when four college students staged a peaceful protest that became a defining moment in the struggle for racial equality and the growing civil rights movement. Andrea Davis Pinkney uses poetic, powerful prose to tell the story of these four young men, who followed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words of peaceful protest and dared to sit at the “whites only” Woolworth’s lunch counter. Ages 7–10.
The Conscious Kid Library is an education, research, and policy organization dedicated to reducing bias, promoting positive identity development, and empowering youth to engage in social justice activism. They promote access to diverse children’s books that center and celebrate empowered images and narratives of underrepresented and oppressed groups. www.theconsciouskid.org
Raising Race Conscious Children is an education organization that provides direct supports to parents and teachers who are trying to talk about race and diversity with children. They provide resources and trainings to support adults and are committed to preparing young people to work toward racial justice. www.raceconscious.org
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I asked social worker, facilitator and diversity consultant Ilaneet Goren:
What’s the effect of racism, discrimination, and stereotyping on newcomer children (birth to age eight)?
I am part of a team of equity educators who facilitate diversity programs for children and youth in school boards across Ontario. While every school and community is unique in terms of their experience with immigration, when it comes to inclusion and well-being, the barriers newcomer children face are similar across the board. Even in communities where resources and supports are readily available, there is no immunity to implicit bias, prejudice, and anti-immigrant sentiments in the current political climate that emboldens hateful nationalist ideologies. Children learn and absorb messages from the adult world around them and, when anti-immigrant attitudes become the norm, it teaches all children that taunting someone for having an accent or for wearing a hijab is ‘okay’.
In my experience as a social worker – and speaking as a two-time immigrant who first emigrated at the age of 10 – newcomer children want to belong, more than anything else. They want to feel a part of their school community. They want to be and feel Canadian. While they are aware of their differences in terms of ethnicity, language, culture, or faith, they are more interested in the commonalities that help them connect to their classmates and identify them as friends. In fact, the speed with which newcomer children adapt to their new environment and culture never ceases to amaze us: it is a testament to their amazing resiliency and potential which we, as educators, must nurture.
Inside the school as outside of it, prejudice, bias and discrimination are most often expressed in implicit and unspoken ways. Negative and belittling attitudes, deficit-based thinking, or a lack of understanding that equity doesn’t mean equality and that some newcomer children may need specific supports in order to integrate into school are commonplace in all environments. Biased thinking occurs when newcomer children are automatically placed in a lower grade, or when students facing language barriers are not afforded the extra time they need to complete an assignment because ‘everyone needs to be treated equally.’
When we talk to students about their school climate the conversation often reveals the lack of safety experienced by students who are on the receiving end of bullying and stereotyping because of their identity. The bystander effect is also revealed: their peers are unwilling to intervene when they witness bullying. These conversations can be challenging for newcomer students who may not have the confidence or the language to talk about their experiences of exclusion, or may not know about – or trust – the supports available to them.
When students don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. A lack of safety affects their stress levels and well-being. While student mental health is now part of the conversation in many schools, there is still much work to be done to address the link between bullying, racism, and student mental health and well-being.
Rather than expecting that students affected by racism and discrimination reach out for support, educators and administrators need to be proactive and engage the students directly, while addressing and interrupting bullying every single time they witness it.
There’s much discussion on integration of immigrants. What kinds of services or supports do newcomer children need to successfully integrate in Canada?
Newcomer parents need support in navigating the education system and in advocating for their rights and the rights of their children in that system. Currently, this support is spotty and fragmented: some areas have it or some form of it, though many don’t. Even in areas where schools have settlement workers, these workers may be over-stretched, trying to meet growing needs with shrinking resources. When it comes to institutionalized racism, settlement workers are not equipped with the tools, nor are they encouraged or funded, to engage in advocacy for systemic change.
Before talking about services though, it’s important to remember that safety, followed by love and belonging, is among the first three most basic human needs, according to Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. From an equity perspective, emphasizing and actively supporting a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for children where they live, learn and play is fundamental to their healthy development. For newcomer children, safety and belonging are especially important factors that shape their experience with immigration. This is the philosophy that we want to see permeate every facet of our society, not just within settlement services.
I’d like to see more discussion about safeguarding services against operating like a machine devoid of a human heart. Sometimes services are well-intentioned and look good on the books but fall short when it comes to authentic human connection and genuine expressions of care, empathy and compassion. I say this as both a service provider and as a youth who once received these services. Restricting the length of time people can stay connected to their case workers, for example, or requiring certain documents in order to be connected to services, are just two examples of administrative practices that create barriers and reproduce oppression.
To continue to meet the challenges brought about by global migration, Canada needs to re-think its approach to newcomer support in many areas and re-design our system and the ways in which resources are allocated. Services need to be more integrated, holistic, comprehensive and consistent, taking into account the unique needs of each geographical immigrant area. The examples are too many to list here, but an illustration is evident in the ways in which refugee families from Syria have been treated, with different types of sponsorship revealing major gaps in how services are coordinated and funds are allocated.
If you could influence the federal minister of citizenship, refugees, and immigration to do one thing for newcomer children, what would it be?
Support newcomer families.
Newcomer children do well when their families do well and their basic needs are met. The effects of social and economic inequality on newcomers are imprinted on their children. Too often, newcomer children carry the burden and stress of their parents because of the barriers they face, be it unemployment, financial struggle, inadequate housing, racism, or a combination of all of these factors. When supporting newcomer children we have to include the whole family unit in our analysis and understand the interconnected nature of forms of inequality and the ways in which they influence one another.
What is one of your favourite children’s books that you would recommend for newcomer children? Why?
I think children’s books offer a lot of insight and wisdom for adults, as well as children! One that I particularly like as a diversity educator is “Why Are All The Taxi Drivers…?” by Canadian educator Christopher D’Souza, with illustrations by Nadia Petkovic.
The little girl in the book, Dakota, is curious and, like many children, she asks her Mom about the things she is noticing – unknowingly uncovering hidden bias and stereotypes embedded in the world around us through the eyes of a child. I like this book because it’s a good entry point to a conversation with a child about the inequality they might be witnessing in the world around them. It validates the stuff many racialized immigrant children already know and feel but may not have the words to describe, and gives ideas about ways to create change.
Ilaneet Goren is a social worker, facilitator, and diversity consultant with over 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector in Toronto. Committed to equity and social justice, she has worked with immigrants as a counselour, group facilitator, and career mentor. Ilaneet specializes in experiential education and mindfulness techniques with a focus on addressing bias, prejudice, and discrimination. In her current role as manager at Harmony Movement, an equity and diversity education organization, Ilaneet designs and delivers diversity education programs for community organizations and private sector partners. Her early life in Soviet Ukraine and in Israel have given her a unique and intimate perspective on how social and political contexts shape a person’s identity and culture.
immigrantchildren.ca is asking Canadian experts and advocates in immigration, settlement, refugees, and newcomers about their views on newcomer children (birth to age eight). For more interviews, see here.