Coming to America
by Betsy Maestro, Illustrated by Susannah Ryan
Many children do not know that America is a country of immigrants, made up of diverse people that came here throughout history. This book documents the history of America through the lens of immigration, from the very first nomad settlers to the closure of Ellis Island in 1954. Children learn about the difficulties that these people faced in the hopes of finding a better life for themselves. Most importantly, they come to understand that the contributions of immigrants to the United States throughout history are immense.
Ask: Have you ever met someone who speaks a different language or was born in a different country? Talk about the people and places. How do you think it feels to move to a place where people speak a different language than you and daily routines are unfamiliar?
Show: Look at the cover of Coming to America. Point to the picture of the Statue of Liberty. Discuss what liberty means. Look in the book at pictures of Ellis Island. Talk about what you think these people are doing and where they are going.
Connect: Why do you think all of these people are so happy about seeing the Statue of Liberty? Let’s read the book to find out!
Ask: What are some things that you would choose to bring along if you moved to a new country? Why do you care so much about these things?
Show: Pick one of the characters or families and make up a story about them. Point out details that hint at where they came from, their names, and why they are leaving their home.
Connect: Describe some activities you do with your family that are fun. Talk about what other families do that looks like fun. Talk about whether you will do these same activities with future families. Immigrants bring their family activities and add new and interesting activities and ideas to our community.
Ask: What is good about having people in our community from many different backgrounds? What happens when people with different backgrounds come together in one place?
Show: Throughout history, immigrants have done wonderful things for our country as well as for our individual communities. Talk about famous immigrants (Einstein, The Beatles).
Connect: How can we help immigrants and people who are new to our community (or classroom or faith-based organization) feel welcome and adjust to their new life? What would you think you would need if you were new to this country?
- Take a walk around your community and discuss its history. Are the buildings old or new? Do you see any ethnic stores or markets? Do many different kinds of people live in your community? When was your community founded and by whom?
- Design a flag for your community on construction paper. Use symbols to represent people, businesses, and festivals that make your community special, including the racial and ethnic diversity.
- Play People Bingo with a group of people. Make a grid with 9 squares. Write diverse traits in the squares that describe people and their interests and talents (examples: I like music; I speak two languages; I can ride a bike; I have four people in my family; I like movies; I like to read.). Copy this for each person in the group. Try to get signatures in each box in a row. This game helps us see what we have in common with a diverse group of people. After playing, talk about what you noticed.
- Choose an object that is important to you. Tell your family members why you like it and describe its history (where it came from and what it has been through with you). How would you feel if you lost this object or memory? Immigrants often had to leave everything behind when they came to America, even things that were very meaningful to them.
- Make a trail mix with lots of different ingredients. Nuts, chocolate, cereal pieces, granola, and dried fruit all work well. Each piece has a different texture and taste, which helps make the whole trail mix come together. (If dietary issues preclude you from this activity, consider making a collage instead) Trail mix (or a collage) is like America insofar as they are both comprised of many different and good parts that together make a wonderful whole.
- Discuss the definition of prejudice. Are there any examples of prejudice in this book? The opposite of prejudice is respect. Discuss some ways that we can show people respect. Have each person in the family draw a picture of himself or herself. Then trade drawings with another family member. Tell or write things you like about your partner on his or her drawing. Use respectful words and focus on things that make the person special.
- Looking at the last picture in the book, draw pictures of your own community that highlight some of the amazing things that one can find there. You may use a camera to take pictures.