It seems like just yesterday when I last updated this blog! It's hard to believe I let over two months slip by without an update. The end of school came and went with all the usual stresses, celebrations, and everything in between.
Messages From Maryam definitely granted Kendra and I some celebrations at the end of the school year! Kendra was featured in two different publications, Crossroads, a publication of Eastern Mennonite University, and Today Magazine, a publication of Hesston College, for her illustrations of Messages From Maryam. You can check out the Today Magazine article by clicking here: www.hesston.edu/hesstoncollegetoday/article/sharing-timely-message/, and the Crossroads article by clicking here to view pages 37 and 41: issuu.com/easternmennoniteuniversity/docs/crossroads_spring-summer_2017_issuu. I am so excited to see Kendra receiving some much-deserved spotlight for all of her hard work.
A few days ago, I got back from the home of the Giant Tortoises- the Galapagos Islands! I feel so fortunate to have seen this delicate ecosystem in person. Where else in the world can you visit the Giant Tortoise Breeding Center, hike to a volcano, go on a speed boat ride, and get the worst sunburn of your life all in one day? The flora and fauna were unbeatable, but sharing the experience with my fellow educators made it all the more unique. If any educators who are reading this blog are looking for an affordable way to travel the world, check out all the trips that GEEO has to offer( www.geeo.org). You can be sure that there will be some island influence in future books!
Since returning home, I have been continuing to work on the Messages From Maryam unit study. I am planning on releasing this in mid August in preparation for the school year. Kendra and I have also been working with Harvey Yoder (harvyoder.blogspot.com/2017/06/childrens-book-highlights-hardships-of.html) to plan for the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale in September (vareliefsale.com). We are looking forward to being a part of this event by running a children's activity, selling, and signing our book! We will be donating the profits of our book sales from this event to Mennonite Central Committee for their work with refugees
Kendra describes her illustration process for interviewers and photographers. PC: http://emu.edu/now/news/2017/06/art-teacher-illustrates-book-young-refugees-friendship-adaptation-new-life/
It has been far too long since I updated the blog! Life has been busy and hectic, but Maryam is still making waves, and we are so grateful! For now, I am enjoying spring break and having some free time to enjoy a visit from a dear friend, catch up on some much-needed sleep, and update you all.
Since the last time I posted, I have done a read aloud at my school's annual Multicultural Night, spoken at James Madison University's Symposium on Refugees, and excitedly watched the map on my Amazon Author Central account light up, displaying all the places in the U.S. that Maryam has arrived in already. I feel like a bit of a stalker, but I love tracking her movements and imagining where she might go next!
If you've read Messages From Maryam, you're well aware that Maryam and her best friend, Aila, speak Arabic and learn English upon arrival to the United States. Since Messages From Maryam is based on my students, I always found it frustrating that I couldn't communicate with them in their first language in the same way that I can with my Spanish-speaking students. When my school began offering Arabic for Educators classes, I was quick to sign up. Needless to say, I haven't been so frustrated in a long time! Trying to learn the pronunciation, grammar, and script was really challenging. It gave me a lot more sympathy for my students. Many of my students work hard all day to learn a language extremely different than their own, but just looking at this chart for an hour was enough to make my head spin!
While learning to read from right to left, practicing writing letters in a different way, and butchering the pronunciation of words was really frustrating, I'm glad I had this experience so I can better understand what it feels like to be a language learner. It can be frustrating, embarrassing, and tiring.
Enough about me! What's next for Maryam?
Over the next several weeks, my illustrator, Kendra Yoder, will be featured in publications from both of her Alma Maters, Hesston College and Eastern Mennonite University. I can't wait to see her work spotlighted in this way! I'll post links both here and on Facebook as soon as they become available. I'm also hoping to begin working on a kit of resources for teachers to use in their classrooms. The kit would include activities, worksheets, and handouts for all subjects, which could be differentiated for different ages and ability levels.
There are many things to look forward to over the next several weeks. Thank you for going on this journey with us!
Last week, a reporter from the local newspaper, The Daily News Record, visited me at school to interview me about Messages From Maryam. Kendra was able to join us and share about her illustration process as well.
We're so excited by the way this article turned out!
Subscribers to The Daily News Record can read the article here: www.dnronline.com/features/drawing-from-experience/article_0b9ab1aa-d8e7-11e6-9610-bf49d72628ce.html.
Others may read the article by visiting harrisonburg.k12.va.us/HarrisonburgCitySchools/media/images/Documents/Community/DNRonline_Pichon.pdf.
Multicultural Literature Recommendations:
When I started teaching ESL last year, I began a hunt for books that featured main characters who resembled my students. I also looked for books that told stories that my students may have been familiar with from their home countries. Both of these kinds of books were difficult to come by, but below I’ve included a few of my favorites. I hope you'll find something valuable to share with an important kid in your life!
Big Red Lollipop, by Rukhsana Khan
Big Red Lollipop features a Middle Eastern family with a daughter named Rubina, who has just been invited to her first birthday party. Rubina’s mother insists that Rubina take her sister along to the party. This book explores family dynamics and the true meaning of sisterhood. My students absolutely adored this book! I highly recommend it as a read aloud, or even as a book for guided reading groups.
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, by Hena Khan
This is an absolutely beautiful children’s book with a simple rhyming scheme. The vivid colors paint a beautiful picture of the Muslim faith, pointing out some important elements of the Muslim faith. My students really enjoy looking at this book, especially because the text is simple and relatable. It also has a nice glossary of unfamiliar terms mentioned throughout the book.
The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story, by Rebecca Hickox
The Golden Sandal is the Iraqi version of the classic Cinderella story. Since so many cultures have their own variation of Cinderella, I had a good time sharing this version and other versions with my students. We compared and contrasted different Cinderella stories, and the students had fun discussing the stories and versions their parents had shared with them.
Messages From Maryam, by Lauren Pichon
I would be remiss if I posted a blog about multicultural literature and did not promote my own book! When I started my search for children’s books with characters who either looked like my students, or had had similar experiences, I had a hard time finding appropriate resources. I feel blessed to have been able to write a book featuring characters that look like my students.
My Name is Yoon, by Helen Recorvits
My Name is Yoon tells the story of a small Korean girl named Yoon who has just moved to the United States. At first, Yoon is very resistant to learning English and she is self-conscious about her Korean name. She tries out various English words as a new name, even trying out “Cupcake” as a name! Eventually, Yoon becomes comfortable in her own skin, humanizing her teacher and the other students, and owning her identity as a Korean-American. My Newcomer students were all smiles when they heard this story for the first time!
Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa, by Niki Daly
What a fun story! My students were laughing out loud as I read this book. Pretty Salma is a west African variation of Little Red Riding Hood with some interesting twists and turns.
Sam and the Lucky Money, by Karen Chinn
I initially bought this book because the cover reminded me of one of my good friends, Sam, who also happens to be Chinese! Sam and the Lucky Money tells the story of a little boy during Chinese New Year who is disappointed by the fact that the money his grandparents gave him is not enough to get exactly what he wants. In the end, he decides to use the money to help someone in need. This is a sweet story with a great moral. It would tie in well with a unit about China, or it could be used to facilitate a dialogue about Chinese New Year.
Middle School/Young Adult Books:
Colibri, by Ann Cameron
I first read Colibri while I was in Costa Rica, and I got so sucked in that I finished it in just a couple of days! The book tells the story of a little girl who was kidnapped from Guatemala City, Guatemala by a man pretending to be her uncle. The man changes her name to Rosa, and Rosa grows up experiencing a series of unfortunate mishaps, all the while dreaming of her loving parents, whom she has little memory of. As Rosa struggles to find her identity, she makes her own way in the world, grows into herself and becomes who she was always meant to be. I was very engrossed in this novel. With its strong heroine and beautiful imagery, I would recommend it to any child or adult looking for an engrossing story set in Central America.
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
Inside Out and Back Again tells the story of Ha, a young girl who immigrates to the United States during the Vietnam War. The book is written entirely in free verse, and it details the family’s immigration experience and Ha’s experience in school upon arrival to Alabama. This book would be a great read for older children, or as a read aloud for younger students.
La Linea, by Ann Jaramillo
This book offers an honest look into what it would be like to be a child trying to get into America to reunite with parents. The book is emotionally charged and poignant, offering a play by play of Miguel and his friend, Elena’s, journey across la linea, the border.
The day after we released Messages From Maryam, I took to Twitter determined to get Maryam's story in the public eye. I tweeted at a few friends, colleagues, and my Alma Mater, James Madison University. I was on a roll, so I thought, "Why not tweet at the TV stations while I'm at it?!" Imagine my surprise when just a few minutes later, I got a personalized message from my local news outlet, WHSV, asking me to come in for an interview.
This morning, I woke up and gave myself a pep talk to prep for my big interview. Excitement and nervousness filled me as I walked through the doors of the news station. While I don't plan on making any more TV appearances any time soon, I was really happy with how the piece turned out.
THANK YOU to WHSV for the opportunity to share Messages From Maryam. Find the interview here:www.whsv.com/content/news/New-childrens-book-inspired-by-Harrisonburg-refugees--408617915.html.
After months of anticipation and some bumps in the road, yesterday was a big day! Messages From Maryam is now available via our independent publisher at www.lulu.com/shop/lauren-pichon/messages-from-maryam/paperback/product-22999350.html. The book will also be available via other online distributors such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I expect that the book will be available via these outlets by the end of the month, although I have no control over how long it takes these companies to update their inventory! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the process of getting the books to major retail distributors will go as quickly as possible.
I can't wait for Messages From Maryam to reach your doorsteps! As I see people purchasing the book online, my anticipation builds to hear your opinions and feedback.
I will keep you updated about the availability of Messages From Maryam. In the mean time, stay warm, and enjoy this holiday season with your loved ones!
"Ms. Pichon, I hope you win a Goldicott!"
Those were the words whispered to me as I told some of my first grade students about Maryam! Their innocence and excitement upon seeing illustrations of her filled me with so much joy! Their exclamations about winning a Caldecott (or "Goldicott" as he called it), saying, "she looks just like my mom's friend," and, "I think she lives in my neighborhood," made me all the more excited for the upcoming book release on the 19th!
Today, I had the opportunity to share Messages From Maryam with multiple groups of students at St. John the Evangelist School. This was my first time sharing the full story with any group of students. I had a wonderful time! It was fun to see how students connected with Maryam and Aila and the ways in which they were able to empathize with these girls whose lives were much different than their own.
As a first-time author, I have learned a lot about the publishing process. One of the most joyous parts has been being able to share my writing with children and other groups of people. One of the most challenging parts was the layout and design of the book. While the book will be available via our publisher on December 19th, there is a possibility that there will be a slight delay in making it available on Amazon. Check this page on the 19th for more information and for a link to buy Messages From Maryam.
Thank you for your ongoing support and enthusiasm for our book. I can't wait to reveal the final product!
<div class="fb-like" data-share="true" data-width="450" data-show-faces="true"> </div> In exactly 28 days, Maryam will be on her way to many of your mailboxes to meet you! On December 19, 2016, Messages From Maryam will be available on Amazon- just in time for your last minute holiday shopping! The final countdown has begun, and Kendra and I could not be more excited (or nervous) to share our work with you!
These last few weeks leading up to the release will be jam-packed with putting finishing touches on the illustrations and layout, as well as fact-checking our background information one last time. We are planning to canvas our town with posters about the upcoming release of Messages From Maryam. Keep your eyes open if you live in the Shenandoah Valley!
Kendra and I are so thankful to have had the opportunity to share Messages From Maryam with a captive audience at our home church today. We had a great time sharing with the students what it means to be a refugee, how to befriend refugee children at school, and, of course, talking about Maryam. We are grateful to have a church that supports our vision of publishing a book, and more importantly, a church that supports refugee families! Today, the children's ministry created medical kits to be distributed to local refugee families like Maryam's.
We are anxious to see how Messages From Maryam will continue to increase awareness about the lives of refugee children and call to action the people whose lives have been touched by refugees.
Wow! Time has been flying by! When I looked at my calendar today, I couldn't believe that we are down to just 49 days until Messages From Maryam makes its debut on Amazon!
Last weekend, I spoke at the Virginia Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages Conference. I was really nervous going into it, but once I started talking about Messages From Maryam, I got really excited and things started flowing. I loved having the opportunity to share about this project with other teachers of refugees and children like Maryam and Aila, the main characters in Messages From Maryam. I was so thankful for how warmly it was received, and the questions people asked were really thought-provoking.
Here are some of the questions and answers we covered at the conference, as well as a list of upcoming speaking engagements Kendra and I will be presenting at. We can't wait to share this project with you all!
Where did the characters' names come from?
Many of the characters' names are names of the Arabic-speaking students at the school where I work. There are two students whom I think of as Maryam and Aila in my head, but for confidentiality purposes, I couldn't use their real names. Many of the characters are named after my students' siblings and friends. I also Google searched Arabic baby names, which is how I stumbled across the name Aila. I don't know anyone named Aila, but I thought it was a beautiful name!
Have you considered translating this book into Arabic?
I would love to! As of right now, I do not have any solid plans to have Messages From Maryam translated into Arabic, but it is something I would like to pursue following the initial release in English.
What age range is "Messages From Maryam" appropriate for?
Messages From Maryam is targeted for readers in second through fifth grades, but it could be appropriate for all ages and grades with adult guidance. Teachers can also use Messages From Maryam to teach a variety of subjects, or to spark discussion during class meetings. There will be a list of suggested activities for using Messages From Maryam in the classroom in the back of the book.
Which parts of "Messages From Maryam" are factual and which are fictitious?
While Messages From Maryam is based on a true story, parts have been changed to make it more kid-friendly, more entertaining, and to keep the plot moving forward. There will be a page in the back of the book detailing some factual and fictitious parts of the story.
Upcoming Speaking Engagements:
Sunday, November 20- Lauren Pichon & Kendra Yoder at Eastside Church, Harrisonburg, VA
Tuesday, December 13- Lauren Pichon with Lisa & Kurt Schick at St. John the Evangelist School, Warrenton, VA
Please contact us if you're interested in having us speak at your school or organization! We would love to have the opportunity to share Maryam's story with you.
Messages From Maryam is a story that has been on my heart for a long time. When I began my career as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, I couldn't wait to meet my Iraqi refugee students whom I had heard so much about! On my first day of school, I was filled with nervousness and anxiety. I would be spending the majority of my day with these children, and I didn't speak a word of Arabic. Luckily for me, these children were hard-working, studious, and well-behaved! They were thirsty for knowledge, and so was I.
As the weeks and months passed, I formed a unique bond with my students. Each morning, they would walk by my classroom, peeking inside, calling, "Good morning, miss!" As they acquired more and more English, our knowledge of each other grew. It is this small group of children that inspired Messages From Maryam and the characters that will soon be jumping off the pages at you!
While in the grand scheme of things, the process of publishing Messages From Maryam has gone relatively quickly, the release has been a long-anticipated event. Although I have told many people about this special story, I will be giving my first ever presentation on Messages From Maryam this Saturday, less than two months before the book is released! I will be speaking at the Virginia Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages Conference, which will be held at my Alma Mater, James Madison University. At the conference, I will be presenting about the story behind Messages From Maryam, how it was illustrated, the facts and fictional pieces in the book, and the uses it could serve in the classroom. It will also be the first time I have ever read an excerpt of the book to a large audience!
I am nervous but really looking forward to the conference this Saturday. I hope to get more and more people pumped up for the Messages From Maryam release on December 19!