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Here I Am


Here I Am

Story by Patti Kim and Pictures by Sonia Sanchez
Published by Picture Window Books, Capstone Young Readers in 2014
ISBN 978-1-62370-036-2
Grades 3-6
Book Review
Did you ever feel confused when you were in a strange new place? Did you ever stare out the window and wonder where am I, who am I, or is there happiness out there for me? In Here I Am, readers experience a young boy’s journey as he immigrates to New York City through a wordless kaleidoscope of pictures. We see the boy uprooted from his homeland, looking frustrated and sad, clutching a precious red seed in his pocket. When the seed falls from his grasp into the city street below, our hearts fall with it only to realize the boy’s journey begins again. When he opens himself up to the new sights, sounds, and people around him he has a change of heart about his new home and even finds the courage to plant the seed he holds so dear. Patti Kim’s story positions readers to consider ways that the boys’ journey mirrors our own life and where it provides a window into understanding someone else’s family, identity, and sense of home. Sonia Sanchez’s pictures, reminiscent of Marc Chagall’s whimsical paintings, pull readers to look more closely, to reread, and to put themselves in the boy’s heart and mind as he struggles to find his way in his new home. Like the title suggests, the book ends triumphantly with the boy declaring (wordlessly, of course) “Here I am!” This book will be a welcome new addition to upper elementary school classrooms and provides a contemporary story of immigration adding complexity and multidimensional layers to what it means to immigrate to America today. 
Teaching Invitations: Ideas For Your Classroom
 
Illustration Study. To read this story is to closely study the pictures. Support students to extend their understanding and interpretation of the boy’s journey in coming to accept and appreciate his new homeland by choosing a series of pages to analyze. Have students use the language of visual literacy by describing the illustrator’s decisions with size and proportions, paneling and overlap of panels, the use or absence of color, and the sketch-like quality of the pictures. Either independently or in partnership have students transmediate the pictures into print text by writing their version of the scene through a written narrative. Encourage students to describe what the boy sees, hears, smells, feels, and thinks to himself in the select pages they choose. Have students share their narratives with one another and compare the ways they are similar and how they are different particularly if they chose the same pages. What do they include? Where do their versions overlap? What choices did they make as writers to describe what they see? What words make the biggest impact?
Wordless Picture Book Text Set. Wordless picture books include some of the most complex stories for upper elementary grade readers. There are many powerful examples of wordless picture books for this age group. Gather several examples such as The Red Book by Barbara Lehman, Journey by Aaron Becker, Tuesday by David Wiesner, Flotsam by David Wiesner, Mirror by Jeannie Baker, Blackout by John Rocco, Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole, and Wave by Suzy Lee. Have students read in partnership and then present their version of the story to the rest of the class. Discuss with students the ways in which they needed to closely read and reread in order to understand what’s happening on each page and to determine what was important. Discuss the power of interpretation and storytelling and how the reading of a wordless picture book can vary each time you read it. 
 
The Many Stories of Immigration Multi-Genre Text Set. While there may be connections across immigrants’ experiences, there is no singular immigrant story. First, read The Arrival by Shaun Tan noting with students in what ways Tan’s wordless picture book tells a similar immigrant story but also where it departs from Here I Am.  Gather different stories that center characters who are immigrants to America such as Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino,  The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, and One Green Apple by Eve Bunting. Organize students into text clubs to read and discuss one of these stories about immigration. Support students to notice similarities and differences between their text club selection and Here I Am. Finally, share with students other genres that explore immigration such as Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” along with Linda Glaser’s picture book, Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty that describes the origins of the poem. 
Experiencing Setting through the Senses. The main character in Here I Am moves from confusion and sadness to acceptance as he explores his new city. Highlight for students where we see sensory experiences portrayed on the page. Consider with students how the author and illustrator worked together to craft the setting as a critical backdrop to the story noting signs of New York City from the subway map, to taxis, apartment buildings, the laundromat, pretzel stands, parks, and people. Discuss with students the power of sensory images as a craft technique for their own writing. In what ways do they want their readers to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel the settings of their stories?
 
Change of Heart: Tracking Character Change. Units of study focused on character development and character change often include lessons about how a character changes over the course of the story.  In this book, students have an opportunity to specifically note moments in text where the artist has drawn hearts that visually represent perhaps an evolving change of heart. Support students to notice these moments in the story and to discuss why the events portrayed on the page lead to a change of heart for the boy. What are moments in their own lives where they have had a change of heart about a place, a person, a food, an object, or even themselves? Have students adapt the artist’s technique and visually represent these “changes of heart” moments from their own lives. 
 
Symbols in Stories: The Power of Allegory.  Here I Am is a wonderful text for teaching about the power of symbolism. Discuss with students what it means to have roots in a place and what the boy may have felt when he was “uprooted” from his home. When we pull a flower out of the ground we feel the roots tug at the soil clinging to hang on. Explore with students the importance of the red seed so highly valued by the boy and the sense of loss he had when it fell from his bedroom window. How do we know the seed was so precious to the boy?  In what ways does the author play with the seed as a symbol for something much bigger about human experience? What objects do they hold dear in their own lives? In what ways are they tied to their roots in their families and to the places they are from? Extend your students’ understanding of the seed as a symbol by creating a duet text set by pairing Here I Am with The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland. Discuss with students the importance of the seed across both stories and what the seed stands for in each. 
Where I’m From/Here I Am Writing and Drawing. Extend your students’ understandings of the power of place in one’s life by reading the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. View visual interpretations and versions of the poem on Youtube as another layer of meaning.  Have students notice ways in which place was critical in both the poem and Here I Am. Then, have students craft their own Where I’m From/ Here I Am collections through writing, drawing, or digital storytelling using the originals as mentor texts. Encourage students to notice the ways in which their lived experiences are similar and different from one another and how place and family play a critical role in all of our lives. 
 
Critical Literacy
The Skin We Speak: Language and Identity. Lisa Delpit used the phrase “the skin we speak” to refer to language. In Here I Am language plays an important role. While the story itself is wordless, there are several moments in the book where the artist depicts street signs and others speaking using mixed up and upside down letters. We see a STOP sign in reversal, “blahbabblah” for children’s and the teacher’s voices in school, and airport signs that read “WOEALV” and “h.h”. Discuss with students why language might be considered the skin we speak. Find out if students in your class speak other languages and encourage them to share their language diversity with the class. Consider reading aloud or finding stories online told in other languages. The International Children’s Digital Library is a great resource for your search. Have students listen to the stories and share their interpretations of what it feels like to hear other languages and be expected to learn from them. Use Google Translator to type out a familiar message or story in another language. Pass out copies to the class and have them write what they think the story is about. Again, have students share their feelings about this process. 
Further Explorations
Online Resources
Patti Kim: Author’s Website
 
Here I Am Book Trailer
 
New York Times Book Review of Here I Am and Other “International Arrivals”
 
Books
 
Baker, J. (2010). Mirror. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
 
Becker, A. (2013). Journey. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 
 
Bunting, E. (1999). A picnic in October. Ill. by N. Carpenter. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company.
 
Bunting, E. (2006). One green apple. New York, NY: Clarion Books.
 
Choi, Y. (2003). The name jar. Decorah, IA: Dragonfly Books. 
 
Cole, H. (2012). Unspoken: A story from the underground railroad. New York, NY: Scholastic Press. 
 
Figuerdo, D. (1999). When this world was new.  New York, NY: Lee and Low Books.
 
Glaser, L. (2010). Emma’s poem: The voice of the Statue of Liberty. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
 
Gunning, M. (2004). America, my new home.Honesdale, PA: Boyd’s Mill Press.
 
Lee, S. (2008). Wave. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. 
 
Lehman, B. (2004). The red book. New York, NY: HMH Books for Young Readers. 
 
Mak, K. (2002). My Chinatown: A year in poems. New York: Harper Collins.
 
Markel, M. (2013). Brave girl: Clara and the shirtwaist makers’ strike of 1909. New York, NY: Balzar + Bray. 
 
Polacco, P. (1998). The keeping quilt. New York: Simon and Shuster.
 
Recorvits, H. (2003). My name is yoon. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 
 
Rocco, J. (2011). Blackout. New York, NY: Disney Hyperion. 
 
Simpson, L. (2011). Yuvi’s candy tree.  New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
 
Tan, S. (2007). The arrival. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. 
 
Wiesner, D. (2011). Tuesday. New York, NY: HMH Books for Young Readers. 
 
Wiesner, D. (2006). Flotsam. New York, NY: Clarion Books.
 
Yaccarino, D. (2011). All the way to america: The story of a big italian family and a little shovel. New York, NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers.  
Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is an associate professor of literacy at Manhattanville College. Her work focuses on children’s literature, literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.