How can a child who speaks only English make friends with a girl in her school who speaks only Spanish? Jacqueline Jules, a librarian at Timber Lane Elementary School in Fairfax County, Va., has written a children’s book that provides some ideas.
Not surprisingly, since it is a librarian who has written the story, called No English, one of the ways Diane, the girl who speaks only English, and Blanca, the girl who speaks only Spanish, become friends is by reading a book together in the library that has English and Spanish text side by side. I like how the book tells how Diane makes some mistakes in her communication before figuring out how to connect with Blanca.
The story struck a chord with me because of an experience I had of being welcomed in a new school. In 4th grade, I was a newcomer in a suburb of Chicago, after my family moved there for a year from small-town Pennsylvania. I recall that kids with a European heritage like mine far outnumbered Mexican-American kids in my new school, but I was quickly befriended by Lisa, a Mexican-American girl. Unlike the girls in “No English,” we didn’t have a language barrier, because Lisa was bilingual. She was my first friend of a race or ethnicity different from my own. She taught me how to count up to 10 in Spanish during recess, and she invited me to her home. I was fascinated by how her Mom spoke to her only in Spanish. It was hugely important to me that year to have her as a friend, as it is important for ANY child to have at least one friend in school.
The book has neat illustrations by Amy Huntington and is appropriate for lower elementary school grades. It’s available for $17.95 from Mitten Press at www.mittenpress.com.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.