Whiting Village School was cozy and warm on the day of our visit with Anne Sibley O’Brien. We began with an all-school presentation and Annie greeted them in Korean asking, “Are you in peace?” Soon after, she was bombarded with questions about South Korea where she spent her childhood. “What is your favorite Korean food?” and “What is your favorite animal?” “What was it like to grow up there?” another asked “Did you like growing up there?” Her favorite animal is a cat, she loved growing up there and I can’t spell her favorite Korean food. As for what it was like to live there, Annie said it was great to grow up in South Korea and she likes to tell students what she has learned about people from her life experiences;
- We are all one human family; we have a lot in common.
- Peoples’ differences are all fascinating, glorious and beautiful!
“A lot of your views come from how your family presents it,” she shared.
Joining grades 1-4 in their tin ceilinged room, we saw that they had done a lot of work ahead of Annie’s visit. All of them had asked their parents and other relatives about where their ancestors came from. A nice poster depicted the variety of countries that their families immigrated from. After reading “I’m New Here,” the kids pondered what it would be like to be new in a school. They had a new friend from a different state this year so were able to compare his experience to the children in the book. Annie talked to them about the differences between being an immigrant and a refugee and then read her new book “Someone New.” One child related her experience of being new. “My mom is in the military,” said a young girl, “and we have to move every four years.” These kids were relating the characters to their own lives. They loved comparing the similar books and talked about what was different about them. After reading, Annie signed a copy of “I’m New Here” for each of them, with a bonus signature in Korean. One girl said, “I love getting these books, I keep all my Island Readers & Writers books together on a special shelf!” We left them making their own welcome posters in a variety of languages including, Passamaquoddy, French, Spanish, Korean, and more.
We then moved into the pre-k-kindergarten area and were amazed by the exuberance and wonder of these children. Annie read parts of the book aloud and they spontaneously stood up and started “greeting” each other in a role play. We all were blown away by how they acted out sharing a toy, saying hello and inviting someone to join in a game. Cutest thing ever! As Annie signed and handed out their books they sat on the floor looking at them and one boy pointed at a picture and said, “Look, he’s confused and she’s lonely.” These children are definitely making connections.
To round out the day we visited grades 5-8 where Annie told how “The Legend of Hong Kil Dong,” her book about a traditional Korean hero, became a graphic novel. She explained the parts of a graphic novel and demonstrated how to draw a Korean dragon. A lively Q&A session took place before the students were given watercolor pencils and paper to create their own amazing dragons. Demonstrating some simple techniques to get them started, they quickly caught on and produced some beautiful artwork. Annie was thrilled with the results. She said how much she loves these smaller schools, “You really get time to spend with each student.” She then showed photos of what Korea looks like now. “Wow!” was heard over and over. “That looks newer than New York!” “Yes”, said Annie, “I like to show that it is a very modern place now.”