Put These Page-Turners on Your Reading List

During the winter break, I took some extra time to do something I love – read! 

In my undergraduate TESOL course, we spend about five weeks talking about culture. During that time, a major assignment is to read one book about a cultural background that is relatively unknown to the student. Students choose from a list of books I provide. Over the years, I’ve added and deleted from the list based upon student feedback.

Last fall, I expanded the list at the last minute and didn’t have time to read the books thoroughly before putting them on the list. A risky move, I know! Thankfully, only one turned out to be a poor choice. Over the winter break, I was able to read a few of the books that were new to me and wanted to share them with you.

If you are looking for something worthwhile to add to your reading list, I highly recommend all of these. They are definitely page turners, because I stayed up way too late some nights reading to see what would happen next!


The Distance Between Us: A Memoir
By: Reyna Grande

Young Reader’s Edition

This autobiography tells the story of a young Mexican girl whose parents leave her and her siblings with relatives so they can look for work in the United States. They promise to return within a year, but year upon year goes by as Reyna waits for her family to be reunited. The author clearly details her life in Mexico, including the struggles related to poverty and being labeled an orphan. Finally, their father returns and takes all three children on a dangerous journey to cross the border without the proper papers. Living in California is less, yet more, than Reyna could have hoped. The reader learns to see the plight of immigrant families in a new light and understand why the distance between family members can be both physical and emotional.


Chinese Cinderella:  The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter
By: Adeline Yen Mah

Adeline’s mother dies shortly after her birth. As a result, the rest of her family considers her bad luck. When her father remarries and has two more children with her stepmother, Adeline’s life becomes even more like Cinderella’s. Although it is hard to read about her treatment at times, the story provides important insight into the workings of a Chinese family. It cannot be considered a story that would apply to all Chinese families, though, because Adeline’s family is quite wealthy, providing her with many privileges not experienced by others. I finished the book wondering about the compounded difficulties faced by unwanted daughters in poor, rural families. However, Adeline’s perseverance in spite of explicit belittling is inspirational.


Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother
By: Sonia Nazario

True confession: I have not yet finished this book. It’s a hard read. Emotionally hard. It tells the story of a young man from Honduras who faces many trials in an effort to find his mother who went to the U.S. years earlier to look for work. Written by a journalist, it provides factual, detailed information. Too many details sometimes. It’s not that the details are not needed, they are just hard to imagine how humans can live through them. 

The journey from Honduras, through Mexico, to the U.S. is unbelievably dangerous. Walking, hiding, riding in and on trains, dodging drug dealers, gang members, and unscrupulous officials, it is truly hard for me to fathom how anyone makes to the U.S. alive. To think that children as young as 8 and 9 years of age attempt this journey is incredible to me. This is not a book to read before you go to sleep at night, but it is worth reading as it puts a real-life face on the southern border immigration issues you hear about on the news. It’s no wonder people are willing to risk their lives to cross the U.S. border without the required paperwork. They must feel like the luckiest people alive to have made it that far!


As a bonus, I added one more book which I read during the break. If you have participated in our community recently, perhaps you saw it in my article on January 5, 2021.

A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea
By:  Melissa Fleming

Why should you read these books?

Even when you work with ELs every day, it is sometimes difficult to know what is truly going on in their lives. Both Reyna & Adeline kept their home lives secret from those at school. They put on a brave face and tried to forget about home while they were in the safety of their classes. Sound like something that could happen in your classroom?

Reading books like these provides a brief window into what your students may be experiencing. Knowing the possibilities may give you even more empathy than you already have, and it may spur you to consider new ways to enhance their learning and broaden their horizons.


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