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Embedding Windows and Mirrors With Reyna Grande

By Ally Hauptman and Michelle Hasty
 | May 10, 2018

distancebetweenusThis is the second installment of a three-part series highlighting the winners of the 2017 ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards, which honor newly published authors who show extraordinary promise in books for children and young adults. Young readers need books that provide a mirror in which they can see themselves as well as a window to understand the perspectives of others, especially those whose experiences differ from their own. In this series, award recipients Jeff Zentner, Aimee Bissonnette, and Reyna Grande share how their books may provide readers with “window and mirror experiences.” This week, Ally Hauptman and Michelle Hasty, chairs of ILA's Children's and Young Adult Book Award Committee, interview Grande.

The Distance Between Us
is a poignant memoir about the author’s life before and after immigrating from Mexico to the United States as a young girl. Through her struggles to hold on to family—set within the frightening realities of illegal immigration—Grande gives readers a firsthand account of survival in search of the American Dream. The book is funny, sad, and at times heartbreaking, and driven by themes of perseverance, persistence, and hope. This is Grande’s first children’s book and, as a committee, we feel she is a strong new voice for middle-grade readers. This powerful book reflects the experiences of undocumented youth and invites nonimmigrant readers to glimpse into hardships unlike their own.

We were honored to interview Grande about how she sees The Distance Between Us being used in classrooms and how specific books, authors, and teachers influenced her journey.  

How do you see The Distance Between Us being used in classrooms to expand perspectives?

"I hope that my book provides a starting point for teachers and students to have powerful discussions about the human experience of migrating, the price that immigrants pay for a shot at the American Dream, and the push and pull factors of migration. Children are very perceptive, and I think we can teach them kindness and empathy, but most of all, teach them to respect and treat all human beings with dignity, regardless of where they come from. Most importantly, I want children to learn the complexities about immigration in a way where they understand that migrating isn't a crime, but rather, in most cases, an act of survival."

You did not see yourself in books until you were 19 years old. How did this shape you as a reader and what was the impact of reading Viramontes and Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street?

"I think about myself when I was a young girl, hungry for books that reflected my experiences. I never saw myself in books. I felt invisible. Voiceless. I felt that I didn't exist. I hope that by sharing my book with young people, especially readers of color, they can see themselves in literature and know that their story matters. I want them to know that their heartbreak and trauma, that their dreams and hopes, are important and they are not alone. It was a very powerful moment for me to open a book and see my own experiences reflected in the pages of that book. Those books told me, 'You exist. You matter.' Books by Chicana/Latina writers made my dream of being a writer feel more real. If they could do it, so could I."

How does this book help people understand the immigrant experience in this country? This is particularly relevant to what is happening with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program right now.

"I want more than DACA, which is a temporary program. You can't build a future on something temporary. What I want is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, but unfortunately, to this day, it hasn't been passed. There are millions of young people who have experienced similar things I went through, made the same sacrifices, and suffered the same sorrows. These young immigrants are here in this country fighting for their right to remain, for a chance at the American Dream, to be accepted and included. I hope my book offers people insight into the plight of child immigrants and immigrant families in general, and that together we can advocate for an immigration system that treats immigrants with dignity and respect.

Above all, I hope we can come together as a country to finally do right by our young immigrants and give them the opportunity to legalize their status and tell them, 'Yes, you belong here.'  My book is about how immigration tore my family apart, and the price—not measured in dollars—that I paid for a shot at the American Dream. Year after year the price just keeps getting higher. I want the American Dream to remain within the reach of all young immigrants. For that to happen, we, as a country, need to support a comprehensive immigration reform that is humane and fair."

What is your advice for teachers who want to be a "Diana" for their students?

"You don't have to take your students home to change their lives—but please be aware of the challenges that your students might be facing and try to be as supportive as you can. A kind word, a kind gesture, goes a long way. Listen to them without judging. Give them a safe space where they can thrive. Your classroom could be the one place where they can escape the troubles at home and out in the world. And don't judge your students based on who they are, rather, see their potential—help them visualize who they can be and how far they can go.

If you were to talk to my teachers back in high school, none of them would have ever thought I would get this far in my life. I was the least likely to succeed. All it took was one teacher who believed in me and helped me believe in myself."

Ally Hauptman is the chair of the ILA Children's and Young Adult Book Award Committee and a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.  

Michelle Hasty is the chair of the ILA Children's and Young Adult Book Award Committee and a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. 

Hauptman and Zentner will copresent a session at the ILA 2018 Conference, July 20–July 23, in Austin, TX. Be the first to know the 2018 ILA Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards winners, coupled with ideas from committee members for implementing these important texts in the classroom. For more information visit ilaconference.org.

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