Today’s review: Mexican Immigrants in America: An Interactive History Adventure by Rachael Hanel. A Capstone Press YOU CHOOSE series title, 2009. ISBN 9781429620130. Students who read Mexican Immigrants in America will benefit from this well-plotted introduction to the facts and the feelings behind Mexican immigration.
With three story paths, 43 choices, and 17 endings, this title will keep your students reading to the end (at least one of the 17). When this title arrived, I immediately walked across the hallway to Dr. Scott for his professional opinion as the teacher of our ELD classes. He agreed to have students look at it. Less than an hour later he asked if he could keep it longer since the majority of his students were wanting to read the title on their own. Four weeks later he brought it back to me, stood in the doorway, and gave me two thumbs up. "It was a hit!" he said.
It turns out most of his students took turns reading this title. They sat in small groups chatting about the book and relating it to their own experiences. Many of these students insist they read very little English so they cannot do the homework, yet they remarkably became adept enough to read through many endings of this 110 page book. This story was written at a third-fourth grade level, is intended to interest grades 3-7, but it held tremendous appeal to my 7th and 8th graders.
The adults who read Mexican Immigrants in America were amazed at how complex this series is. While at first glance you might dismissively say it’s a history version of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, there is a great deal of factual, societal, and historical information inside. I felt saddened, hopeless, and desperate as I read various paths. "Why is immigration so difficult?" I kept wondering. You realize that everything in here is a real possibility and is based upon a real person’s events. The full-color photographs help anchor the plot possibilities in reality.
This series is a Finalist of the 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award for the Association of Educational Publishers. The series was also reviewed in Library Media Connection, Vol. 26, No. 5, Page 73, February 2008.
I understand journals that use their limited space to review only one title in a series, but that doesn’t do justice to your needs as the reader/purchaser. That’s the advantage bloggers have over print publications. We can pick and choose titles throughout a series that need attention drawn to them. Mexican Immigrants in America is one such title.
I was happy to open my latest box from Junior Library Guild to find another copy of this book. It came as the March selection for B+ Upper Elementary & Junior High (Grades 5-7). If you were a member, you’d have access to their detailed guides for each book that include curriculum suggestions. Here are a couple snippets from JLG’s review: "The second-person narrative draws in readers from the beginning, as they are encouraged to make choices that will determine their fates…The deprivation that impoverished Mexicans face in their native country is particularly striking, as are the working conditions some immigrants experience in the United States…The interactive format makes this a good choice for reluctant readers." Don’t you wish you could go read all of their reviews?
If you aren’t a member of Junior Library Guild, you will have to content yourself with going to the Capstone site and exploring their new features Related Fiction and Titles Like This. I suggest you pair this title with Will Hobbs’ Crossing the Wire. If I had the funds, I’d purchase enough of Crossing the Wire so we could do a One Book, One School program.
This year I have been introducing middle schooler’s into the concept of putting yourself in the story. Blame it on the number of ESL, immigrant, or financially impoverished students in my population, blame it upon parents who don’t make reading exciting when students are young, blame it on Choose Your Own Adventure books wearing out and disappearing off shelves, or even blame it upon dwindling budgets that force libraries to meet curriculum needs instead of recreational ones. There are many "things" to which we can attach blame. Blaming won’t solve the problem that many of my students cannot read a text and empathetically put themselves into the place of the main character.
Readers, I should note that I did find new and revised editions of Choose Your Own Adventure books out and have purchased a set to help my students. I also want to say thank you to Capstone Press for counting the plots for me. I have a weird brain that makes me compulsively follow all paths, endings, etc. and count them in books like this so you took some pressure off my already overloaded mind.