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Bibliotherapy – Is that what you do?

Recently a student asked me for a specific topic. Okay, EVERY DAY students ask me for specific topics, but this one stuck in my head. She asked me to find some books about immigrant refugee children who had to leave their families behind in the centers or places unknown and how they cope with their new life in America.

Wow! Talk about pressure. Let’s think a moment on how you are going to handle this kind of request. Are you going into reader’s reference mode? Are you going into pseudo-psychologist mode? Are red flags bursting out all over around you? Are you simply going to find a title to meet her requirements and let it go?

I would love to hear from you about what you would do. Just comment below or email me at So far I have provided some titles to the child, connected her with a guidance counselor and a member of the immigrant community of Nashville and I am staying open & available. She knows I’m here for her.

Think about the term bibliotherapy. What does it mean? Different colleges and LIS programs have decided opinions on bibliotherapy. I wonder what you were trained to and not to do. Are you afraid to answer someone’s question in case they accuse you or practicing therapy?

I flipped to an article in Library Media Connection from August/September 2005 by Rosey Clark called “Bibliotherapy Examined.” The paragraph that jumped out to me was:

Perhaps bibliotherapy using fiction could never really be therapy, which is management and treatment of an illness. Using fiction books in a classroom could more accurately be regarded not as bibliotherapy, but as a discussion of themes or characters, which may allow the participants to examine their own issues or problems in a nonthreatening way.

Can I ever find a book that will help a child cope with the situation described above? Maybe not. In the meantime, I am grateful to have 3 copies of  Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins. It’s not a perfect match, but it is a book about a child who is separated from his family and who deals with refugee camps (and so much more).

The book Elephant Run by Roland Smith is also set in Burma (although in an earlier time period). Check out the new curriculum connections Roland Smith has uploaded recently.

Since Elephant Run was available on Scholastic Book Fairs, you may have seen it. I hope that you have equal opportunities with Bamboo People. This is a worthy middle and high school novel that deserves to be shared. My immigrant children coming from other countries who spent part of their lives in hiding also were able to relate to Bamboo People.

Readers, don’t forget to share your ideas. What would you do?

Comment from Laurie Amster-Burton:

I would have done what you did: provide some titles and connect to a guidance counselor.

The first book that came to mind is Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos is not exactly the story she requested, but some similar themes.

Laurie Amster-Burton, Seattle


  1. Good ideas, I would maybe add asking her questions about wherever she came from and showing a lot of interest in that. There can be a lot of pressure on immigrants to forget where they came from and instantly assimilate, unfortunately.

    “Shooting Kabul” is another recent book that comes to mind.

  2. Thanks to Ami for mentioning SHOOTING KABUL — it’s protagonist immigrates to the SF Bay Area from Afghanistan right before 9/11 and deals with adjusting to life in the US, bullying and a multitude of other things.

    Mitali’s book is also excellent also. Some more are
    Escaping the Tiger by Laura Manivong
    Give Me Shelter: Stories About Children Who Seek Asylum by Miriam Halahmy
    Making It Home: Real-Life Stories from Children Forced to Flee by Beverley Naidoo
    The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson