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I’m your neighbor: A genre of empathy and inclusion

Is it time to welcome a new genre to our children’s and young adult collections?

Kirsten Cappy thinks so.

The co-founder and director of I’m Your Neighbor, leads a project highlighting the lives of New Arrivals and New Americans through the sharing of children’s literature.

At the MASL Conference in Augusta, Maine last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Kirsten (@imyrneighborbks) who shared the value of this type of sharing:

By reading and engaging with children’s books, readers of all ages and backgrounds can experience immigration, acculturation, and cultural celebration.

Fiction, from picture books to novels, allows readers to see themselves and others in a way that changes the culture of Belonging and Welcoming.

Collaborating with a team of librarians and authors, including author Anne Sibley O’Brien (@AnneSbleyOBrien) and librarian Kate Cutko [], Kirsten first started featuring children’s literature set in the immigrant community in 2012. In 2017, they began curating a sub-set of picture books that is now called the Welcoming Library.

The current I’m Your Neighbor project promotes the use of children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures and groups to engage the entire community in a discussion of commonalities and differences.

Through its recommended books and engagement projects, the project’s goals are to build bridges to support communities as their cultural makeup evolves and to create opportunities for children’s literature featuring refugees, immigrants, and “new” marginalized groups.

A new genre?

Might the recognition of I’m Your Neighbor as a cultural genre inspire greater empathy and understanding in our communities?

The website provokes us to consider the New Arrival/New American/Immigrant experience as a children’s or young adult literature genre like mystery or science fiction or sports fiction or romance.

Wanna give it a try?

The website facilitates the building of this type of genre discovery by allowing users to browse titles by Community Represented, or by Setting, Theme (including #OwnVoices), or by age.

  • Consider editing catalog records to tag books with I’m Your Neighbor headings to promote discoverability beyond official subject headings.
  • Consider curating digital collections of I’m Your Neighbor titles to share on you LibGuides, websites, hyperdocs and LMS collaborations.
  • Consider creating separate physical I’m Your Neighbor genre displays or label book spines and covers for easy discovery.

If you are interested in adding this genre to your genrefied or genre-labeled collection, you might order some the I’m Your Neighbor Book Processing Materials that include: book lists, cover stickers, spine labels, book plates, discussion questions and more.

The site also offers lesson plans and event kits to facilitate engagement among the neighbors in your communities. There’s also a page dedicated to multi-language resources.

The Welcome Library pop-up collection

You may want to host the Welcoming Library, a portable, pop-up community conversation on immigration driven by a collection of acclaimed picture books for readers of all ages. The traveling display units of picture books, with embedded questions to designed to spark conversations about belonging and welcoming, currently circulates regionally among schools, libraries and community centers.

Kirsten described the potential impact of a physically hosted collection:

The model so far for has been for a state library system of school district to purchase a Welcoming Library to circulate in their region. The three weeks the Welcoming Library is on location is a disruption of practice – a featuring of previously unfeatured (in many cases) books, an excuse to connect with teachers and curriculum, and a time to build relationships with students across culture.

While many of these books are on library shelves, it is the temporal nature of the Welcoming Library that shakes things up and makes change.  The departure of the Welcoming Library has become as important as the arrival. When the collection leaves, teachers want to see more of these books.  Its is the time when we can introduce the genre.

How do children respond?

In this video, children respond to the picture book I’m New Here by author and project I’m Your Neighbor co-founder, Anne Sibley O’Brien. The story describes the assimilation of three immigrant students in a supportive school community.

And there’s more:

Kirsten Cappy is also the founder of Curious City, through which she and her team create and share free discovery opportunities for children’s literature in the form of event and activity kits, curriculum, book trailers, book giveaways, and more.”

Materials are designed to engage young readers in the written word through play, conversation, and social action

For more information:


Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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