First Person Fiction Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
Discussion Guide to First Person Fiction
First Person Fiction
A new series about coming to America
The following guide can be used to teach Flight to Freedom, Behind the Mountains, The Stone Goddess, and Finding My Hat.
Introduction to the series
The face of America is changing. First Person Fiction, a new line of novels about today's immigrant experience, reflects this with a voice that is passionate and true. Written by authors who are immigrants themselves, these compelling stories are united by the characters' journeys to find their place as Americans.
These novels are told through journal entries. Through these "first person" narratives, readers will learn a lot about understanding differences, patience, loyalty and the process of adjusting to change. Each story has a strong main character who binds their families together by helping to adjust to a new way of life while still holding strong to their old traditions.
FLIGHT TO FREEDOM
by Ana Veciana-Suarez
About the Book
In 1967, many Cubans tried to escape Fidel Castro's communist takeover by emigrating to America. Thirteen-year-old Yara GarcÃa's family is patiently waiting for their papers to arrive so that they may join their family in Miami, Florida. Yara tells the GarcÃa's story through a journal that her father has given her for being such an exemplary student. After spending her birthday in a mandatory school/work program, Yara must say good-bye to her friends, her brother Pepito, and her homeland to leave for America. Once her family has arrived safely, they must adjust to the ways of this modern new world. Yara and her two sisters, Ileana and Ana Maria, must not only attend new schools but must also learn English while still trying to maintain good grades and make new friends. Papi, Yara's father, joins a militia group that is training to attack and regain control of Cuba, while Mami, Yara's mother, gets a job and learns to drive a car without him knowing. As Yara's family tries to adapt to their new environment, they struggle to find a balance between their Cuban beliefs and the American way of life.
- Yara is trying to adjust to American life, but is still torn over obeying her parents' Cuban "rules". In what ways does Yara respect her parents' wishes, even when she doesn't want to? In what ways does Yara decide what is best for her instead of obeying her parents?
- Papi, Yara's father, seems to strongly resist change by repeating that the family should not adjust because they will be back in Cuba soon. At what moments do you start to see Papi adjusting to American life? Do you think that he will ever fully adjust? Explain.
- Mami, Yara's mother, begins to adjust to the change of living in America. How does her getting a job and learning to drive a car affect the family? In what ways does Mami try to keep their Cuban heritage and customs constant in their life? How does Mami's acceptance of American life help the rest of the family adjust?
- Ileana, Yara's older sister, tries to adapt to American life by rejecting Cuban customs. How does Ileana's rebellion affect the family? How does it affect Yara? Ileana also fights her family to get a job. How does this new responsibility change Ileana?
- Yara meets and befriends a girl in school named Jane. How does Jane help Yara adjust to American life? In what ways do Jane and her family show respect to Yara's family's beliefs and customs?
- Yara's uncle and his family help the Garcias get adjusted to American life. What qualities does EfraÃn demonstrate that help ease this adjustment? How does Efrain's joining the army affect the family?
- Yara's grandfather, Abuelo Tony, teaches her and her sister, Ana Maria many things. Abuelo Tony has many sayings. How do they affect Yara? How does Abuelo Tony's death affect the family? How does it affect Yara personally?
- Pepito, Yara's older brother, stayed in Cuba because he was in the army. In what ways does his being in Cuba put a strain on the family? In what ways does it hold back their progress in adjusting to American life?
Settings and Theme
- In what ways has the family's attitude toward one another changed from Cuba to America? What things have some of the family members done in America that they may never have thought of doing when living in Cuba?
- Papi asks the family to live "suspended in the middle between two countries." Yara disagrees and says that "We have to be either here or there…. We must choose." Is there a way to live in both? How does the family begin to accomplish this?
- Describe some of the prejudices or other barriers the García family face in Cuba. Describe the prejudices or barriers they face in America. How does the family overcome them? How does Yara personally deal with them?
- This book was written from Yara's point of view. How might the book differ if written by another family member?
- Yara wrote "It made me wonder what kind of life I might have had, the kind of life all my family would have had, if the Communists had not taken over our country. . . How strange that one event, one decision, can change so many parts of so many people's lives." How do you think the story would have been different if the family hadn't been forced to leave Cuba?
BEHIND THE MOUNTAINS
by Edwidge Danticat
About the Book
Celiane Espérance lives in the Haitian countryside with her mother, Manman, and her brother, Moy. All have been patiently waiting to join their father, who has been living and working in Brooklyn, New York, trying to raise money and establish paperwork for his family to leave Haiti. When Celiane receives a journal from her teacher for her excellent schoolwork, she decides to record her thoughts on the events that take place around her as her family prepares to move to America. Through her writing, the reader is introduced to her family and all of the places that they visit, including Port-au-Prince during election time, where a bomb nearly kills Celiane and her mother. Their struggles in Haiti come to a close as they travel to meet her father in New York at Christmastime. Now their new struggles begin, as they have to become accustomed to American life.
- Celiane seems to be very anxious when it comes to talking to or writing to her father while she is in Haiti. What causes this anxiety? How does it lessen once she arrives in New York? Celiane describes herself as more of a country person than a city person. In what ways does she seem to change while adjusting to staying in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and when she is in Brooklyn, New York?
- Manman, Celiane's mother, must take care of her children while their father is away in New York. How has the strain of their Papa being away affected her? How do Manman's sickness and injury change her? In what ways does she expect Moy to be "the man of the house" and "her little boy" at the same time?
- Moy has taken on the responsibilities that his father left behind and goes to school to be a tailor even though he wants to be an artist. Why do you think he remains in school to be a tailor when he loves art so much? How does Moy seem to change when he stays in the city — Port-au-Prince and Brooklyn? In what ways does Moy struggle to become a "man" in his parents' eyes?
- Papa, Celiane's father, moved to New York to raise money for his family to move there. How do you think his being away for so long has affected each person in the family? In what ways must he now adjust to his family being together? How does Celiane's letter to him at the end of the story change him?
- Tante Rose, Papa's sister, lives in Port-au-Prince and works as a nurse. In what ways does she help Celiane's family while they are in the city? Why is there such a struggle between Tante Rose and Manman?
Settings and Theme
- One of the proverbs in the book is "Behind the mountains are more mountains", which means that once you overcome one problem, there will always be more waiting to be solved. How does this apply to this story? In what ways does family help in overcoming such obstacles?
- In her journal, Celiane writes that she was afraid living in a different country and learning a different language would make her a different person. Is that true? Explain. If this were something that you had to do, how would it change you?
- Proverbs are used many times in this story. Celiane says a proverb "makes a picture for you and you must discover for yourself how to interpret it". How would you interpret the proverbs below and why did you interpret them the way you did?
"Little yams make a big pile." "The empty sack does not stand." "Sweet syrup draws ants." "Don't look down your nose at old rags. Remember, they fit you before."
- How does Granpé Nozial's story about the man who brings the ice from the city to the mountain explain both when the family came back from Port-au-Prince and when they were leaving for New York?
- At the end of the story, the family comes together to live in a wonderful new apartment. Do you think this is the end of their struggles in America? Explain what other "mountains" they might find behind the mountains they have just overcome.
THE STONE GODDESS
by Minfong Ho
About the Book
Nakri Sokha lives a nice, ordinary life in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, with her family. She lives with her father, a teacher, her mother, a homemaker, and her three siblings, Boran, Teeda and Yaan. She and her sister, Teeda, are part of a group that practices the art of Cambodian classical dance in a temple near the Mekong River, until her life changes in an instant. When the Khmer Rouge take over the city of Phnom Penh, her family must take only what they can carry and travel to a village where their extended family lives. Just as the Sokha family begins to adjust to this new life away from their home, Hoon Sokha, Nakri's father, is taken from them. And before they can think things might get worse, the Angkar takes Boran, Teeda and Nakri to a worker camp. After four long years, the family is reunited and crosses the border of Cambodia into Thailand. They meet relief workers there who help them immigrate to America. Now, after all they have been through, they must adjust to American life and try to create a new home in this new land.
- When in the worker camp, Teeda, Boran and Nakri were sure to look out for one another and take care of each other. In what ways did Nakri and Teeda look out for each other? In what ways did Boran look out for his sisters? What consequences came from their actions?
- Teeda loves to dance. How did this love of dance help her get through being at a worker camp? How did it help Nakri and her mother later to deal with her death?
- Nakri's father is a teacher. Why did he lie to the Angkar when they asked what he did for a living? Why did he hide his glasses in the dirt before they took him away?
- Nakri's grandmother was always working at her loom. In what ways did the items she made help the girls while they were in the worker camp? How did the change in colors that she used affect the family?
- When the family moves to America, Boran and Nakri have a more difficult time adjusting than Yaan. Why do you think that is? In what ways do Boran and Nakri try to adjust to American life?
Settings and Theme
In the Author's Note at the end of the book, Minfong Ho asks "When changing oneself becomes a means of survival, why does it often feel like an act of betrayal?". In what ways have each of the characters, Nakri, Boran, Teeda, Ma and Pa changed themselves in the story to survive? In what ways have them remained the same when, perhaps, they should have changed?
- In the book Nakri's brother, Boran, cries after seeing food that was thrown in the garbage. Why do you think he is crying? In what other ways do you see that American and Cambodian customs differ? In what ways are they similar?
- The Sokha family was strongly tied to their beliefs. How did this affect what happened to them in Cambodia? How did these beliefs affect their lives in America?
- Music plays a large part in this book. Describe the different ways that music helped the Sokha family while they were in Cambodia and then in America.
- FINDING MY HAT
by John Son
About the Book
The story of the Park family begins in America. Jin-Han and his parents live in Chicago, Illinois. Throughout the story, they move from town to town, state to state, trying to find their place in America. Eventually they settle in Texas, where Jin-Han's father becomes a salesman and they open a wig store. Jin-Han becomes more and more accustomed to American life while still struggling to remain true to his parents who are strong in their Korean heritage, especially his mother.
- Jin-Han struggles to become more like a normal American kid. One of his big obstacles is moving around so often. In what ways does Jin-Han become more Americanized in each city? Have you ever tried to fit in to a new school or new town? What did you feel were the easiest and hardest parts about being in a new place?
- Jin-Han's parents try to adjust to American life as best they can. How does his father adjust to life in the different cities they move to? How does his mother seem to stay stronger in her Korean way of life as they move from city to city? How does this affect Jin-Han? How does this affect Jin-Soo?
- When Jin-Han's family's friends come over, the group splits up - kids in one room, adults in the other. In what ways to Jin-Han's friends seem to be adjusting to American life? How does Jin-Han react to them? How do the parents react to all of the children?
- Toward the end of the book, Jin-Han meets a girl who then becomes his girlfriend. However, he always seems nervous about the situation. Why do you think he feels nervous? Why doesn't he tell his family about her? When Sue broke up with him he began to cry. Do you think he was just crying over Sue? Why or why not?
- Jin-Han helps to take care of his sister Jin-Soo throughout the story. In what ways does Jin-Soo depend on her brother? In what ways are they close? Do you have a brother or sister? In what ways are you alike? In what ways are you different?
Setting and Themes
- Jin-Han's mother said "Life is always hard. We have to work to make it easy." In what ways was life hard for the Park family? In what ways did they work to make things easier?
- In the beginning of the story, Jin-Han loses his hat. His mother keeps buying him other hats to try on, but none of them fit quite right. In what ways does the Park family "try on different hats" or try different ways to adjust?
- Jin-Han's mother doesn't understand why he wants to quit piano lessons. Why do you think he wants to quit? Why does it make his mother upset? Do you think it hurts her more that he is quitting piano or that he is becoming more American and less Korean in his ways? Explain.
- Throughout the story, Jin-Han's family moves from Chicago to Memphis to Houston. Has your family ever moved? How did the new place affect you? If you haven't moved, how do you think a move would affect you?
COMPARING THE FIRST PERSON FICTION NOVELS
- Discuss the book formats. How does the journal entry style help in reading and understanding the stories?
- All of the First Person Fiction stories are about adjusting to changes. What other themes do you find the books have in common?
- Each book is set in a different time period. Does this make comparing them harder? What are some of the main differences that you see between the main characters based on the fact that they are from different times?
- Compare the characters in each story. Which ones are similar? How?
Avi. Beyond the Western Sea: The Escape from Home. Orchard/Scholastic, 1996. ISBN: 0-531-09513-4
Poor Irish immigrants Maura O'Connell and her brother, Patrick, must leave for America after their home is destroyed.
Avi. Beyond the Western Sea: Lord Kirkle's Money. < Orchard/Scholastic, 1996. ISBN: 0-531-09520-7
Maura and Patrick O'Connell continue their adventures.
Bode, Janet. New Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens. Scholastic, 1991. ISBN: 0-590-44144-2
Eleven teenage immigrants tell compelling stories of their escapes from war, poverty and repression to carve out new lives in America.
Cameron, Sara. Out of War. Scholastic, 2001. ISBN: 0-439-29721-4
Using first-person narrative and black-and-white photographs, nine young Columbians describe their experiences of violence and peace during their country's long civil conflict.
Durbin, William. My Name Is America: The Journal of Otto Peltonen. Scholastic, 2000. ISBN: 0-439-09254-X
A young Finnish boy comes to join his father in America expecting to find the "land of opportunity" but instead must struggle to survive.
Johnston, Toni. Any Small Goodness: A Novel of the Barrio. The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, 2001. Hardcover ISBN: 0-439-18936-5, Paperback ISBN 0-439-23384-4
In a warm Hispanic community surrounded by danger and violence in East Los Angeles, strangers perform random acts of kindnes for one another.
Lasky, Kathryn. Dear America: Dreams in the Golden Country. Scholastic, 1998. ISBN: 0-590-20973-8
New dreams and old traditions flourish and clash when a Jewish girl and her family emigrate from Russia to America.
Mochizuki, Ken. Beacon Hill Boys. Scholastic, 2002. Hardcover ISBN: 0-439-26749-8, Paperback ISBN:
In Seattle in the early 1970's, teenager Dan Inagaki and his other Japanese-American friends struggle to come of age in an America that doesn't make it easy for them to assimilate.
Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Esperanza Rising. Scholastic, 2000. Hardcover ISBN: 0-439-12042-X, Paperback ISBN: 0-439-12042-X
After a fire destroys their home, Esperanza and her mother must leave their rich life in Mexico to work in the fields of California.
Temple, Frances. Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti. Orchard/Scholastic, 1992. ISBN: 0-531-05459-4
Haiti is the setting for this novel of two young people whose growth toward maturity mirrors the same process taking place in their volatile country.
Yep, Laurence. My Name Is America: The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung. Scholastic, 2000. ISBN: 0-590-38607-7
The story of a Chinese boy sent to California during the Gold Rush where he experiences both the prejudices of American miners and the great beauty of American landscape.
The Timetable History of Cuba -- www.historyofcuba.com
CIA - The World Fact Book -- www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/cu.html
Encarta Encyclopedia Article on Haiti -- www.encarta.msn.com/find/concise.asp?ti=06082000
CIA - The World Fact Book -- www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ha/html
Haiti - www.infoplease.com/ipa/a0107612.html
CIA - The World Fact Book -- http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/cb.html
Cambodia in Modern History -- http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/
Thai-Cambodian Border Refugee Camps 1975-1999 -- http://www.websitesrcg.com/border/
Korean Americans -- http://http://www.capaa.wa.gov/koreanamericans.html
Korean American Historical Society -- http://www.kahs.org/
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Ana Veciana-Suarez was born in Havana, Cuba in 1956. At the age of six, she emigrated with her family to Miami, Florida. She still lives in Miami and writes a weekly column for the Miami Herald about family.
Other books by Ana Veciana-Suarez:
The Chin Kiss King
Birthday Parties in Heaven: Thoughts on Love, Life, Grief and Other Matters of the Heart
Miami, the Magic City
El Rey de Los Besos
Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti in 1969. She spent most of her childhood in her native country before moving to New York to reunite with her family at the age of twelve. She graduated from Barnard College with a degree in French Literature and the 1995 Woman of Achievement Award. She then went on to Brown University for her MFA. She recently received an ongoing grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation.
Other books by Edwidge Danticat:
Breath, Eyes, Memory
The Farming of Bones
After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmal
Edited by Edwidge Danticat:
The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States
The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures
Find out more about Edwidge Danticat at http://voices.cla.umn.edu/authors/DANTICATedwidge.html
Minfong Ho was born in Burma and grew up in Thailand. In 1980, during the massive influx of refugees from Cambodia, Ms. Ho became a relief worker in the refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border, where she helped set up a feeding program for malnourished children. The child of Chinese immigrants, Ms. Ho grew up in a family that was forced to move several times because of political turmoil. This experience enabled her to empathize deeply with the Khmer refugees when she wrote The Stone Goddess.
Minfong Ho has studied at Tungai University in Taiwan and at Cornell University, where she earned a B.A. and an M.F.A. She now lives in Ithaca, New York, with her husband and their three children.
Other Books by Mingfong Ho
The Clay Marble Rice Without Rain Brother Rabbit: A Cambodian Tale
John Son was born in Germany in 1969. His parents immigrated to the United States in 1972. Just like Jin-Han, he has lived in Chicago, Memphis, and Houston. Unlike Jin-Han, John Son does not look good in hats, which is a problem when the weather gets cold in New York City, where he lives. Finding My Hat is his first novel.
To order any of the First Person Fiction Novels, contact your local bookstore or usual supplier. Teachers and librarians may call toll-free 1-800-SCHOLASTIC. Prices and availability subject to change without notice.
Flight to Freedom by Ana Veciana-Suarez Hardcover 0-439-38199-1 $16.95 Paperback 0-439-38200-9 $6.99 Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat Hardcover 0-439-37299-2 $16.95 Paperback 0-439-37300-X $6.99 Stone Goddess by Mingfong Ho Hardcover 0-439-38197-5 $16.95 Finding My Hat by John Son Hardcover 0-439-43538-2 $16.95
Discussion guide written by Katy Stangland.