Not only is the book great, but I emailed the author last night to get a bit of background on this story and she wrote me back by this morning. She was a kindergarten teacher for years and had many students who struggled to learn English like Carmen. She is represented by the teacher in the story that tries many strategies to help Carmen feel welcome and find her place in the classroom.
To learn more about this book read my full book review below:
Carmen Learns English.
Judy Cox. Illustrated by Angela Dominguez.
New York, NY: Holiday House 2010.
28 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
Kindergarten-grade 3/ Ages 5-8.
Themes: immigrants, language barriers
Review by Laura Martinez.
Carmen Learns English is a beautiful picture book that tells the story of a newly arrived child from Mexico who is starting kindergarten in the United States. The story is told from Carmen’s perspective as she remembers her first year in school. It begins when Carmen has to leave her home, and the comfort of her Spanish language. She is nervous about school and laments over how her peers don’t speak her language and how “muy fast,” they speak. She bubbles with frustration at not knowing basic words or even how to ask to use the bathroom.
Later that day, I had to be very brave. I didn’t know where the bathroom was. “¿Dónde está el baño, por favor?” I asked. The niños who sat at my table shook their heads because they did not understand. Just in time, la Señora Coski showed everyone el baño. “ ‘Restroom,’ ” she told me. I nodded. In my head, I repeated the word over and over so I would not forget.
Carmen’s teacher, la Señora Coski, speaks broken Spanish, but is able to help Carmen make sense of her learning by translating words and phrases. She also points out real objects like the bus to help Carmen understand new English words. In this story la Señora Coski is Carmen’s anchor, and Carmen repeatedly imagines a future where she will be a teacher. She sees her teacher as someone who exudes power. At recess the teacher blows the whistle for kids to line up and Carmen exclaims, “I wanted a whistle like that so everyone would listen to me!”
In Carmen Learns English, we watch Carmen face many struggles trying to navigate the classroom as a child who is learning English for the first time. She draws on the strength of her mother and teacher to be brave. As she is teased on the playground she is able to gather strength to stand her ground to head off bullies. Her main goal is to learn as much English as she can and transfer it to her younger sister who will start school the following year. She wants to help her sister have a head start when she steps into the classroom. At the end of the story, the illustration shows Carmen wearing a whistle around her neck. Readers might infer that her teacher passed it on to her as a gift of strength. This book would be a delightful read aloud to help all children understand the frustrations that some immigrants face when they enter school. It could also be used to highlight ways that students could help newly arrived peers ease their way into the classroom.