YAL - Young Adult Literature Presenter Unit 2015/2016



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The Book of Unknown Americans
by Cristina Henríquez


YAL Presenter Unit 2015/2016

Subjects: English
Grade Level: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
Posted: 2015, CCSS, Common Core State Standards
Unit Created by: Cynthia Zucker


What makes this a good YAL choice...

If your students come from an immigrant community, The Book of the Unknown Americans will directly speak to them. The voices of Latin American immigrant youth, their parents, and their wider community are heard loudly and clearly in this novel. The challenges facing youth include coping with school, family expectations, friendships, and bullying. The adults navigate survival issues of housing, jobs, the school system, the police, and learning English. Maribel’s family comes from Mexico to a cinderblock apartment building in Delaware where they meet the family of Mayor Toro, who came from Panama 15 years ago to escape the violence taking place there. Mayor sees in Maribel what others do not: beyond her lovely face and beneath the damage she has sustained is a wise, funny, gentle soul. Mayor is a disappointment to his family but his acceptance by Maribel blossoms into love. As the two grow close, violence casts a shadow over their future. This poignant yet unsentimental tale of young love is a riveting story of unflinching honesty and humanity. — Cynthia Zucker


YAL Conference Workshop Description
Strangers in a Strange Land: The Story of the Unknown American
Cynthia Zucker, Presenter

“We’re the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not that bad, maybe 4 even that we’re a lot like them.” So states one of the characters in this novel by Cristina Henríquez. Told through the voices of numerous immigrants from Latin America, many stories unfold in this book, with a focus on the star-crossed young lovers Maribel Rivera and Mayor Toro. The characters come together in an apartment building in Delaware. Maribel’s family has come from Pátzcuaro, Mexico, to seek the right medical attention and school for their daughter. Mayor’s family has come from Panama, after the American invasion to remove the strongman Manuel Noriega. We follow the developing relationship of Mayor and Maribel as well as the voices of their parents and neighbors who struggle with survival, violence, and love.

In our workshop we will explore issues of point of view, the role of girls and women in immigrant communities, perceptions of ability and disability, the treatment of immigrants by the police, and current issues of immigration in the U.S. We will examine the relationship between immigration to the U.S. and the political and violent upheavals that have taken place in Latin American countries that are alluded to in the novel. Finally, we will create and perform a group poem using voices of various characters from the book.

Workshop Description for YAL 2015