Narratives & Literature

Using Narratives and Literature in the Classroom

Both narratives and literature often function as stories for students.  The stories found in narratives and literature can engage students in learning in ways that no other teaching strategy can.

  • Stories can bring students into a lesson in ways that textbooks can’t.
  • Stories ask students to actually think about the experience (s) they represent and what they see, hear and feel in that experience.
  • Stories are often more approachable than text book reading for students.

In the case of teaching about the border, stories provide a way for your students to relate to the myriad issues connected to understanding the nature of the border, what it represents, and how it has impacted and continues to impact the daily lives of so many people.  In this way they serve a dual purpose.  First, narratives and literature provide a way for students who have no personal experience with the border to understand what it means for those whose lives are forever impacted by it.  Second, they are a means of using the curriculum to affirm or represent the experiences of those students who are all to familiar with the border.

Suggested Resources for Online Narratives

Space Between: A beginning journey into border crossing through literature

This is a section of the blog Worlds of Words. The blog provides resources for building bridges between cultures. These resources include strategies for locating and evaluating culturally authentic international children’s and adolescent literature as well as ways of engaging students with these books in classrooms and libraries.The specific section linked above focuses on bilingual education, literacy and how we help our students navigate ‘border crossing’.

Rostros y rastros

“This book compiles interviews to migrant workers in the U.S. Interviews are never enough to learn about this subject. Each case has its pecularities. Interviews are the voices of those who do not have documents.  Interviews have two main themes: braceros and undocumented migrants, and female migration and medium class migrants.”

El norte es como el mar

“‘The North is like the sea’ – a worker’s expression summing up his migration experience, his failed tries to cross the U.S.-Mexico borde in more than thirty occations, and his deportation.  This book [free online resource] compiles thirteen interviews to Mexican migrants as live testimonies of experiences, adventures, and deception of thousand of workers looking for a job beyond the border. The life histories compiled in this book, account various migration phases: separation, arriving to the border, undocumented crossing, labor market, daily life, return home, or their permanent stay.”

Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez

Produced by PBS, this narrative recounts the story of the mistaken killing of 17 year old Hernandez. He became the first American killed by U.S. military forces on native soil since the 1970 Kent State shootings.  There are also lesson plans to support teaching about his story, and lesson plans to explore the use of the military at the U.S.-Mexico border.

New Americans on PBS

Follow a diverse group of immigrants and refugees as they leave their home and families behind and learn what it means to be new Americans in the 21st century.  The series focuses on immigrants from around the globe, but two of the stories are specific to Latin America.  First, the story of the Mexican Laborer, as represented by the Flores Family.  Second, the story of Dominican Baseball Players, as represented by Ricardo Rodriguez and José Garcia.  There is also educator-specific information and a teachers guide for “The New Americans.”

Suggested Literature Resources

Américas Award

“The Américas Award is given in recognition of U.S. works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) published in the previous year in English or Spanish that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. By combining both and linking the Americas, the award reaches beyond geographic borders, as well as multicultural-international boundaries, focusing instead upon cultural heritages within the hemisphere.”

First Crossing

First Crossing, a collection of ten first-person narratives, tells the stories of teenage immigrants to the United States. While the stories in this collection cover diverse immigration experiences, each story deals with the challenges that are unique to adolescents arriving in a new country. The stories, though fiction, deal with the difficult realities many immigrant teenagers face- realities such as self-doubt, social and linguistic isolation, racism, and family conflict. The reading level and subject matter of this book make it suitable for middle school and high school students.

  • Hampton-Brown has created a set of lesson plans to accompany their textbook excerpt that includes Pam Munoz Ryan’s chapter on crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Reading as a Collaborative Act: Crossing Borders with Pam Muñoz Ryan. Taken from the Worlds of Words blog, this resource describes the ways in which Ryan’s work can be used to discuss issues of immigration, global citizenship and border crossing

Pura Belpré Award

“The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.”

Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award

“Texas State University College of Education developed the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience. The award was established in 1995 and was named in honor of Dr. Tomás Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University.  This award will be given annually to the author/illustrator of the most distinguished book for children and young adults that authentically reflects the lives and experiences of Mexican Americans in the United States.”

Vamos a Leer: Teaching Latin America Through Literature/Literacy

A teacher-oriented blog published by the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute.  It provides “discussions and resources that explore how to use literature to teach about Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latinos in the United States.”


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