The generosity of a Maine author will allow more schools and libraries in Maine and across the country to participate in a reading program that welcomes immigrants to their new communities.

Phillip Hoose, whose 13 books include the National Book Award-winning “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,” has donated $15,000 to I’m Your Neighbor Books, a Portland-based nonprofit that uses children’s books and stories to welcome immigrants to the United States. The organization’s “Welcoming Libraries” are traveling collections of books that celebrate the diverse stories of modern immigrants and new Americans.

“As world citizens living within the biggest refugee crisis in history, how do we humanize 82.4 million forcibly displaced persons?” said Kirsten Cappy, executive director of I’m Your Neighbor Books. “How do we make sure that new arrivals like the Afghans and their subsequent generations feel as if they truly belong in this country? We tell stories.”

Cappy said the $15,000 gift will help cover the costs of shipping the Welcoming Libraries to schools and libraries around the country, which in turn will share the books with community groups interested in welcoming immigrants. The project currently loans collections of children’s books and discussion materials through 36 school and library districts in the United States and Canada.

“A good story transforms our sense of ourselves and others,” Hoose said in statement. “This organization uses books to invite immigrants to see their communities beautifully depicted on the page and also to introduce long-term citizens to new American families. I love how this nonprofit is making us all neighbors.”

South Portland Mayor Deqa Dhalac, herself an immigrant, said Welcoming Libraries should be in every school in Maine.

“It needs to be in schools that have children of color and who do not have students of color. The children in these books live in our cities and if you do not know them, you will meet them in books such as this,” Dhalac said.

Michelle Amato, curriculum coordinator for Portland Public Schools, said the books invite students to better understand the perspectives of other people and to empathize with those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

“The Welcoming Library collection of books migrates, much like the immigrant children it depicts and includes,” Amato said. “When it arrived at our school, it gave our educators new tools to raise awareness about our immigrant, refugee and new American families.”

“(Hoose’s) donation came as a shock. He’s an incredibly generous writer,” Cappy said. “He has seen the power of books and he knows how powerful they can be. We are serving the most powerful change makers in the work, which are kids.”

Any educator or librarian in the country will be able to borrow a Welcoming Library by the fall of 2022, Cappy said.


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