Many of our ancestors came to new lands not knowing the language of their new country. I’m sure they felt out of place to begin with, but not being able to navigate their new home through the spoken or written word must have been incredibly hard. New immigrants and refugees, like many of our ancestors, struggle with the same thing today.
Ellie and I found a children’s book that illustrates this struggle in a way children who have never experienced it can understand. My Two Blankets, written by Irena Kobald, and illustrated by Freya Blackwood, describes a friendship between two girls, that is based on one of Irena’s daughter’s friendships. It is told from the point of view of a refugee fleeing her country due to war, and a girl who befriends her in her new country.
The beginning of the book shows the new girl, who is called Cartwheel by her auntie, in her old home before the war. After the war came, she was no longer called Cartwheel by her auntie - the hard times had begun. Cartwheel and her auntie were able to flee their home to come to a new country to safety. But Cartwheel felt out of place – “strange.” And she didn’t feel like herself here.
Cartwheel describes the new sounds of the strange language in this new country with images. She feels like she’s under a “cold waterfall” when she hears it spoken. It shows no written words here, only shapes and figures falling on Cartwheel. She doesn’t understand any of it.
But her old language – the old words and sounds – they are like a warm blanket to her. It shows her curled up under her blanket of familiar sounds and images of her old home. She wants to stay there forever.
Then one day she meets a new girl. The new girl waves, and smiles. But Cartwheel doesn’t know what to do. Later, she comes to know her. The new girl plays with her – the universal language of children – and she teaches her new words. Cartwheel slowly begins to weave a new “blanket.”
“What does the new blanket represent?” I asked Ellie. She knew – Cartwheel is learning a new language.
Now when Ellie spends time with her friends, many of them immigrants and refugees learning English for the first time, she knows she is helping them weave a new blanket. And of course, they play together – the universal language of children.
To read My Two Blankets, click the button to purchase to read aloud to your children. This book not only helps native speakers understand what non-native speakers go through, I imagine it would help new language learners feel more at home. Like a warm blanket.
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