Maria Hinojosa’s Once I Was You, other books to empower young readers
Writing a book for young readers was a daunting achievement for Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa, known for her reporting on deportation, immigration detention and other social justice issues. Still, she saw writing Once I Was You: Finding My Voice and Passing the Mic (Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, pp. 272, available now) as an opportunity to empower future generations.
“Kids today are witnessing the Jan. 6 committee hearing, they’re processing the fact that there was an attempted coup,” Hinojosa told USA TODAY. “They know what it means (to them) that there was a riot on Capitol Hill, that democracy is in jeopardy, that George Floyd was murdered.”
Using her 10-year-old self helped Hinojosa write the memoir adaptation for younger readers. “I would put myself in the role, I would go for long walks. I would just create this voice of 10-year-old Maria to tell these stories to another 10-year-old,” says Emmy Award-winner Hinojosa.
Hinojosa’s original book, written for adults and published in September 2020, was a contemporary look at America’s history ahead of this year’s presidential election.
In the children’s version, Hinojosa guides future generations to trusting your wildest dreams to come true, emphasizing the importance of finding your voice and believing it can make a difference when you are young, and weaves in stories from her life. starting with her family’s immigrant roots.
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The book begins with a story in which Hinojosa encounters a young Guatemalan girl who was being transported from a detention center by immigration officers and cites her as one of her reasons for writing the book. “I want that little girl … to read and see herself and feel empowered,” says Hinojosa.
As daunting as it may have felt, writing for younger readers is not new territory for Hinojosa.
In 1995, she wrote her first book, Crews: Gang Members Talk to Maria Hinojosa, for middle school students. Adapted from Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds’ Stamped, Hinojosa’s new version of her memoir is filled with moving and informative material for young people to put into practice as they learn and explore what social justice and community mean to them.
She feels a responsibility to “be there for young Latinos and Latinas in all caps, immigrants and refugees in all caps, because the book is about those of us who are ‘the other,'” says the Chicago native. “It’s also just a book about trusting your own voice and stories as a little kid and finding your strength and hopefully inspiring some to become journalists.”
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Here are 6 more books that break down complex issues for kids.
“Stamped: racism, anti-racism and you”
By Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi
Intended for readers aged 12+, Stamped is a reinterpretation of Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning, which pulls back the curtain on racism in America and inspires readers to work towards an anti-racist future. Now middle school students and beyond can learn in an accessible way what some history books don’t teach — how slavery in the US morphed into the systemic racism we know today.
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“We’re in this together”
By Linda Sarsur
activistSarsours The memoir We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders, which was released in 2021, will also be adapted for children this November. The intermediate edition takes readers on a journey of how she became the activist she is today and how pivotal moments in her life led to her becoming a co-organizer of one of the largest one-day protests in U.S. history, the 2017 Women’s March .
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“Someone Like Me: How an Undocumented Girl Fought for Her American Dream”
By Julissa Arce
Author, speaker, and immigration rights advocate Arce penned this 2019 memoir to highlight her experience growing up undocumented and how isolating it was. Arce was born in Taxco, Mexico and by the age of 11 was traveling to and from San Antonio, Texas and her grandmother’s home in Mexico while her parents worked in the United States to establish lasting roots. For some time, Arce kept their undocumented status a secret. Against the odds, she later became a fellow and an honorary college graduate, rising through the ranks to become a vice president at Goldman Sachs.
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“Walking Gentry Home”
By Alora Young
The Youth Poet Laureate from the southern United States tells the story of her ancestors and gives a voice to black girls and women who have often been oppressed and silenced in American history. Young’s verse-written memoir unravels the lives of black girls and women, generational curses, coming-of-age experiences, and the pervasive legacy of slavery in the US psyche.
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“Dear America: The Story of an Undocumented Citizen”
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Vargas penned his memoir Dear America in 2018, and two years later he rewrote his story for young readers and asked hard-hitting questions: How do we define who is an American? How do we decide who becomes a citizen? What happens to undocumented travelers entering the US? The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker writes about how he came to the US from the Philippines when he was just 12 to live with his grandparents and found out he wasn’t a citizen when he was 16 trying to get one to apply for a driver’s license and, as for almost two decades, he tried to keep his immigration status a secret.
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“My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Homeland, Loss and Hope”
By Diane Guerrero and Erica Moroz
Orange Is the New Black actress Guerrero opened up about being separated from her family at a young age in her 2017 memoir, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided. Guerrero then co-wrote a children’s version of her memoir with Moroz in 2018, in which she spoke about the traumatic day when her parents were imprisoned and deported while she was at school. Guerrero writes that he witnessed firsthand the horrors of the US immigration system when he was young.
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