“Simplicity of language is a powerful counterpoint to the emotional complexity of the immigrants’ story, and classrooms of mixed reading abilities and/or second-language learners may find this an ideal vehicle.”
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
This isn’t supposed to happen in America. Inspired by actual events, this story starts ten years after the narrator’s family fled the fires of ethnic hatred in Kosova, Yugoslavia – long enough for the narrator to have transformed herself into a typical American schoolgirl. Her parents continue to feel like foreigners, and she grows impatient with what she perceives as their refusal to assimilate. Then an ugly incident in a nearby town changes everything, forcing each member of this refugee family to consider what being an American truly means.
Reader Engagement Project:
With the experience of assimilating refugees and resettling secondary migrants, the two small cities of Portland and Lewiston, Maine (where the book is set) are microcosms of America’s new immigration. The series of actual incidents in 2002-2003 that inspired the book, reflect the best and worst of a long-term community’s response to new immigration. Educators have created powerful connections for students by sharing the news articles and event materials from the period as well as clips from the documentary The Letter: An American Town & the “Somali Invasion” (Arab Films International).
View & Download articles (2002-2003) about the Somali community in Maine from the Portland Press Herald
View & Download materials from the Many & One Rally, a 2003 Lewiston rally in support of Maine’s “new arrivals”
View & Download a Something About America Study Guide created by Mary Clare O’Grady, Librarian Monroe Middle School (Wheaton, IL) in conjunction with the book being a One Book, One School selection
View & Download a Something About America Study Guide created by reading specialist Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
View & Download the engagement guide created for Something About America by I’m Your Neighbor for a city-wide read
Video Engagement Tool:
The documentary, “The Letter: An American Town & the “Somali Invasion” (Arab Films International) covers the same Maine incident that Maria Testa writes about in her novel, Something About America.
The film clips below open with comments from the hate group / Nazi group , The World Church of the Creator. This group scheduled a rally in Lewiston, Maine for January 11, 2003. They choose Lewiston because of a letter that Lewiston Mayor Raymond sent to the city’s Somali elders the previous October. That letter asked the elders to stop new immigrants from coming to Lewiston. Some found the letter embarrassingly ill-informed while many others found the letter openly racist. The World Church of the Creator thought the letter signaled that Maine would be a good recruiting ground for white supremacists.
Tensions in Lewiston grew in the lead up to January 11th. The city of Lewiston forced by free speech provisions to allow The World Church of the Creator, prepared in the best way they could. Those preparations involved anticipating riots and violence. January 11th would be the biggest police action in Maine’s history.
Churches, social groups and many others came together to hold a counter rally called the Many and One Rally which would be held across town to stand up against bigotry, stand up for peace and celebrate the community’s cultural diversity.
In the end on January 11th only 30 people showed up for the World Church of the Creator rally while across town over 3,000 people showed up to celebrate diversity and justice at the Many and One rally.
View & Download Clip 1 (.mp4)
Lewiston prepares for the The World Church of the Creator rally.
View & Download Clip 2 (.mp4)
Alternating between the two rally sites on January 11, 2003.
View & Download Clip 3 (.mp4)
Aftermath of the rallies and Lewiston’s thoughts about the future.
These clips are used by permission of filmmaker Ziad Hamzeh and Arab Films International and can be used only in association with studying the novel Something About America.
Public Children’s Librarians, Middle School and High School Librarians, Middle School and High School Educators
Children Grades 6-9, Grades 10-12
Based on the Book:
Something About America
By Maria Testa
Published by Candlewick Press
Ages 11 and up
Hardcover, ISBN 9781423152217
Paperback, ISBN 9780763634155