“People who are forced to leave their homes and seek protection in a new country are called refugees. There are more than 300 million refugees in the world today. Most of them are women and children.” Meet Sangoel. When you read his name, how did you pronounce it?
My Name is Sangoel, written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed and illustrated by Catherine Stock, is about a young boy named Sangoel and his transition from a refugee camp to a home in the US with his mother and sister. When he leaves the Refugee camp the Wise One tells him that he “will always be a Dinka” and that he “will always be Sangoel”. Sangoel and his family then travel in the “sky boat” to get to America and when they get to the American airport they immediately find it overwhelming. They find the person housing them and they move into their new home.
When Sangoel starts school his teachers and the other people in the school have trouble pronouncing his name and so pronounce it incorrectly every time. Sangoel remembers the Wise One and is polite and corrects them under his breath.
Eventually Sangoel is signed up for a soccer team and gets a new shirt with his team name on it, “Dynamo”. He shows his sister his new shirt with the word spelled out and a soccer ball on it too. Then he gets an idea.
When Sangoel shoes up the next day at school he is wear a white shirt and on this front he has drawn on the shirt: My Name is “Sun” + “Goal”. Soon the other children join in and write their names out using pictures to help with the pronunciation.
Sangoel’s perseverance and creativity in helping others to pronounce his name demonstrates how in his culture names are important. They don’t just represent his identity but that of his family as well. Sangoel’s mother offers to give him an American name but Sangoel stays determined because his name is who he is.
What I found especially interesting about this book is the fact that I too made my own assumptions about how his name is pronounced and so I learned along with the children and teachers in Sangoel’s class, how to pronounce his name. This is a book that would be a good book to wake people up to our natural prejudices that go down to how we assume a name is pronounced. Our names are part of our identities so we should treat them with the same high level of respect that we treat the students in our classrooms.
One image that particularly stood out to me was this full-page spread that shows the American airport upon arrival. I felt immediately overwhelmed while looking at the large bright signs and I can image the amount of noise and people there. That image really spoke to me because that is often the first first-hand experience people have of the US and it is more overwhelming then welcoming.
Sangoel’s story is reflective of one of many stories of the many refugees who come to the US everyday. In children’s literature, a trend as of late has been to reflect the perspectives of the various people in the US to give children a window into the lives of others and to give children who might not otherwise see themselves reflected in literature, a mirror.
Read My Name is Sangoel to expose our biases both to your children and yourself and to serve as a conversation starter about the refugee experience and how we can improve our role in that experience.