Two Great Books for ESL/EFL Reading Classes

Homeless Bird  by Gloria Whelan

This is a magnificent story of Koly, a young Indian girl. Her life changes dramatically after she is forced into an arranged marriage. Her dream world of comfort and love comes to an end when she is sent off to marry a sickly boy who soon dies and leaves her as a 13-year-old widow. While it would appear as though Koly’s only hopes for happiness are in the hands of her new family, she soon realizes that true happiness must come from within.  The book takes the reader on an emotional journey as Koly travels through India battling adversity in her search for happiness.

Although it is a story of a teenage girl, it is a story that can be enjoyed by both young women and young men. Anyone who reads this book will be moved by Koly and her determination.

Using this book in an ESL/EFL reading class is an excellent way to help students learn about Indian culture as well as acquire new English vocabulary. The writer uses very descriptive language to tell this beautiful story. In addition, the story helps to raise awareness of social issues and gender issues that are common in many countries around the world.

Another advantage of using this book with second language learners is that Gloria Whelan’s prose is rich with metaphors. This is important because metaphors and similes are common in daily conversation and in pop culture. Metaphors and similes are also the beginnings of understanding and formation of analogies in higher levels of communication. The ability to infer meaning from new metaphors takes practice and helps to build critical thinking skills that are essential for a language learner’s meta-linguistic analysis during the language acquisition process.

Children of the River by Linda Crew

This is a heart-warming story of Cambodian refugees living in America. Although the story is set in the backdrops of the Cambodian Civil War and conflicts in Southeast Asia that continued throughout the 1970s, the situation is very relevant to the refugee crises that are taking place in the world today.

It is a story that teaches the reader about cultural differences and the difficulties of living in a new culture. The story’s main character is a Cambodian girl, Sundara. She fled Cambodia with her aunt’s family to escape the Khmer Rouge army when she was thirteen, leaving behind her parents, her brother and sister, and the boy she had loved since she was a child. Four years later, in America, she is struggling to fit in at her high school while still trying to keep her Aunt’s expectations that she should be “a good Cambodian girl” at home. A good Cambodian girl never dates, so Sundara is told she must wait for her family to arrange her marriage to a Cambodian boy. Despite this, Sundara and an American boy begin to fall in love.  The power of love draws them to each other. However, Sundara cannot forget her family that she left behind in Cambodia.  It is that grief for her lost family and for the life left behind that makes Sundara want to be with the American boy, Jonathan. The closer she grows to Jonathan, the more she wonders if her hopes for happiness and new life in America are disloyal to her past and her people.

This is a wonderful story for all young people and especially those interested in learning about the challenges of living in a new culture.

Questions or Suggestions

If you have any questions about these books or about how to use them for teaching reading in the ESL/EFL classroom, please leave a comment. Also, let me know of any suggestions you many have!