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2013: Just Like Us: United We Dream


Our 2013 book selection was Just Like Us: The true story of four Mexican girls coming of age in America by Helen Thorpe. Thorpe’s book is a non-fiction account of how immigration status affects four Mexican teenage girls’ path to college and their opportunities to live the American dream. Just Like Us is a coming-of-age story about girlhood and friendship, as well as the resilience required to transcend poverty. It is also a book about identity—what it means to steal an identity, what it means to have a public identity, what it means to inherit an identity from parents.


Author Helen Thorpe kicked off Community Read Month with an appearance on March 4, 2013 at the Albright Auditorium. Helen Thorpe lives in Denver, Colorado. Her magazine stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, and 5280. Her radio stories have aired on This American Life and Soundprint. She currently serves on the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. Just Like Us is her first book.


Younger students in the district received copies of age-appropriate books that address themes similar to Just Like Us.


Students in grades K-2 received copy of The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. The Name Jar tells the story of Unhei, the new kid in school from Korea. Instead of introducing herself to her classmates, she tells them she will choose a name the following week from a glass jar where the class puts in their suggestions. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning.


Grades 3 and 4 received My Name Is María Isabel by Alma Flor Ada. For María Isabel Salazar López, the hardest thing about being the new girl in school is that the teacher doesn't call her by her real name. "We already have two Marías in this class," says her teacher. "Why don't we call you Mary instead?" But María Isabel has been named for her Papá's mother and for Chabela, her beloved Puerto Rican grandmother. Can she find a way to make her teacher see that if she loses her name, she's lost the most important part of herself?


Local author Cynthia DeFelice’s novel Under the Same Sky was given to students in grades 5-8. Joe Pedersen, 14, begrudgingly joins the migrant workers on his father's upstate New York farm to earn the $1000 he needs to buy a Thunderbird motorbike. Determined to show his father he can keep pace with Manuel, the 16-year-old crew boss, Joe painfully acclimates to the grueling routine of planting, hoeing, and weeding cabbages and picking strawberries. When immigration officials suddenly arrive at the farm, Joe discovers the fragile status of three workers who carry false papers in a desperate attempt to support their families back in Mexico. DeFelice will visit with students and discuss the book in late March.


"I enjoy the thrill of creating a character out of thin air, and of feeling that character come to life beneath my fingers on the computer keyboard," DeFelice says. "I try to write books that I would have loved to read when I was a child. It is extremely gratifying to hear from children who say that something I wrote touched them, made them laugh or cry, or think and feel something special."


Events & Programs


Wednesday, February 13: A panel discussion on the impact of immigration law on personal, business and community life will be the featured program at the Success for Geneva’s Children Membership Meeting, from 12:30-3:00 at the Presbyterian Church.


Sunday, February 24: Just Like Us will be the book discussed by the Library’s Busy Parents Book Club, which meets at the new KidVenture Dome on Exchange Street on the fourth Sunday of the month at 9:45 am. For more information about the Busy Parents Book Club, contact Beth Horn at


Thursday, February 28: Books ‘n Brunch from 11:00-2:00 at The College Store. Discounts on Just Like Us and other special offers, along with refreshments.


Thursday, February 28: Books ‘n Brunch from 11:00-2:00 at The College Store. Discounts on Just Like Us and other special offers, along with refreshments.


Thursday, February 28: The Name Jar will be the topic for activities and readings at West Street School’s PAWS Night, from 5:00-7:00 pm. The Name Jar will be read aloud in the library at 5:30 pm, followed by having the King family share their personal connection to the story. This includes sharing their Korean names and personal name stamps like the one shown in the book. After that students can do paper crafts with stamps and ink pads.


Monday, March 4: Author Helen Thorpe will speak at the HWS Albright Auditorium at 7:00 pm.


Tuesday, March 12: Marc Smith from the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station will present on “Labor Issues in Agriculture” in the Reading Room of the Geneva Public Library at 6:00 pm.


Thursday, March 21 and Friday, March 22, author Cynthia DeFelice will visit St. Francis - St. Stephen’s School, North Street School and the Geneva Middle School to talk about her book, Under the Same Sky, with students.


Saturday, March 23: The Name Jar Story Walk at the Geneva Public Library’s 4th Annual Basket Raffle. Take a walk through The Name Jar from 10:00-12:00 at the Basket Raffle. Baskets are on display now at the Library and tickets are on sale for $1 each or 6 for $5. When you purchase tickets on a Thursday, you get a free ticket! All proceeds benefit the Children’s department.


Tuesday, March 26: Just Like Us will be the book discussed at the Library’s Book Club, which meets at the Library on the fourth Tuesday of the month, from 6:30-8:00 pm. For more information on the Library’s Book Club, contact Susan Flick at


Wednesday, March 27: Book Discussion of Just Like Us with Jennifer Morris and Judith McKinney at noon in the Reading Room of the Geneva Public Library. This book raises many fascinating issues, especially as comprehensive immigration reform returns to the political agenda: what makes someone an "American"? how can we balance national security, economic performance and humane treatment of those who wish to come to the US? how should we deal with those who came to this country illegally at a very young age and know no other home? what is it like to be part of a family whose members are viewed differently by the legal system (citizen, legal resident alien, illegal immigrant)? Jennifer Morris is a librarian who worked at the Geneva Public Library, HWS library and recently retired from the position of Executive Director of Pioneer Library System. She is an avid reader and enjoys discussing books with anyone interested! Judith McKinney is Associate Professor of Economics at HWS and teaches a course on the Economics of Immigration. She has traveled extensively in South America and recently spent 3 months in Russia as a Fulbright Scholar. Free copies of Just Like Us will be given to the first five people who register for this program. Register on the Library’s website:

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