My Name is Sangoel
With his mother and little sister, Sangoel takes a "flying boat" to be resettled in the U.S., where everyone has trouble pronouncing his name. He comes up with an ingenious way to keep his name and identity while belonging to a new community.
The book's flyleaf suggests that it be read with children ages 7 to 10. I believe 5- and 6-year-olds may enjoy this, but parents will want to read it themselves first. First, there is a twist to the story and you will want to know how to correctly pronounce Sangoel (SUN-GOAL) and intentionally mispronounce it at other times. Second, a couple of sentences are difficult for very young children to understand. For example, Sangoel's father was killed in Sudan's long-running civil war and the wise elder from the camp can't be resettled because he is too old to work ("No country wanted one who was too old to work").
I read it to my 5-year-old son while my 3-year-old played with toys and occasionally helped us look for Sangoel or his family in illustrator Catherine Stock's appealing watercolor depictions. My 5-year-old had been asking me lately about war and soldiers, curious about why people from the U.S. and other places fought in wars. He had asked questions such as: "Are wars because we need to fight bad guys?" and "Do lots of people die in wars?" So I thought it might be good to have him read with me this story about a boy who had been deeply affected by war.
My son was interested and engaged throughout the story. He tried several times to peek ahead before I was done reading the last sentence or two on a page. The story made him wonder about what might be funny, surprising or scary for Sangoel and his family, who came from a place without escalators, elevators, traffic signals, flashing billboards, etc. When Sangoel's family practiced using a telephone, my son wondered what numbers they might be learning to call. He brought up numbers that he, too, is learning to dial. I think he spent as much time sharing his reactions to events in the book as I spent reading the actual words.
I highly recommend My Name is Sangoel, which is far from the usual fare in children's books and provided a glimpse into a different culture and experience for my child and me.
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