picture books · slice of life · vocabulary development


Ari has been going through a mommy phase for the past week and a half. He calls my name what seems like 1,000 times a day. Over the weekend, we drove to a state park about 30 minutes from our home. I sat in the third row of the minivan, which meant (since he’s still rear-facing) Ari was looking at me for the entire drive. Despite being face to face, he kept saying “Mommy… Mommy… Mommy…” over and over. I’ll be honest, it was annoying.

Later in the day, I came across the image of a little girl, who looks a touch older than Ari, crying in a still photograph. She needs to be consoled, but that’s not happening. Like so many people, this photo shattered my heart since — unlike Ari who is going through a stage — she doesn’t feel secure. No one to hug her and promise her everything will be okay. Because it isn’t. None of this is okay. Separating innocent children from their parent(s) is cruel.

I had the privilege of spending Father’s Day with my parents, husband, and children. Not a moment went by without me realizing how lucky we were to be together.

After we returned home from celebrating Father’s Day at our favorite restaurant, I hopped on the elliptical for a 75-minute workout. I selected “Face the Nation” from my DVR recordings. I found myself feeling ill with every passing moment the Southern border parental separation issue was covered. By the end of “Face the Nation,” I turned on an episode of “The Daily Show” I missed last week just to keep myself from being nauseated.

When I got off of the elliptical, I marched myself down to my home office and opened an old picture book manuscript, WAITING FOR PAPI, that I shopped around to agents throughout 2015 and 2016. WAITING FOR PAPI offered a glimpse into the lives of undocumented children in American society. I wrote it after teaching in a community where some of the students’ fathers were placed in a detention center because they were undocumented. One of the girls (whose father was detained) was supposed to be in my fourth-grade class the following school year. However, she and her family were deported to their native country since her parents were in the United States illegally. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to remove her desk from the classroom when I set up my classroom. I kept the desk to remind me of the unease families without papers feel. These folks live in constant fear of deportation.

The desk stayed in the corner of my classroom. It served as a promise to one day tell her story. However, WAITING FOR PAPI received more rejections than I could count. The personalized rejections stated the subject matter was too mature for young children. (I tried revising as a middle-grade novel, but it wasn’t the form I envisioned for this book.) One agent even told me that no parent would ever buy a book about families being separated. As a result, I stopped trying to convince literary agents how American parents needed this story to help their children understand the lives of others who are not in this country without the necessary papers to live freely and comfortably.

But that was in 2015 and 2016. Unfortunately, in 2018, the separation of families along our Southern border has become a reality. Unlike many Americans, I’m not shocked that “this is what our country has become.” I saw what was happening in the community where I taught in 2008. I hate to say it, but what’s happening doesn’t shock me.

I began a new document after I finished reading the old manuscript, which — by mid-2016 — was a watered-down version of the story I wanted to tell. I don’t have a law degree so I can’t provide legal assistance to families in need. I don’t live close enough to the Southern Border to do anything concrete. But what I can do is revisit the story of the girl whose desk remained empty in my classroom during the 2008-09 school year. Her story deserves to be told. Once the manuscript is finished, I’ll summon the courage to query it. It is my hope to find an agent  (and a publisher) who believes this story is worthy of being told in a 32-page picture book. Not only do this country’s youngest citizens need a window into the lives of undocumented children, but undocumented children deserve mirror books.

This story has been percolating inside of me for a decade. By the time it ever goes public, Ari will be long past this mommy stage. So for now, I’ll keep writing and will enjoy being adored by my son. I will not allow myself to wish away what many other parents yearn for.


Dahlia Lithwick and Margo Schlanger of Slate compiled an excellent list of ways everyday people can help fight separation at the Southern border. Click here to read it now.

slice of life_individual
Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.

28 thoughts on “Undocumented

  1. I can feel your passion, Stacy. Just keep plugging away on submitting your story and remember that each “no” gets you closer to your “yes”.

  2. I am heartbroken over these times, too, Stacey. I suspect Ari is in love with your name and his marvelous ability at saying it. Thanks for sharing your feelings. So many share them, and are trying to tell the “powers” that we want this horrible policy to change. Thanks for the list, too. And, your manuscript sounds so good for today!

  3. It sounds like a no-brainer at this stage of the game for you to write and publish this book. And I predict it will be highly successful. Elementary school kids learn about these things but are not sure what to make of them. You can help them to better understand.

  4. I’m obsessed w/ what’s happening on the boarder, too. I lived in Yuma, AZ for six years and began my teaching career there w/ five classes of migrant students.

    Are you familiar w/ the Countable app? It’s a good way to stay informed and communicate w/ your Congressional delegation.

    As you revise, consider adding a reference page at the end. I find picture books that include resources and commentary in research and process useful in high school English classes.

  5. I’m waiting… ready when you are… It’s a story that needs to be told, and I think that the exchange between Matt de la Pena and Kate DiCamillo will help you with the content matter and its acceptability.

  6. Yes! This book needs to be in our hands. I am hoping that a publisher will open their eyes and heart to take your work to see to fruition.
    Thank you for the resources. I am certain to be checking the list out today.

  7. Parents may not gravitate towards this book….but librarians, and teachers would. Please tell this story.

  8. Thank you so much for taking this on and putting the topic in our paths. We may have the luxury and/or privilege to look away and busy ourselves with our day-to-day topics but continuing to confront the cruelty in whatever ways we can is so vital to keeping our humanity. A few months ago we worried about the future of our democracy, now we have cause to be concerned with the shrinking of our humanity. Telling the stories of the undocumented and detained is critical work.

    1. “A few months ago we worried about the future of our democracy, now we have cause to be concerned with the shrinking of our humanity.” You put that so eloquently.
      It is my hope that we’ll be in a better place a few months from NOW.

  9. Thank you for taking that picture book manuscript out and giving it another go. . .We need that story.

    The news is making me nauseated, and I’m trying to figure out what I can do other than make phone calls. Thanks for the list/link — off to check that out!

  10. Oh my, this post tears at my heart on so many levels. I too have had students whose documents have not been in order and students who have disappeared in the dark of night to never be heard from again. Each of their stories stays in my heart. I too have written a short story about a classmate who does not come to school anymore and the thoughts of students in the class – that was never published! I hope the time is right now – to tell the story of those children. Meanwhile, I will pray that the separation of children from parents will end ASAP!

  11. Oh! How I wish we were in a society where this story would never sell because there would be no story to tell. Given where we actually are, I am so grateful that you are there to tell the story. May it sell. May we all be able to read it to our children and our students so that we can grow our humanity. My heart goes with you as you revise and put this book out there again.

  12. Your words and these stories are so important. They are important now, and they were important then. Their importance will shape our future, and I thank you for fighting to get them out there. ❤️

  13. Oh, Stacey, I hope you find a publisher who sees the importance of this. (I am constantly angered by stories of people who believe topics like this are “too mature” for kids… when there are KIDS LIVING THESE STORIES!) I haven’t even been able to listen to the audio clip… I don’t think I can handle it. I really wish I could find a way to get my students’ stories to a “real” audience (other than our class blog), but it seems so daunting. The world needs to hear these stories though.

  14. I missed this slice when you wrote it last week, but I’m so glad I found it now. I didn’t know that you had written this manuscript, and I hope you keep sending it out there and eventually find a publisher. PLEASE PLEASE keep going with it. I have to think that maybe, just maybe, some of those editors would see the story with different eyes now.

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