I'm New Here

I'm New Here

  • 1695

By: Anne Sibley O'Brien

It can be scary being new in school.

Maria, Jin, and Fatimah are new to their American elementary school. The words that they hear around them and see on the page are confusing. They each long for the language that they understand and the friends who understand them back home. They feel as though they don’t fit in—they are alone, confused, and sad in their new school.

After observing those around them, each new student slowly gains the confidence to interact with their new surroundings. They realize that their peers and teachers are very supportive, welcoming, and excited to learn what Maria, Jin, and Fatimah have to share.

Though Maria, Jin, and Fatimah come from different cultures, they soon find that they share many similarities with students in their new American school. Likewise, their peers have the chance to learn about different cultures and languages and that friendship has many faces.

The use of expressive illustrations, and a succinct main text paired with speech bubbles conveys the feelings of fear and apprehension experienced for immigrant children assimilating to a new place.


Anne Sibley O'Brien discusses the experience of being new and I'm New Here:


Children talk about their own experiences:


Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Anne Sibley O'Brien, author & illustrator

Anne Sibley O'Brien knew she wanted to be an artist by the time she was seven. She was raised bilingual and bicultural, living in the cities of Seoul and Taegu, and on the island of Kojedo. Returning to the US at age 19, Annie attended Mount Holyoke College where she majored in studio art. She spent her junior year back in Korea at Ewha Women's University in Seoul, where she studied Korean arts, including oriental painting. During college, she decided that she wanted to pursue a career in children's book illustration. She has illustrated more than twenty-five picture books, including After Gandhi, A Path of Stars, and the Jamaica books by Juanita Havill (Houghton Mifflin) and the Talking Walls books by Margy Burns Knight (Tilsbury). Anne lives on Peaks Island in Maine.

Read more about Anne.

Awards & Honors:

  • Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year 2016
  • 2016-2017 Chickadee Award nominee
  • NCSS 2016 Notable Social Studies Trade Books list

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Readers walk in the shoes of three students struggling after immigrating to the United States.

Readers meet Maria, from Guatemala, Jin, a South Korean boy, and Fatimah, a Somali girl who wears the hijab. O'Brien fosters empathy by portraying only one challenge each must overcome rather than overwhelming readers with many. Maria struggles with the language. Though back home, "Our voices flowed like water and flew between us like birds," the sounds of English elude her. Clever, phonetically spelled dialogue balloons bring home to readers how foreign English sounds to Maria. For Jin, writing is the trouble; the scribbles of American letters close the door to the wonderful world of stories. Fatimah's challenge is abstract: she cannot find her place in this new classroom. Gradually, each child begins to bridge the gap—soccer, stories and shared words, artwork—and feel like part of a community. O'Brien's watercolor-and-digital illustrations masterfully use perspective, white space, and the contrast between the children "back home" and in their new settings to highlight the transition from outsider to friend. Other diverse students fill the classrooms, including a child in a wheelchair. An author's note tells O'Brien's own immigrant story, how difficult the transition is, the reasons families might emigrate, and how readers might help.

Whether readers are new themselves or meeting those who are new, there are lessons to be learned here about perseverance, bravery, and inclusion, and O'Brien's lessons are heartfelt and poetically rendered.

The New York Times Book Review

In Anne Sibley O’Brien’s I’m New Here, three simultaneous story lines show the efforts of immigrant children named Maria, Jin and Fatimah to fit into their new schools. Their common obstacle is the language they cannot understand. Readers are placed squarely into the characters’ points of view from the first page, with the children’s bewilderment expressed graphically through words emanating from invisible speakers in disembodied comics-style speech balloons, or through oddly spelled English words that the native children utter at recess: “Hedz Up,” “Mai Tern,” “Kum Awn.” Eventually, our newcomers draw on their strengths — Maria excels at soccer, Jin makes comic books, Fatimah is a good artist — to overcome the language barrier and make friends. The stories are all quite simple, but Sibley’s illustrations do a good job of conveying the wall of words a child immigrant must scale in order to fit in.

School Library Journal

Being the new student in a classroom is difficult enough, but when the child comes from another culture and speaks a different language, it can be extremely stressful and lonely. Three youngsters enter a new school—Maria from Guatemala, Jin from Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia—and each one experiences the feeling of not fitting in. They slowly learn to find ways to assimilate and, in fact, to shine as their inclusion in the classroom enriches the lives of the other children. Maria asks to join a group playing soccer, Jin teaches a fellow student some words written in Korean, and Fatimah gains enough confidence to share her artwork with the group. Brightly hued watercolors on stark white backgrounds show the children’s adjustment to the new situation and their classmates’ ready acceptance. “A Note from the Author” page includes a list of recommended readings on the same subject. VERDICT The title would be useful in sparking a discussion, and the simple text makes it a good choice for beginning readers.

Shelf Awareness

This well-conceived, thoughtful picture book traces the first day at a new school for three children with very different experiences of adjusting, linguistically and culturally.

"Back home I knew the language," says Maria, remembering her days of playing fútbol (American soccer) with her friends. "Here there are new words. I can't understand them." Anne Sibley O'Brien (The Legend of Hong Kil Dong) shows Maria on the sidelines of her new school hearing alien sounds while watching others play ("wun too"; "Mai tern," say the thought balloons).

Jin is confronted with an entirely new alphabet: "Back home I could read and write," he says. "I shaped the letters and stacked them like blocks into words." As with Maria's example, Sibley O'Brien depicts Jin's experience in his homeland (Korea) on the left, and the scene in his new school on the right, with letters that "lie on the page like scribbles and scratches." Fatimah, wearing a hijab, says, "Here there are new ways.... I cannot find my place." But when her teacher asks the students to make drawings of life in their community, Fatimah volunteers to show her picture and connects with a classmate. Jin also makes a friend, and Maria finds her way through soccer.

Because Sibley O'Brien spotlights three examples, no child will feel singled out. She paves the way for teachers and parents to share this with children both as a way of preparing a new student, and as a way to welcome a classmate who may share this trio's predicament.

Discover: An ideal conversation-starter for children in a new school or about to welcome a new classmate.


Based on her own experiences living in another country as a young child, Sibley shows the challenges of three new American students as they navigate their first day of school. Maria, from Guatemala, struggles with English, but her love of soccer enables her to make new friends. Writing is difficult for Jin, from South Korea, but he finds that sharing his language with another student helps him unlock his stories. Meanwhile, Fatimah, from Somalia, is having trouble fitting in and is afraid of making mistakes. Encouraged by a classmate, she uses drawing as a way to connect her two cultures. The simplicity of the narrative combined with vibrant watercolor artwork depicting a wide range of diversity results in a powerful message of empathy for the immigrant experience. Additionally, an author's note explains why some families emigrate and how readers can help new Americans transition and provides a link to the I'm Your Neighbor project, which promotes children's literature featuring new arrivals.


Three new students from Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia are introduced to their ethnically diverse classmates in the U.S. by saying "I am new here." The brief story (with a few dialogue balloons) describes their struggles learning English, but each child has a talent (such as drawing) that helps in bridging the gap. Although the objective of the story is purposeful, it will be relevant in many classrooms and would make a useful read-aloud on the first day of school. The deeply saturated watercolor artwork on white backgrounds elaborates on the text, showing what each child is thinking and adding details. For example, one classmate uses a wheelchair. An author's note is included that teachers and parents may find helpful in answering questions. Overall, this is a solid story on language differences and their effect on children's classroom experiences.


ISBN: 978-1-58089-612-2

ISBN: 978-1-58089-613-9

ISBN: 978-1-60734-776-7 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-775-0 PDF
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 5-8
Page count: 32
8 1/2 x 9 1/2

Correlated to Common Core State Standards:
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Literature. Grade 1. Standards 1-4, 6, 7, 10
English Language Arts-Literacy. Reading Literature. Grade 2. Standards 1, 3, 5, 7, 10

If you like this book, you’ll enjoy these:
The Ugly Vegetables
Uncle Rain Cloud
While You Are Sleeping