'Adriana's Angels' shines light on refugees, diversity in children's books

Wednesday, 15 November 2017, 06:03:15 AM. Rogers Park resident Ruth Goring's first children's book took silver in the Spanish book category of the Moonbeam Awards this year. The author shares her story about writing a book focused on refugees and the displaced.

Author Ruth Goring considers herself a “third-culture kid” — a child who spent most of her formative years living abroad. A native of Kansas City, Kan., Goring considered Colombia her home for most of her upbringing, thanks to being a part of a missionary family.

“My family took us to Colombia when I was 6 years old,” Goring said in a phone interview. “My parents were Plymouth Brethren; they lived on this model of living by faith, a model based on George Mueller, a British man who opened orphanages. They worked mostly in education, as well as serving the church, and we just grew up among Colombian friends.”

The earlier years were spent in the more remote south of the country, in Pasto and Puerto Asis, but when Goring was 12, the family moved to Medellin. Goring, a University of Chicago Press editor, recalls that time of her life as a precious, priceless experience, when she was able to “grow up between two cultures.”

Goring has brought that experience to the page before in books of poetry, but now she is telling Colombian stories through her first children’s book, “Adriana’s Angels.” (The Spanish version of the book recently took silver in the Spanish book category of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards.)

The book tells the story of a child who flees her Colombian home with her family to start a new life in Chicago. The book depicts the transition of the young refugee amid ordinary moments of youth and a new world of unknowns, with angels Milagros and Alegria surreptitiously watching over her. Goring wrote it with hopes of helping American children empathize with and accept the increasing immigrant population.

“Are we teaching our children to fear those who look and sound different from them?” she asks. “Or will we encourage their innate empathy? I hope Adriana's story fosters friendly curiosity and identification with refugees.”

Goring recalls having the story idea over 20 years ago — the impetus from a friendship with a family whose little girl had a narrow escape — but it wasn’t until she became involved with the Colombian community in Chicago, meeting several families and individuals who had to seek political asylum here that “Adriana’s Angels” came together.

“It comes from experience of real families and my experience of just getting to know these families and what they’ve been through in the past,” she said. “I now live in Rogers Park, which is a traditional place for refugee folks to be resettled. It’s part of my daily life to be around people who have had to leave their homes.”

Goring took copies of “Adriana’s Angels” when she visited Colombia this summer, giving the Spanish version of the book to people who work with families that have been displaced, people who have had to leave their homes because of threats of violence or actual violence within the country (internally displaced). “That number continues to grow in Colombia,” she said. “So those problems are still ongoing.”

“The folks that are sharing the books with these families are telling me that the children are very responsive and it means so much to the parents because they feel like they’re not invisible — that they’re being seen internationally,” Goring said.

The story also adds to the diversity of the lexicon that is children’s literature — which is lacking, according to Goring. As a member of the , she is on board with helping to make the children’s book world more inclusive.

“Here, in the United States, there’s still a huge need for stories where children of color can see themselves represented,” Goring said, adding that the same holds true for young people in Colombia. “There’s a lot of racism there too. The children really love seeing themselves represented, and for the parents, that means a lot to them. Children are not going to get that diverse experience unless we help them to get it. It’s something of a mission of mine in being involved with children’s books to encourage that diversity for the sake of all of our children. I really do think that it will diminish some of the unconscious white racism, if children are growing up within diversity and just find it normal.”

Goring mentioned she already has another story brewing about Adriana. But, in the meantime, she’s hoping to encourage to tell and write their stories based on their own experiences.

“That’s the kind of thing we need. ... There is so much healing in it for them, and there’s so much learning for the rest of us.”

drockett@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @DarcelTribune

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