Kyra Burton ‘95 was inspired by her English as a Second Language (ESL) students to write “America, Here I Come,” a book about siblings adjusting to living in America. As a second grader in South Florida, Burton was assigned to assist a new student who moved from Brazil and did not speak English.
Helping her classmate adjust to life in a new country thrilled Burton—and inspired her to aid other students. The one-time elementary school teacher recently authored a children’s book, “America, Here I Come.”
The self-published book tells the story of Anna, 8, and her brother Artem, 10, who worry about starting school and making new friends as they move from Ukraine to Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I have always just loved meeting people where they are in life, and trying to help them,” Burton said. “To me, it’s very rewarding.”
Burton, who majored in elementary education at UNC Charlotte, taught second grade at Albemarle Road Elementary School in Charlotte for four years. During the summer, she taught ESL courses.
The Durham native has written educational programming for television, and she now teaches ESL for CARTUS International in Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Stories her adult students shared about the challenges their children were having adjusting to their new home served as the basis for “America, Here I Come.”
“Kids that read the story gain confidence about how to make new friends,” Burton said of her book, “because the story does mirror their own feelings and experiences, and that’s exciting because they get to open up and share their own stories.”
Burton intends the book to be more than a story; it’s an educational tool for parents and teachers. At the suggestion of her ESL students, the book includes “fun facts” about the United States, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a handy “how to make friends” checklist. No. 1 is be yourself.
One of Burton’s students took the book to his school in Chapel Hill, and his teacher read it to his and another class. Afterward, this student reported his classmates were much nicer to him.
“When children feel that they’re in a safe and supportive environment, that’s when the most learning happens,” Burton said. “And the book kind of unlocks that for them. And it’s not only for kids that are new to the U.S. It’s actually helpful for all students to learn about this.”
Amy Good, an associate professor of Reading and Elementary Education in the Cato College of Education, called “America, Here I Come” a “quality children’s picture book that offers a springboard for discussing themes of immigration, empathy, change, appreciating others, differences and kindness.”
Good, a social studies methods instructor for future elementary school educators, plans to share the book with her students.
“It is amazing how such a simple story can help teachers and students to support one another's social and emotional learning, while meeting global perspective standards,” Good said. “The sensitive and personal topics related to this story require a warm classroom community created by a teacher who would choose to share a book like this one with children.”
Burton called “America, Here I Come” an uplifting story and noted that,“when students read it, they become instantly happier, which is what I love most. To me, the amazement factor of the book connects with the readers on an emotional cord, if they’ve gone through this.”
For every 10 books sold, Burton is donating copies to various schools and churches assisting immigrant families resettling in the United States, along with ESL and afterschool programs. The book is available on Amazon and in the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.
To learn more about Burton, visit her website.