Multilingual students publish short story collection “Rising from Our Roots”

Waipahu High School’s English Learner program celebrated the launch of “Rising From Our Roots,” a published collection of stories written by multilingual students, at our library on Feb. 22. 

The book is made up of two parts. “Our Roots” contains adapted folktales and fables from the students’ home countries, while “Branching Out” features students’ personal accounts of adjusting to life in Hawaii after immigrating from the Philippines, the Marshall Islands, Chuuk, Samoa, and Tonga. The stories are written in English and include some translations from the students’ first languages. 

English Learner Program Coordinator Jeremiah Brown explains, “There are a lot of stories in the book that are side-by-side: English on one side and another language on the other.” 

“Rising From Our Roots” is unique because “There are early reader kids’ books out there that are bilingual, but this is something a bit longer that is more suitable for middle school or high school […] There’s an audience out there for these kinds of bilingual stories,” Brown says. The book also gives multilingual writers and readers “the feeling of empowerment, that their voices are valued, and that they are able to share their stories in multiple languages and be celebrated in honor of that.”

Sophomore Stephanie Menor says that the publication of the book “feels so amazing.” Menor wrote the story “Loneliness with Happiness” about her experience moving to Hawaii and leaving her parents behind in the Philippines.

While Menor says the editing process was challenging and reading her story to students at other schools was initially nerve-wracking, “I’m so blessed that I get to share my story with others and my experiences of moving to a new place.”

Bringing the book to life was a year-long journey made possible with the support of the Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant and publisher Bess Press. Waipahu High School teachers Chloe Maeshiro, Lori Murakami, Jiamin Ruan, Jennifer Sagucio, and Yvonne Calvan led students in collaborating and revising multiple drafts, while Leeward District Bilingual School-Home Assistants shared folktales, myths, and legends from their home countries. 

The students were also inspired through visits from local authors Lee Cataluna, Michelle Cruz Skinner, Patsy Iwasaki, Keao NeSmith, and Lee Tonouchi, as well as artist Solomon Enos. Cataluna attended the book launch event as the keynote speaker.

Bilingual author Elizabeth Jiménez Salinas also provided professional development for the teachers, contributed to the revision process, and provided insights on publishing.

The students have already read stories from “Rising from Our Roots” at various elementary and intermediate schools. English teacher Jennifer Sagucio says that “seeing the confidence that students have as authors and illustrators, and seeing some of my most shy students go and present to elementary [and intermediate] students,” has been one of the most impactful aspects of the book’s publication for her. Sagucio admires the “confidence and professionalism they have with the younger students that are going to be following in their footsteps,” and adds, “I get teary to see them, speaking in their home language, being so empowered.” 

Readers can learn more about “Rising From Our Roots” on their website, or email [email protected] to order a copy. 100% of the purchase price will go toward a scholarship fund for English learner students.