Book Reviews

Amazon Customer: Great Read for ESL Teachers or anyone interested in immigrant children
Reviewed in the United States on July 6, 2021

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Lucky me. I loved it. Here’s why.

1) What I liked best about this book is that while the stories are told from the point of view of the teacher, they are all about the students. I think Ann Smith did a brilliant job of conveying just how opaque the lives of language learners can be to the people who work with them in those early stages, how it’s like watching a sporting event through a crack in the fence; so much of the action takes place off-screen, but it’s critical that we piece it together somehow if we are going to be effective. And yet, every so often, you see something really significant, something that helps you make sense of a hundred previous observations, or all the bits and pieces that were confusing your before. There’s no false pretense that either the author or the reader has the whole story, but you do get the feeling that you’ve had a glimpse of something special.

2) The kids’ lives are fascinating, heartbreaking, inspiring, poignant, inexplicable, disappointing, frustrating, adorable. I thought I might get bored, start to see a sameness in the stories, but that never happened. It did take a few chapters for me to really get into the stories, but starting from the spelling bee story, I was all in. The poor bullied Chinese girls. Students who bond over going together to see Christmas lights. The super smart kid who couldn’t stay in high school because his family needed the income from him being a Dominos delivery boy. Kids who run away—and why. Watching The Miracle Worker in class. And TBH, middle schoolers are alien beings to me. I didn’t understand my own kids when they were that age, so there’s that added drama of not just immigrants who can’t communicate in English, but immigrants at that mysterious age where they are not great at communicating with themselves.

3) As an ESL professional myself, I was excited by the evidence of quality teaching. Without lecturing the reader about public schools or language pedagogy, she makes it clear to other ESL professionals that she really knows her stuff. A lot of the early ESL teaching in public schools was done by people who had been teaching something else and just fell into ESL when hordes of ELL students started showing up. Learning that Smith trained at SIT, the gold standard for those who were serious about what was in the 1980’s only just becoming a profession to be taken seriously, was reassuring. As a result, I would recommend this book to pre-service teachers I mentor, especially if they want to teach in public schools: it’s a lovely story of a dedicated, well-trained professional doing everything possible for her learners under the difficult conditions that are simply part of the public school teaching experience and the joy and sorrow that result.

4) Self-published work can be a mixed bag. This is well-written, carefully edited and basically indistinguishable from a traditionally published book of this genre.

Following is an official review of "Here!" by Ann C. Smith.

Ann C. Smith is an educator with over two decades of experience teaching English as a Second Language in Texas middle schools. Here! is her first book in which she shares her experiences, challenges, and triumphs as an ESL teacher. The book is structured as a moving yet candid collection of stories about some of her students. The author also shares her frustrations with the seeming disregard for immigrant students’ needs.

Each chapter is dedicated to a different student. Smith shares how they came to be in her class and what makes them unique while examining their progress or lack thereof within the school system. Smith expressed her concerns with the high school dropout rate of ESL students. It exceeded the national average. She believed the failure problem and the solution lay in the teaching. According to Smith, explicit instruction is necessary for acquiring a new language. Unfortunately for ESL learners, language acquisition and how it is taught is neither intensive nor encouraged as the focus of their learning at the stage where it is of utmost importance.

I loved the stories Smith shared about her students. Each story and student were unique and fascinating. The kids were tremendously courageous and resilient in the face of exceedingly challenging odds, and I learned as much from them as I did from the author. Magaly was one student I greatly admired. She was confident, grounded, and one of those people who took life in stride no matter the kind of hand she was dealt. A lively and dedicated student from Guatemala, Magaly was relentless in her commitment to learning. While she struggled with language acquisition, she was a maths and science whiz. Always ready to lend a hand, Magaly’s vibrant personality belied a tragic childhood. Magaly’s voice happens to be her most distinguishing attribute, very hoarse and gravelly. It is also a daily reminder of her painful reality. As a baby, her biological mother had tried to kill her by strangling her neck, permanently damaging her vocal cords.

It would be remiss of me not to mention my admiration of Smith's steadfast dedication to making sure her kids excelled as best they could. An instance of this was when, after years of watching her ESL students sidelined from extracurricular activities, she decided to create a competition exclusively for them. An annual spelling bee solely for ESL students, something their level of English proficiency usually precludes them from participating in. Not only was it a fun, instructive, and memorable experience for them, but it also served as a teachable moment for the author. The experience led Smith to have a deeper appreciation for the courage and bravery that her students had to exhibit every day of their lives as immigrants or refugees in a foreign land and everything that that entails.

There was nothing to dislike about this book. To touch on all the book’s high points would be to write a whole new book. The last chapter, which was also a favorite of mine, is titled The Candy Store. Not only did the chapter showcase what it means to go above and beyond as an educator who seizes every opportunity to enrich the experiences of her students, but it also showcased the importance of allowing students to explore - ESL students in particular. ESL learners are mostly comprised of displaced kids forced to leave their homeland behind for the unknown. More than anything, they need a frame of reference to mark their current position in the world. You need to read the book to understand the chapter’s significance.

The book appeared professionally edited with some barely noticeable punctuation errors. The eloquent writing, the remarkable stories, and the exceptional editing have earned this book a 4 out of 4 stars rating. Here! is an inspiring memoir by an inspiring human, bringing awareness to the struggles of the immigrant and refugee youth who are usually no more than statistics in general conversation. It is a must-read for educators everywhere, and I also recommend it to anyone interested in getting a glimpse into the lives and experiences of immigrant students.

Story Circle Book Reviews: Here! Is Present for Life's Challenges
Reviewed in the United States on April 28, 2021

There’s nothing like a room full of hormonally challenged boys and girls in the early stages of puberty. Trust me. I taught a year of middle school. Add a couple of factors like ESL (English as a second, third, or fourth language), the need for income to help their struggling families, and a natural desire to challenge the world, and you have Ann C. Smith’s middle-grade ESL classroom. Retired now, she writes about her experiences and her love for her students in her collection of stories called Here! Here as in “present.” We’re showing up for life despite what it’s done to our parents.

Each story focuses on a specific student, his needs, her hopes, their talents, skills, and challenges. Smith’s memories are honest, balanced, and thorough, with the narrator always considering her part in all choices. One day she asked her sixth-grade son why he thought there was a disparity between the scores at her school and his. Instead of giving any of the answers she feared, he said, “Maybe because at your school a lot of students don’t speak English well.”

These are the stories of marginalized students in a school where they are outcasts. Their homes are rooted in a different culture. Combine that with early adolescence and communication challenges, and major issues could ensue. Not that Smith wants readers to feel sorry for them. She runs a classroom where kids can leave their problems outside. They work in groups and cheer each other on. In one story both she and her fourteen-year-old student are pregnant. A late pregnancy and an early one give the two of them a great deal to compare. The student, Irena, took on a leadership role, and before Smith took a pregnancy leave Irena promised that her mother, who had seven children of her own, would watch the baby so she could continue in school.

Sometimes Smith invited lonely kids to her house on a Saturday. Other times she took them to their own homes after school. She even indulged their desire to go to the candy store, a field trip without permission slips that made the former teacher in me cringe. Her assistant principal said, “Do not tell me this. I cannot hear you.” Despite their high spirits, though, these kids were not about to run into the street. They valued the privilege of leaving class and buying candy too much. Smith brought the English language into their lives along with a lot of love, which helped everyone’s self esteem.

While the circumstances of each story vary, the structure remains similar. Kids face problems and a teacher gives them as many skills and as much hope s she can. Obviously she remembers them fondly and perhaps she’s sharing her memories as a call to all of us: accept differences and do what you can to help others.
Anyone who’s ever taught or parented a middle-schooler will enjoy the teacher’s process, the kid’s antics, and the way Smith overcomes bureaucratic hassles.

Story Circle Book Reviews thanks Lynn Goodwin for this review.

Steve: A scrumptious treat
Reviewed in the United States on April 27, 2021

“Here” is an inspiring treat for all to read. So many of the stories remind me how teachers can change and influence lives in positive ways. It’s obvious Ann Smith has waxed wonders for the kids she touched. Her spontaneous, fun-filled jaunts to the candy story especially come to mind.
Steve Dubin

GMarques: A Must Read For Anyone Wanting to Gain Understanding of Our Immigrant Teen’s School Experience
Reviewed in the United States on April 15, 2021

Hats off to Ann Smith for sometimes pinpointing classroom situations that are memorable and those that are challenging when teaching English to newly-arrived immigrant kids – that one kid who constantly astounds a teacher yet frustrates and exhausts her, the language barrier when trying to establish close bonds, the personal revelations that happen when you least expect them, the underlying pressures of accountability. She drives home again and again the uniqueness yet sameness of our immigrant youth, and how important it is to meet their academic needs. I thoroughly enjoyed each of the stories, their variety in theme, issues, and personalities. A must read for anyone wanting to build understanding of our immigrant teen’s school experience.

Janice Longridge: Excellent Book!
Reviewed in the United States on March 31, 2021

A first hand look at immigrant kids in schools.

Master Ryan: Eye opening
Reviewed in the United States on March 30, 2021

Loved this book. Felt like I was in the classroom with Ann and got to know her students. Each story was eye opening. Recommend this book to all teachers, those who work with youth and everyone.

Terry Hollon: A must-read for every educator in America, along with the rest of us!
Reviewed in the United States on March 21, 2021

Ann C. Smith’s HERE! is a fun, touching, and sometimes heartbreaking book that reveals to readers the struggles of immigrant youth in Texas, many of them newly arrived. The author’s passion and commitment to her students shines through as she tells us tales of her middle school ESL classes. I cheered the big (and little) wins as she worked, day in and day out, to fully engage her students toward their own success. I consider this a breakthrough book on an overlooked population. Finally, I appreciated her self-reflection along the way—on her own teaching style and how it compared to that of her educator peers.

linda clayton: Inspiring Stories of Immigrant Children
Reviewed in the United States on March 5, 2021

Ann C. Smith is a wonderful storyteller who provides a detailed and intimate portrayal of immigrant students she encounters as an ESL teacher in Austin, TX. Some of her students from multiple nations are highlighted in her memoir, "Here!" Each child is more than just a character in a book. Ms. Smith makes the immigrant student come alive for the reader. She writes in such a way you can feel how much this teacher cares about her students. Her beautifully told stories of these immigrant children has helped me to personalize some of the children that I only hear about in my work on an abuse and neglect hotline.

Lisa Coble: Great book!
Reviewed in the United States on December 27, 2020

I was inspired, entertained and enlightened by reading this book. Poignant stories about the resilient students a passionate educator welcomed to the United States and taught in her ESL classroom. Read Here! and cherish the gift Ann C. Smith gave us by telling these important stories of immigrant middle schoolers in Austin Texas.

Elizabeth Martin: Love this book!
Reviewed in the United States on March 2, 2021

This book was wonderful so inspiring and well written. I love reading it and will be passing it around for other friends to read and understand more the ELL experience in Texas.