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BLAST Elementary
My Name is Sangoel

My Name is Sangoel
Written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed

Illustrated by Catherine Stock

Sangoel is a refugee. Leaving behind his homeland of Sudan, where his father died in the war, he has little to call his own other than his name, a Dinka name handed down proudly from his father and grandfather before him.

When Sangoel and his mother and sister arrive in the United States, everything seems very strange and unlike home. In this busy, noisy place, with its escalators and television sets and traffic and snow, Sangoel quietly endures the fact that no one is able to pronounce his name. Lonely and homesick, he finally comes up with an ingenious solution to his problem, and in the process he at last begins to feel at home.


Open-Ended Questions

These questions can be used during an interactive read aloud to engage student interest.

  • What is the "sky boat?" Why does Sangoel call it that? (page 6)
  • Why is everyone crying? How do you think they feel? Why? (page 9)
  • What are some differences between America and Sudan? (page 12)
  • What did the Wise One mean when he said "Education is your mother and your father? (page 14)
  • Do you think Sangoel should change his name? Why or why not? (page 19)

Vocabulary Words

  • Refugee
  • Ancestors


Making Connections in Pittsburgh

As written in the author's note, "A refugee often has to leave home at a moment's notice and may not be able to bring along family members, money, clothing, or food." In America, Sangoel and his family had to adjust to a world that was completely foreign. Fortunately, Mrs. Johnson was there to help them get settled into their new home. There are refugees here in Pittsburgh who go through these same experiences every day. You and your students can get involved! By organizing a fundraiser or clothing drive, your shcool's efforts can go toward helping people right here in Pittsburgh. For more information, check out the Pittsburgh Refugee Center's website:

What's in a Name?

Ever wonder where your name came from? Names come from family traditions, TV shows, even places and cities around the world. Some names even have a meaning in other languages. Sangoel's name was passed down by his ancestors and gave him a connection to his native home. See if your students can find out the history of their names! Who named them? Why did they pick that name? Does it mean anything in another language? The students could research their last names too, if they want! This activity could be a great way for you and your students to learn a little bit about each other. You might even learn something new about yourself!


Journal Questions

  • In the story, Sangoel teaches everyone how to say his name by spelling it with pictures instead of letters. This is called a rebus! See if you can make a rebus for your name!

Why didn't Sangoel want to change his name to an American name? What would you do if you were him?



Extending Books

Four Feet, Two Sandals
Written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed

Illustrated by Doug Chayka

Two young Afghani girls living in a refugee camp in Pakistan share a precious pair of sandals brought by relief workers.


How I Learned Geography
Written and Illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

As he spends hours studying his father's world map, a young boy escapes the hunger and misery of refugee life. Based on the author's childhood in Kazakhstan, where he lived as a Polish refugee during World War II.

Muktar and the Camels
Written by Janet Graber

Illustrated by Scott Mack

Muktar, an eleven-year-old refugee living in a Kenyan orphanage, dreams of tending camels again, as he did with his nomadic family in Somalia, and has a chance to prove himself when a traveling librarian with an injured camel arrives at his school.