Author Shares Stories of Children’s Journeys to Iowa


Kay Fenton Smith is co-author of Zakery’s Bridge, stories about students who immigrated to Iowa, and spent two days working with students at Meredith Middle School.

Zakery’s Bridge: Children’s Journeys From Around The World To Iowa isn’t a primer on the global makeup of Des Moines Public Schools, but it could be. With students from nearly 90 countries attending DMPS, many know a thing or two about journeys from around the world to Iowa.

Zakery’s Bridge is a collection of nine stories about students who came to Iowa from distant lands, and one of the book’s co-authors has been speaking to classes at Meredith Middle School this week.

Tuesday afternoon Kay Fenton Smith delivered a synopsized version of the story behind the stories to Jill Dykstra’s and Kris Stoebner’s 7th grade Literacy students who will be using Zakery’s Bridge in class. Dykstra and Stoebner acquired classroom sets of the book through a grant they obtained last year. “We are using the book for a unit called Crossing the Bridge,” Dykstra said, “and we will examine it through the IB lens of personal and cultural expression.” Meredith’s curriculum is the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.

Middle school students can be a tough crowd for an outsider to engage but Smith got lots of hands in the air right away when she posed a question about the obstacles to be overcome by anyone moving from one country to another. Just looking around the Student Center at the rich mosaic of faces in her audience it appeared she was preaching to the choir to some extent.

“Different food,” someone quickly responded.

“Clothes,” another said.





Just about everything, in other words.

Smith explained that the nine stories included six of immigrant families and three of refugees. What, she asked, is the distinction?

“Immigrants want to leave,” a girl said. “Refugees have to.”

The working title of the book was Real World Iowa, Smith told the students. “But we wanted to make it more personal.” So she and her co-author, Carol Roh Spaulding, decided to lead with the story told to them by Zakery Delilovic, the title character, so to speak. He recounted a pilgrimage to Bosnia-Herzegovina, a place where he had never been but was the land his family fled to escape war in the 1990’s. The bridge he crossed there was a local symbol of peace that was destroyed in 1993 and rebuilt in 2004.

The foreword of the book was contributed by former Iowa Governor Robert D. Ray who was instrumental in opening Iowa’s doors to refugees from Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the Viet Nam War during the 1970’s.

Other countries represented in the book that’s beautifully decorated with donations from photographers around the world include India, South Sudan, The Netherlands, Palestine, Laos, Israel, Taiwan and Mexico.

One of the personal accounts is that of Dau Jok, a Sudanese refugee who later played basketball at Roosevelt High School and the University of Pennsylvania and aspires to someday return to his homeland and become its leader.

Smith and Spaulding immersed themselves as much as they could in the cultures their subjects hailed from while tossing the very personal ingredients into their literary melting pot. Families frequently invited them to social occasions themed in the ways of the old countries.

“We committed lots of faux pas,” she laughed. “When we showed up for a Sudanese tribal dance party we thought we were right on time but no one was there. Luckily a nice Sudanese gentleman arrived early and told us the event would happen on what he called Sudan time.” In other words, a couple of hours later than advertised. So they hung around.

Find out if they busted any new moves once the party finally started by clicking here:

Published on