Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar (9781338343809)
Betita’s father has always told her that they are descendants of the Aztecs who came from Atzlan, which is now the southwestern United States. They are cranes who have returned home. Living in Los Angeles, Betita goes to school while her parents work long hours. But then one day, her father is taken by ICE and deported to Mexico. Betita and her mother make the long car ride to the border to see him, but find themselves arrested and put into a detention camp. Forced to sleep on the concrete floor, eat moldy food, and succumb to the monotony and cruelty of the camp, Betita almost loses herself. But she rises, inspired by the women and children around her, to insist that they have rights even when she has no one with her anymore.
Salazar uses verse to tell the story of Betita and her family. The early part of the book is almost dreamy as the family creates their new life in Los Angeles together. But the book turns and twists into a razor-like call for dignity and legal help for those both deported and those held in camps. The conditions of the camp are horrible, the indignity and casual cruelty heaped upon them is almost soul crushing. It’s difficult to read and even more difficult to accept that this is the United States doing these things to children and families.
Salazar gives her young heroine a voice in the book, a playfulness and creativity that lets her create her own toys, form connections with other children. She also has the ability to write and to lead others to write their own stories too. That powerful ability is what allows the characters to rise above and insist upon being seen.
An important and powerful call to see Latinx people held in border camps as humans first and always. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic Press.
Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (9780062685094)
This graphic novel memoir tells a compelling story. Chuna lived with her single mother in Korea, until they went to Alabama on a what Chuna thought was a family vacation. Instead it was a way for her mother to actually meet the man she had been dating long distance and see where he lived. Now at age 14, Chuna must learn a new language and figure out a new society which is very unlike that of Korea. She doesn’t get along with her new stepfamily and continues to be furious with her mother. After all, she lost everything with the move: her country, her language, her friends, and a lot of her favorite things. When her mother enrolls her in a comic book program, Chuna discovers a way forward with new friends and a new way to express herself.
Ha’s memoir is marvelous. She creates real emotion on the page, not shying away from the raw reaction that she had as a teen to being moved to an entirely different country unexpectedly. The book is filled with tension, between Chuna and her mother, her mother and her new husband, and the entire extended family. Readers will see flashes of hope and a future before Chuna does in the book, adding to a feeling of possibility and resilience.
The art in the book reflects the strong plotting that Ha has created here. She lingers in moments very effectively, emphasizing their importance for readers. The art moves from tans and pastel colors to more dramatic moments where emotion is shown in waves of colors or hauntingly dark scenes that capture depression perfectly.
A great graphic novel memoir that tells the story of the isolation of being a new immigrant in America, but also the potential for a new future through art. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (9780062881687)
Efren’s family works hard all day to provide for him and his younger twin siblings, Mia and Max. Efren’s mother, Ama, really holds the family together, creating delicious meals from leftovers every day. He thinks of her as “Soperwoman” because of the delicious sopes she makes. When Ama is seized by ICE and deported, it falls to Efren to watch his younger siblings, getting them ready in the morning, to bed at night, and trying to distract them from missing Ama. Efren’s father is working two jobs and not sleeping at all, just to send money to his mother in order to get her back into the U.S. As Efren’s school work and friendships start to suffer from the pressure he is under and his worry for his entire family, he looks for ways to make sure that his little brother and sister still feel loved, the way his mother would want them to.
Cisneros has created an ownvoices novel for middle graders that grapples with the state of immigration in the United States. The book is timely, speaking directly to situations that children across our country face every day if their parents are undocumented. The level of fear and dread that ICE has for these families, the danger of being deported, and the risks of returning to their families is all captured here,
Efren is a marvelous protagonist. He is smart and has a huge heart as well as an astounding amount of patience towards his little brother and sister. Living in real poverty, his only wish is for his family to be whole, not for a phone, a bigger TV or anything but having his mother back.
A gripping and rich look at the impact of current immigration policies on children of undocumented families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.
Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9780374303730)
Maria, Juan and their mother hadn’t seen Maria’s grandmother in five years. Today they were celebrating Christmas by taking a bus to the border with Mexico for Los Posada Sin Fronteras where families could meet with the border fence between them. Maria had made her grandmother a scarf that her mother was finishing and Juan had drawn a picture for her. When they reach the border, they must stand in line for their turn to see their family. They get their turn and get to see their grandmother and the fence disappears as they reconnect. But there is no way to get their gifts through the fence, until Maria has an idea that even the border police approve of.
Perkins takes a celebration that few of us have heard of and turns it into a universal story of immigration and separated families on the United States border. Through Maria’s story, readers will deeply connect with the physical separation of families and the power dynamic in place. Mitali though leaves readers with a soaring hope as Maria manages to get Juan’s gift to her grandmother despite the fence in the way. The illustrations capture the small family and the large border fence, offering real perspectives on the size but also showing how those fall away when family connects with one another.
A strong and purposeful look at walls, immigration and family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates (9781419727474)
When Gittel and her mother are about to get on the boat that will carry them from Russia to America, Gittel’s mother is turned away due to an eye infection. Gittel at age nine, is sent alone to America. She has a note with her mother’s cousin’s address in her pocket. She checks on it constantly to make sure she hasn’t lost it on the long journey. She spends much of it alone, but also meets children on board the ship. However, when she reaches Ellis Island, the ink on the note has run and no address can be read. How will Gittel ever find her family in a foreign land?
Newman tells a story inspired by two real life stories of her family and friends’ journeys to America. The story is firmly rooted in the Jewish faith with the celebration of Sabbath and speaking Yiddish on both ends of the journey. Gittel’s mother gives her the Shabbat candlesticks to carry with her on her journey. The story is beautifully told in slightly longer prose than many picture books, allowing details of the immigrant experience to be shared. The mystery of getting Gittel in touch with her family is solved by kindness and ingenuity and offers a satisfying end to Gittel’s adventure.
The illustrations by Bates have a lovely softness to them that is accompanied by rich color. Gittel herself is distinctive on every page given her small size and red scarf. She also carries a yellow cloth bag filled with her belongings. Gittel’s journey is depicted as difficult but not squalid and even when she is lost there is not a sense of danger but hope thanks to the illustrations.
A lovely look at immigration through the eyes of a child. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (9781911171539)
A girl talks about how her fear had once been small and helped protect her. However, when she came to a new country, her fear grew much bigger and kept on growing. Her fear kept her in the house when she wanted to go out. Her fear doesn’t want her to go to school. Fear fills the girl’s dreams, evenings and meals. It makes her feel separate and lonely. When a boy reaches out to her at school, they draw and paint together. When they head outdoors, a dog barks at the two of them and suddenly both of them reveal their fears to one another. Her fear steadily gets smaller and more manageable as she begins to try new things and meet even more people.
Sanna, the author of The Journey, returns with her second book that once again speaks to the experience of an immigrant child. The use of Fear as a full character in the book works very well, embodying this large emotion and demonstrating how it can control one’s life. Children who are not immigrants will be able to see their own fears represented here as well, making this a strong choice for discussing emotions.
The art plays a crucial role in the book, particularly in the way that the fears are presented. Sanna creates a fear that is friendly at times and ferocious at others. Fear is soft and changes size, sometimes riding on the girl’s back and weighing her down. When Fear shrinks, it becomes almost toylike and very manageable, conveying that some fear is a good thing to have.
An original look at fear as an emotion. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9780763690526)
Poet Laureate of the United States, Herrera here writes a poem that is filled with wonder and possibilities. He invites young readers into his own childhood, filled with tadpoles in creeks, sleeping outside, and feeding chickens. Though his childhood also had goodbyes to people when he moved away and fetching water through the forest. Herrera shares moving to the United States and learning English. Filling pages with words and ink, creating poems and songs. The book ends with him speaking on the steps of the Library of Congress and then asks readers to imagine what they could do.
Herrera’s poem is exquisitely crafted for young readers. He takes them on a full journey of his childhood, showing them the beautiful side, the hard work and the difficulties of learning a new language and moving to a new country. It is a powerful work just right for small children about immigration and the impact the immigrant voices have on our country in so many ways.
Castillo’s art is filled with a sense of memory and longing. She lights her pages with bright sunlight and then haunting moonlight appears. There is a sense of being a witness to Herrera’s life in her work, of watching things happen right at his shoulder. It’s a beautiful way to view someone’s life.
Rich, memorable and timely, this picture book is something special. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (9780823440559)
This book garnered high praise long before its release, all of which is well deserved. It is the story of immigration to the United States, based on Morales’ own experience as she came to the U.S. with her child. This is a story of immigration, of carrying your personal gifts with you to a new country and allowing them to blossom. It’s the story of learning a new language in order to communicate and along the way discovering the power of public libraries to inspire. It is about the importance of books, of shared stories and of finding your own abilities to tell unique tales personal to you and make those into books. It is a book that sings the vitality and importance of immigrants to our country.
Morales has written a book that I hope sweeps some major awards this year. I knew that it was the powerful story of immigrants, but I was delighted and surprised to see the role of the public library highlighted so clearly on the pages. The text on the page is just right, poetic and brief, inviting young readers and listening children deep into the storyline. Morales has created a timely book for today’s America and all of its children, but it is also a book that will be read again and again.
The art by Morales is amazing. Alight with the moon and searingly brilliant when the gifts they carry escape the pack they have been stored in for so long. There are beautiful symbols throughout the illustrations like this, connection and creativity alive on the page. She also pays homage to so many books in her library scenes, each one a testament to the voices that have been part of children’s literature for so long and some newer ones too.
A dazzling and incredible picture book that is sure to win awards this year. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Illegal by Eoin Colfer (9781492662143)
An honest and profound look at the refugee crisis through the eyes of one young boy, this graphic novel is heartbreaking. Ebo has been left alone by his older brother who is following his older sister to Europe. But Ebo refuses to be left behind, managing to get a ride on a bus to a nearby city. There he must find his brother, something he manages to do only by luck. Together, they work hard labor to get enough money to cross the Sahara Desert to Tripoli. The journey is hazardous and many people die. But the most dangerous part of it lies ahead as they board a small boat to cross the sea to Europe, placing their dreams in the hands of men who lie and cheat for profit.
Colfer works with the same team that created the Artemis Fowl graphic novel series, but this time on a much more harrowing story of humanity and resilience. Colfer does not shy away from depicting the hazards and risks of the journey, including deaths along the way. There is an unrelenting pressure throughout the novel to move forward, make enough money to leave, and then do it all again at the next point. It is daunting, frightening and shows the spirit of the people who are willing to risk their lives for freedom.
This graphic novel puts a face on the refugee crisis. Ebo is a young boy with a singing voice that can soothe babies and make money. His face is that of an angel as well, his eyes shining bright with hope and at times dimmed with illness or grief. Throughout the story, characters come and go as they enter Ebo’s journey along with him. Readers will hope for Ebo to survive but can only watch helplessly.
Smartly written, deftly drawn and plotted to perfection, this graphic novel is a powerhouse. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Sourcebooks.