Thursday, April 16, 2009

Immigrant Experience

Pegi Dietz Shea's Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story (2003) was excellent. While my school doesn't have a Hmong population, we do have a growing Somali one, and I think that these students would identify with Mai's experience. Having spent ten years in a relocation camp with her grandmother (her parents having been killed in the war), Mai moves to Providence, RI to be with her uncle's family. Even though she has some rudimentary English, it is a tough transition. Food is plentiful, but expensive. Clothing must not be just warm, but stylish. Her cousins are too Americanized for her taste, and getting into trouble with boys and alcohol. Mai's grandmother feels worse than useless, since she must now rely on Mai for communicating with the outside world and navigating all of the complexities of their new life. Throughout the story, Mai's traditional embroidery plays a role, and ties together several of the plots. Simple enough for students with limited English to follow, this was also an emotionally complex tale. I will definitely look for more books by this author.

Julia Alvarez's Return to Sender also dealt with immigration issues, this time illegal Mexican workers. Mari lives with her father and uncles who are working on a Vermont dairy farm that is struggling because the father has been badly injured in an accident. Mari and her family (with the exception of two sisters) are in the country illegally, but the farm owners are struggling so much that they don't ask questions. Mari's mother has returned to Mexico but was supposed to come back to the United States. Told from Mari's viewpoint and that of the son on the farm (Taylor or Tyler-- I had to return the book), this book covers a lot. Tyler's grandfather has died, and he's not doing well with it. Neither is his grandmother. The town is rallying against illegal workers. Mari wants more rights for workers who are in the country illegally but paying taxes. While I enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it, it would have benefitted from being more streamlined-- perhaps just one viewpoint, or fewer issues.

Harking back to I'll Pass For Your Comrade, Sheila Klass's Soldier's Secret is another telling of the story of Deborah Sampson (Patricia Clapp has one whose title I can't remember; it's rather old.) Following Deborah from her childhood of indentured servitude to her injury on the battlefield and the discovery of her secret, this follows the known facts but adds some nice fictional twists. Not a surprise to me, but girls who don't know anything of the women who fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars will be enthralled.

Also picked up (having gone to the library instead of being lazy and having the Library Link bring me books!) Schorr's Goy Crazy, which would be better in a high school library with a larger Jewish population and Rachel Wright's You've Got Blackmail , which sounded like a fun mystery but was distractingly overly British.


Bookworm said...

Another good one (but an oldie) is Children of the River by Linda Crew, which won several awards, I think.

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