Moving is a watershed experience in a young person’s life whether it is across town or across the world. Here are six recently published or soon to be published diverse books about moving and migration.
One of my favorite things about historical fiction is the window into seldom studied chapters in history. Letters from Cuba
by Ruth Behar is an epistolary novel about a Jewish refugee putting down roots in Cuba while working to bring the rest of her family out of Poland during the horrors of the Second World War. Twelve year old Ester narrates her new and mostly welcoming life in Cuba in letters to the sister she left behind. It is based on the author’s own family story. (Published Aug 2020. Nancy Paulson Books, PRH)
Land of Cranes by Aida Salazar is a contemporary refugee story set along the US-Mexico border. In spare and haunting verse, nine year old Betita tells the story of her family, fleeing the drug cartels of Mexico to find refuge in Los Angeles, only to fall into the hands of ICE and suffer detention and deportation. There are a few graceful line drawings to fill out the pages with the shortest poems. It’s not an easy story to read but the format encourages taking it slow and asking questions along the way. Though the narrator is on the younger end of the MG spectrum I’d recommend this one for older readers. (published Sept 2020, Scholastic Press)
When I was in in the late 70s and 80s I had a friend who, like debut author Waka T Brown, traveled to Japan to stay with grandparens regularly in order to keep his language skills and connection to his family culture fresh. I remember his complex feelings about the whole thing. Pride in his culture, love for his grandparents who seemed fiercely strict to me. But sadness at missing summer camp with his scout troop. I remember that kids teased him about his proficiency in martial arts in an era before martial arts were popular. But I also remember how impressed we all were by his fluency in Japanese and the way he drew kanji with a brush pen. I loved how While I was Away
by Waka T Brown captured all the beautiful complexity of being a bicultural kid moving between Kansas and Japan and finding things to love in both places. A very promising debut. (published Jan 2021, Quill Tree Books, HC)
The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold is another debut novel. This one centers on ten year old Gabrielle who has moved to New York from Haiti. She faces the usual struggles, living with relatives she doesn’t know well, learning English, navigating the usual schoolyard teasing. What makes this one stand out is a fantastical element. An encounter with a witch who offers Gabrielle the ability to assimilate by magic. Though she knows better she makes the bargain only to learn what it cost to lose her heritage. A sweet story with a satisfying conclusion. (published Feb 2021, Versify, HMH)
by Reem Faruqi is a novel in verse about the experience of coming to America from Pakistan. One of the things I appreciated about this book is the role sports played in helping Nurah and her brother feel at home and gain new friendships. There are many reasons to support sports and the arts for children in schools, one of them is the role they play in helping our diverse student populations find common ground and things to strive for together. I was happy to see a glossary in the back along with a recipe for Aloo Kabab. (soon to be published May 2021,
You may have noticed that so far every protagonist I’ve reviewed has been female. I’ve been paying more attention to gender balance on the bookstore shelves at Annie Blooms in the last year. I’d been hoping for more than this one new book about a middle grade boy on a great life journey. However, Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year by Nina Hamza is the only recent book on this theme I could find. (If I’ve missed a good one please mention it in the comments.) It’s a charmer though. Ahmed was a bit a slacker in his old school in Hawaii but in Minnesota, he’s challenged in ways he wasn’t before. I especially enjoyed how the author weaved in the characters thoughts about three MG classics I’ve loved all my life–Holes, Bridge to Terebithia, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.