Tag Archives: immigration

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai

9781250314093by Remy Lai
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old Jingwen moves with his mother and little brother to Australia from an unspecified Asian country (Singapore? China?) and he feels like he’s moved to Mars. Moving to Australia and opening a bakery (called Pie in the Sky) had been a family goal for a long time, but a year after his father’s sudden death in a car accident, Jingwen’s mother decides to take the plunge anyway. As a single mother, she can’t open the bakery her husband had dreamt of, but she works in one with a very compassionate boss who lets her change her schedule as her parenting needs evolved. This is partly because, despite stern warnings not to use the oven, Jingwen and Yanghao find loopholes and use it anyway, because Jingwen is convinced that if he can only make the twelve cakes his father wanted on the menu at Pie in the Sky, everything would be all right. He also struggles with learning English and making friends, though those turn out all right in the end. There’s also a nice elderly neighbor who is sometimes drafted into helping watch the boys who Jingwen hates at first but comes around to in the end.

We have this one in our graphic novel section even though it’s one of those hybrid books and it’s actually more paragraphs than panels. The author made good use of the dual formats most of the time, especially by using aliens to show Jingwen’s gradual turning into a Martian (I mean getting used to Australia), exaggerating the drawings and using dead-on facial expressions to great effect. I was very surprised at how long Jingwen went in school without getting additional help due to his lacking language abilities, but maybe that is a difference between Australia and the US. Jingwen and Yanghao would have immediately been assessed and placed in an ELL class before even being put into their regular classrooms to make sure they had enough English to understand their classes, but in this book they are in their regular classrooms right away and Jingwen goes months not understanding a thing before he finally realizes that his teacher wants him to stay after school for tutoring help.

I loved the relationship between the brothers. Yanghao is only a year behind Jingwen in school, but two years in age, and is so much less mature. Most of the time he sounded six instead of nine, bouncing off the walls and being impulsive and getting them both into trouble. Jingwen is definitely the more responsible of the two, far beyond his eleven years, and resists learning English (finding his brother’s ability to pick it up annoying) and mourning his father. There are some tender moments between the two and it just felt like a very realistic relationship to me. Also, I really wanted cake at the end of this book.

One more note – it’s unclear where the family is from, but it’s possible that they are from Singapore or Indonesia, and/or the story is based loosely on Lai’s upbringing, which would make this book #ownvoices so I’ve included that tag just in case.

Baking like: the Dirt Diary series
Sibling relationships like: Sisters and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

9780062747808by Jasmine Warga
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This novel-in-verse is narrated by seventh grader Jude who moves to America with her mother. They leave behind her father, who refuses to leave his store in their seaside tourist town in Syria, and her college-age brother, who has gone off to fight the government (presumably making him part of ISIS, aka ISIL, though it is never explicitly stated). Jude and her mother move in with her mother’s brother, Uncle Mazin, his white wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Sarah, who is a year older than Jude. Sarah and Jude have a complicated relationship; Sarah is very preoccupied with fitting in and not being “weird,” which Jude is. Jude is simultaneously very aware of her outsider status and also not as worried as Sarah about the ways in which she doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t, for example, let it stop her from befriending other outcasts like Miles and Layla. Jude is upset that her letters to her best friend, Fatima, back home go unanswered, and finally finds out the reason why – Fatima and her family have fled to another country (Lebanon maybe?) and are unreachable. Jude finally finds her way in America, learning English, getting through to Sarah, getting closer to Miles (whom she describes as a ‘very cute boy’ and nothing more romantic than that happens) and landing a part in the school musical. There is an incident of Muslim extremist violence that changes the way people look at Jude, her family, Layla’s family, and their community, but it is also not specifically named as any one historically accurate attack. Her mother has a baby (she was very early on in her pregnancy when they left) and that fleshes out the rest of the plot, plus a small fight with Layla. Oh, and Jude starts her period, which means she also starts wearing hijab, which is also received in a variety of ways, especially within her own family, which was interesting. Overall a lovely, mostly gentle, not-quite-refugee story, with a young woman full of heart and confidence at its center. (It is also worth noting that, though Warga is Middle Eastern, she is not Syrian, so this story is not technically #ownvoices.)

Illegal by Eoin Colfer

9781492662143

by Eoin Colfer
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

A very timely story about contemporary illegal immigration and refugees, this book tells the fictional story of Ebo, who runs away from his alcoholic uncle to follow his brother, who is following their sister, to Europe. Ebo’s gift is that he can sing, and he uses this to earn money and favors from others along his way. The story is told in flashbacks; “then” is when he realizes that Kwame is gone too and “now” is when they are together on a raft in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

For kids who have heard of refugees, especially crossing the Mediterranean from Africa, this will explain what their lives are like, why they make the decision to leave, and how hard it can be to make the journey. (It’s not explicit where Ebo is from, but supposedly Niger, from the city of Agadez near the beginning of the story.) It’s alternately devastating and hopeful, and the extra bits at the end (“end matter” in libraryspeak), such as a map of Ebo’s journey, a note from the creators, and a real refugee’s story, help give context to the narrative.

Scary Stuff Happening in Boats like: Refugee by Alan Gratz

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

9780545846608

by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ravi is brand new to his New Jersey classroom, straight from Bangalore. His teacher claims not to understand him when he talks and sends him with the Resource Room teacher with Joe, who has Auditory Processing Disorder, which makes Ravi furious. He’s sure he’s found a friend in Dillon Samreen, the only other Indian in his class (even though he’s an ABCD), but the teacher’s actions, not to mention Dillon’s natural malevolence, undermine their friendship. The story alternates between Ravi’s point of view and Joe’s, which shows aspects of each boy’s culture through their own eyes and through the eyes of an outsider, which was a really neat device and one I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. There’s even two glossaries at the back, one for words from Ravi’s world and one for words from Joe’s world, and some of them are defined in the other’s terms, like “Trunk: storage area at the rear of a vehicle, in India known as a dickey or boot” or “Baseball: an American game similar to cricket.” Ravi also makes it well known to the reader both how to pronounce his name (emphasis on the second syllable) and how important it is to him. Joe is the first person outside Ravi’s family to get his name right, and Ravi notices.

The story takes place over one week, Ravi’s first week of school. His singleminded focus on Dillon leads him to think Dillon is nice and Joe is mean and stupid, but luckily he comes to his senses by the end of the week, especially when Dillon tricks him into eating beef, which he explains is a sin for Hindus. The students are given an assignment to bring in an object that represents them, which brings Ravi and Joe together against Dillon and they become friends. This is what I love about middle grade fiction; everything ties up neatly and people learn things about themselves and how to get along.

Other interesting things about this story in particular: Joe’s dad is away driving a truck a lot, but when he is there, he spouts some hate against immigrants, but sort of redeems himself with a loving note to Joe, which was interesting. Joe’s mom takes a job at his school as a cafeteria employee, which embarrasses him to no end, especially once Dillon gets wind of it. Ravi’s teacher also displays some bias against him, mispronouncing his name, disregarding how he has been taught (especially math) and telling him she can’t understand him due to his accent. When she says English is not his native language, she shows her own (and many Americans’) ignorance; however, this exchange and others show a lot of nuance in our multicultural society. To Americans’ ears, the Indian accent is quite different and can be hard to understand, even if you have heard it a lot. Ravi also shows he is quite defensive and quick to anger when it comes to insulting his intelligence or social standing, but he realizes that his teacher is not always wrong about him. Overall, the nuance in particular is very well done and is a testament to how well these two authors work together to show both cultures.