Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On the Road

I’m on the road, moving with my kids from Minnesota to Massachusetts. The journey will take about a week. Our ultimate goal is to be in the Bay State by the Fourth of July.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about great books for trips. Here are a few that immediately come to mind:

Stringbean’s Trip to the Shining Sea by Vera B. and Jennifer Williams is an exuberant look at a road trip. The story’s told in postcards. Does that make the book too old-fashioned? Not at all. It makes me want to make and send my own postcards!

The Train of States by Peter Sis isn’t so much about the act of traveling as it is about discovery. Sis shows an immigrant’s fascination with all things new in this celebration of the fifty American states. It’s mostly visual, and all-in-all a treat.

Loretta Ellsworth’s In Search of Mockingbird is both a travel novel and a quest story. Erin is searching for a connection with her dead mother—and she does so by taking a long bus trip from Minnesota to Monroeville, Alabama, home of Harper Lee, the elusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was Erin’s mom’s favorite. If she can just meet Harper Lee, will Erin come closer to knowing her mom?

Finally, As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins is my favorite book for older readers about a trip that goes wrong and then right, with lots of bumps and detours and hairpin turns along the way. 

What if you were headed in one direction and got suddenly, royally, sidetracked? Well, if you’re a Lynne Rae Perkins hero, like 16-year-old Ry, you’ll go with the flow. And the trip will be a delight.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Finding Another Place

Photo: WikiPedia Commons

Recently I stumbled across “Another Place,” an installation of sculptures by Antony Gormley. I’d been doing an internet search involving the words “immigrants” and “hope.”

If you’ve never heard of “Another Place,” take a look at this link to the local council.

Or better, yet, click to see a video.

Artist Gormley shows the mix of hope, fear, anticipation, and dread that all immigrants feel. He does so by placing cast-iron figures along Crosby Beach near Liverpool, England.
Why is this work so successful?

·      The figures are anonymous. Even though they are casts of the artist, they’re rough and indistinct. Some are covered in barnacles.

·      The figures are rooted in place, yet the surroundings flow in and out, always changing.

·      The figures look out onto the future. We catch them poised, ready to move forward.

·      The place, the sounds, the moving tides all add to a sense of mixed emotions, rushing all around and even completely covering some figures at high tide.

I’m not an immigrant, but I’ve spent a portion of my writing life studying and interpreting the immigrant experience. And based on what I’ve learned, I’d say “Another Place” beautifully captures the essence of what it means to leave the familiar behind and cast oneself onto the waves of a new life.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Taking a LEAP into the Unknown

LEAP High School, St. Paul, MN

Moving can be disorienting, frightening, and just plain exhausting. I know, since I’m getting my family ready for a cross-country move in a few days. But as overwhelming as it can be, my experience pales against that of young immigrants.

Recently I spent part of a morning interviewing three students at LEAP High School in St. Paul. It’s a school just for newly arrived immigrants. During the current school year, at least twenty different languages are spoken at LEAP. (Although only about four or five major ones are typically used during daily announcements on the public address system.)

I talked with a boy from Ethiopia, a girl from Vietnam, and a Burmese girl who came to this country from a refugee camp in Thailand. Each had a unique perspective. The boy spoke of the challenges of finding other kids to play with. The girl who had spent time in a refugee camp was relieved that she could travel freely, without having to ask permission—or pay bribes. And the Vietnamese girl spoke of the hardships of her first days as an immigrant, when her parents came home sad and upset over not yet finding work. (Things are better now, she reassured me.)

I’ll be sharing more of these immigrant tales in an upcoming issue of Cobblestone magazine. The May/June 2013 issue is devoted to the new face of immigration, and these interviews will be part of a feature story on immigrant kids present and past.

What struck me the most during the interviews? The students’ incredible bravery. It was humbling to hear their stories and imagine their challenges—yet see the joy and determination in their faces. They’re taking a leap into the unknown and clearly growing in the process.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Tale of Two Cakes

My recent book-signing at the Red Balloon Bookshop was great fun—especially when you judge it by the cake.

Here’s the cake for Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices before I started reading and answering questions.

Here it is after we all got done with the conversation and the book signing (and well after closing).

This was my best event ever in terms of drawing the book’s target market, by which I mean potential readers.

I did a quick count:

Fifth graders: 3
Sixth graders: 1
Seventh graders: 5
There was also a recent kindergarten graduate.

That’s pretty good for a Friday night at the end of the school year.  What’s more, they had great questions and made the event lively and fun.

Clearly, they also ate a lot of cake. Still, there was a little bit left to take home for breakfast the next day.


Thank you to everyone who attended, to those who sent good wishes, and to all of you at Red Balloon for hosting the event.

If you'd still like to get a signed copy, there are several at Red Balloon. And if you need me to personalize it, I'll be in town through June 25 and am happy to stop in the store to add a personal note.