One Good Thing About America
Ruth Freeman, Author
Holiday House Books, Fiction, Mar. 21, 2017
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
Themes: Refugee, Immigration, Africa, Differences, Fitting in, New customs, Language, Foods, Friendships
Synopsis: Back home in Africa, Anais was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she is placed in fourth grade and feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense. For example, how can you eat chicken fingers? Anais misses her family: Papa and grandmother Oma and big brother Olivier. Here in Crazy America she has only little Jean-Claude and Mama. So Anais writes lots of letters to Oma — in English because Oma insists. Oma has a friend who translate the letters and writes letters back to Anais.
Anais tells Oma how she misses her and that she hopes the fighting is over soon in the Congo. She worries about her father who is being tracked by government soldiers or rebels as he makes his way to a refugee camp in Kenya, and Olivier who is injured in a skirmish.
She tells Oma about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself. Over the school year, Anais begins to make friends, feel like she’s part of a community, and finds many good things about America.
Why I like this book:
It is always hard to be the new student in a new school, especially when you come from another country and struggle with the language, look different, eat strange foods, celebrate different holidays and leave loved ones left behind. Ruth Freeman’s compelling and hopeful book explores differences and common grounds among cultures. She humorously captures Anais’ angst through first person narrative. The story is told in a series of letters that Anais writes to her grandmother, Oma.
After much whining about Crazy America, Anais promises Oma she will try to find one good thing she likes about America daily, whether it is sledding, tasting hot chocolate, backpacks, helpful school teachers, a close group of immigrant friends, and Christmas trees decorated with pictures. This is a good classroom or home practice for youth everywhere. Find something you like in your life daily and be grateful.
As Anais becomes more comfortable in her surroundings, readers will see her growth as she takes the lead and helps newly arriving immigrant children from Iraq, Libya and Somalia adjust to America. This is a timely story for readers as it reminds us that America is a nation of immigrants, where we must learn about each other and celebrate our differences.
Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several nonfiction picture books and this is her first novel.
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Copy: Library book.