YA – We Are All We Have

Budhos, Marina. We Are All We Have. Wendy Lamb Books, 2022. 978-0-593-12020-0. 241 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Rania is looking forward to high school graduation, a job in a bookstore, and college. But those dreams dissolve in an instant when her mother is caught in an ICE raid on their Brooklyn apartment. The 17-year-old Muslim teen knows it’s all a mistake. Ammi has been working with a lawyer for years, seeking asylum for their family. Rania’s father had been a journalist in Pakistan when Rania was young, and when he was killed, Rania and her mother fled to the United States, where her younger brother, Kamal, was born. Fierce, determined Rania knows she can hold things together until her mother is released, but the siblings end up in a detention center for immigrant children, where they are befriended by Carlos, a teen from Mexico. Pursuing every lead to get out of the detention center, Rania, Carlos, and Kamal hit the road, like the Beat poets Rania idolizes. Their journey travels from joy to heartbreak to love, as Rania encounters myriad faces and stories of immigrants, individuals like Rania and her family and friends who are trying to follow the rules and live their lives in the shadow of border closures, family separations, and strangling red tape. We Are All We Have is an important look at the story of immigrants beyond the sensationalized headlines. Rania takes us through the immigrant experience, from day-to-day life with the ever-present fear of ICE, to government detention facilities, to sanctuaries and safe houses. 

THOUGHTS: An emotional ride through the world of immigrants, with feisty Rania as a guide, this book humanizes the immigrant experience. A first purchase for middle school and high school collections. 

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Rosa’s Song

Rhee, Helena Rhee. Rosa’s Song. Illustrated by Pascal Campion. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-375495. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades Pre-K-3. 

Jae, a young boy with light brown skin, is anxious about moving to an apartment in a new country. The view out the window is alien, the language unfamiliar. His mother wisely encourages Jae to meet other children in the building. Fortuitously, Jae rings the doorbell at Rosa’s apartment. The vibrant, outgoing girl with darker skin immediately makes Jae her friend, introducing him to her pet parrot, Pollito, and racing upstairs to investigate Jae’s apartment. As  Jae struggles to explain how different this unfamiliar place is from home, Rosa merrily shows him how a little imagination can overcome homesickness. The two youngsters become inseparable throughout the summer, until one morning Jae learns Rosa and her family departed suddenly, to return to her home country. Rosa has left Pollito behind with Jae, but the boy is inconsolable, until there is a knock on his door. Two new Black children stand in the doorway. Jae introduces himself, and Pollito, and begins to feel a bit less lonely. This sweet book, beautifully illustrated by Pascal Campion, is an ode to friendship, as well as a subtle representation of immigrant experiences. Rosa, who was once new to the country, knew how to reassure Jae and make him feel less lonely. Then, it is Jae’s turn to comfort and befriend the new children. No reason is given why Rosa’s family suddenly moved back to their South American home, but one can imagine a scenario that might require such a relocation. Many children will relate to this story, whether they moved across town or across the world.

THOUGHTS: This is a book to which any child will relate. Rhee’s evocative prose is perfectly paired with Campion’s graceful illustrations. Childhood emotions of loneliness, fear of rejection, friendship, and loss are universal, whether or not you are an immigrant.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – All Four Quarters of the Moon

Marr, Shirley. All Four Quarters of the Moon. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-543-38886-1. $17.99. 247 p. Grades 5-8.

Peijing Guo has a perfectly happy life in China. She is a good student who is popular and well liked at school. She loves living with her extended family. Peijing is care-taker by nature and believes honoring her parents is her duty. She loves to draw. Peijing’s five year old sister, Biju, is a wonderful storyteller. The sisters create a secret “Little World” of handmade paper cutout animals designed from Biju’s imagination and interwoven with bits of Chinese mythology. The sisters spend hours together playing in their imaginary world. When Ba Ba gets a new job, Peijing, Beiju, Ma Ma, and their grandmother Ah Ma immigrate to Australia, where the family quickly begins to fall apart. Newly settled in a gorgeous and large new home, the family begins to change. Ah Ma, who spent her days in China with friends playing games and exercising in the park, now only sits in front of the television. Ma Ma, who was once social and stylish, dresses in sweatpants, and refuses to leave the house or to learn to speak English. The sisters struggle to improve their language skills and do well in a school where everything is completely different from anything they ever experienced in China. Only Ba Ba seems to be happy in Australia. Ba Ba slowly begins to relax and participate in household chores. He seems determined to develop a relationship with his two young daughters. Peijing is confused and miserable until she befriends an outcast classmate named Joanna. Scruffy and tough, Joanna is often hungry, exhausted, and bruised. Peijing, always caring for others before herself, tries to help Joanna. Peijing brings Joanna food, encourages her artistic abilities, and defends her friend from classroom bullies. Joanna helps Peijing understand life in Australia. The two become the best of friends, each bolstering the other’s confidence. When a caring teacher intervenes to help get Joanna out of her abusive home, the two friends fear their friendship will be over. The characters in this middle grade novel are beautifully drawn. The Chinese mythology woven throughout the development of “Little World” provides a gorgeous backdrop to a story about understanding humanity, and the changes we encounter in life. 

THOUGHTS: This is a warm and thoughtful middle grade novel that depicts an immigrant experience with great respect and care. The bond between sisters Peijing and Biju is wonderfully delightful. The inner-conflict Peijing experiences as she becomes a tween trying to assimilate into a culture with different values is both heartbreaking and empowering. Readers will cheer Peijing on as she discovers who she is meant to be and how she can fit into her changing, yet traditional, family. 

Realistic Fiction          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – A Thousand White Butterflies

Betancourt-Perez, Jessica. A Thousand White Butterflies. Charlesbridge. 978-1-580-89577-4. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3. 

Isabella has just moved to the United States from Colombia. She’s about to begin school, but an unexpected blizzard cancels her first day. She feels trapped by all the unfamiliar snow, and she misses her friends and her Papa who is still in Colombia. While looking out the window, Isabella sees a girl slip and fall into the snow outside. She bundles into her puffy coat and boots and hurries outside to see if the girl is alright. The pair end up spending the afternoon making snow angels, snowballs, and a snowman. Despite the language barrier, they laugh and play and make the most out of their surprise meeting and unexpected day off from school. Two Author’s Notes describe how the co-authors met and the real-life inspiration behind this book. Additionally, a “More Info” section defines “immigrants” as people who leave their original country to live permanently in a new place. It also includes a brief history of immigration to the United States. Lastly, a glossary defines each Spanish word or phrase used in the story. 

THOUGHTS: Hope, resilience, and friendship are central themes in this immigration story, as is the idea that children are able to make connections with each other despite language and cultural differences. These ideas will make good talking points during morning meetings or when welcoming a new student into a classroom. Share this title with guidance counselors and ESOL teachers. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – My Two Border Towns

Bowles, David and Erik Meza. My Two Border Towns. Illustrated by Erika Meza. Kokila, 2021. 978-0-593-11104-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Life along the U.S. – Mexico border can be more similar than different, especially for a small Hispanic boy who makes weekend trips back and forth with his father. “Vamos a la otra lado.” (Let’s go to the other side.) Once they pass through customs into the Mexican town, they run chores, visit family, and eat at their favorite places. The boy is proud of the gifts and supplies that they are collecting along the way. Erik Maza illustrates the town with friendly people, peaceful streets, and colorful tones. David Bowles brings in Spanish terms and phrases with mostly English narrative to tell their routine journey. The trip ends with an important and realistic stop near the border bridge, where a large group of refugees are camped out and waiting. “The US says there’s no room, and Mexico says it can barely look after it’s own gente.” The boy seeks out his friend who is waiting, and hands over the collected toys, comics, medicine and supplies to the grateful family. The dilemma of crossing the border freely as citizens leaves the boy, and perhaps the readers, wishing for a future of compassion and friendship.

THOUGHTS: Making a complex and never ending issue such as immigration and border control work through the eyes of a child is always a lesson in empathy. In this case, the author chooses to show the connections rather than the divisions between the two countries with a stunning effect. Discussions comparing similarities and differences between students’ towns and the story may continue the conversation. Recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD