One Good Thing About America
One Good Thing About America
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Annotation: Anais, who has recently emigrated from Africa to Maine with her mother and young brother, copes with acclimating herself to a new country, understanding American culture, learning English, figuring out how to fit in at school, and moving from motel to shelter and finally to a permanent apartment.
Catalog Number: #139794
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
No other formats available
Publisher: Holiday House
Copyright Date: 2017
Edition Date: 2017
Pages: 152 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-8234-3695-0
ISBN 13: 978-0-8234-3695-8
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2016027037
Dimensions: 22 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Anaïs and her mother and brother have just arrived in America from Congo, and in a series of letters to her oma, the nine-year-old shares stories about learning English and a new culture, all while worrying about her father, who's still in Africa. Freeman is very clear that she doesn't have firsthand experience as a refugee, but she makes a significant effort to imbue the story with empathy and realistic humor as Anaïs learns the idiosyncrasies of American language and culture. Anaïs' letters to her grandmother occur regularly over the course of the year, and as she becomes more adept at the language, the letters also gradually reveal details about the circumstances of her move to the U.S. and what life might be like for a refugee family newly arrived in America, including shelters, social workers, and public programs. Anaïs' epistolary story, told in easy-to-read letters and charming doodles, might be empowering to English-language learners; and middle-graders unfamiliar with such experiences might find new depths of compassion and understanding.
Kirkus Reviews
Congolese immigrant Anaïs adjusts to her new home in Maine over the course of one school year.Readers follow her progress in her letters home to her grandmother, who insists that she write in English and enumerate "one good thing about America" every day. Unsurprisingly, her letters feature an English language learner's incomplete command of grammar and spelling; at the end of her first, Anaïs expresses her frustration: "Please let me use le français. I am very tired with English today." Thus encouraging readers' empathy, Freeman goes on to record, in her protagonist's voice, a year that includes many comings and goings at the shelter where she lives with her mother and little brother and in her ELL classroom—but, sadly, not the arrival of her father or older brother, who are in hiding from the Congolese government, a situation that's only vaguely explained to readers but a clear and ever present worry for Anaïs and her family. There are also the usual markers of an American school year: holiday observances, school projects, and friendship ups and downs. ELL teacher Freeman realistically populates Anaïs' classroom with other immigrant children, including a Somali girl and an Iraqi boy, deftly disproving monolithic notions of both Africa and Islam. She expressly writes for an audience of English-speaking and presumably native-born Americans while articulating the hope that "one day soon…my students will write their own stories." A touching if incomplete fictional glimpse at one immigrant girl's experience. (glossary) (Fiction. 8-12)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6Spanning a school year, this touching novel in epistolary format relates the triumphs and travails of a young Congolese refugee, Anaïs, and her family. Settled in Maine, the plucky nine-year-old diligently writes letters home to Oma (her grandmother), who has requested updates in English only. Hoping to help the child acclimate to life in a foreign country, Oma asks Anaïs to include in every missive at least "one good thing about America." Realistically portraying the writing of an English language learner, the text is peppered with grammatical errors and misspellings. As the narrative progresses, readers see marked improvement in the tween's writing. Anaïs's voice feels true as she shares her experiences, which include befriending other immigrant children in her class, participating in traditional American activities such as trick-or-treating and Christmas decorating, and contending with a health emergency that tests her maturity and resolve. However, the letters often simplistically refer to political unrestAnaïs's older brother and father are hiding from the government as they try to make their way to a refugee camp in Kenyaand young readers may struggle to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. Freeman's characterization of African and Middle Eastern immigrants is well done, and she deftly dispels stereotypes about these cultures. When an American classmate asks Anaïs why she doesn't wear a hijab like another Somali classmate, the protagonist responds, "Really? You think Africa is one small place?" Helpful back matter includes links to informational websites, an author's note, an ELL vocabulary list, and a French glossary. VERDICT Highly recommended for libraries seeking timely stories about the immigrant experience.Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
ALA Booklist (3/1/17)
Kirkus Reviews
National Council For Social Studies Notable Children's Trade
School Library Journal (5/1/17)
Word Count: 31,175
Reading Level: 3.9
Interest Level: 3-6
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 3.9 / points: 4.0 / quiz: 189824 / grade: Middle Grades
Lexile: 570L

It's always hard to start at a new school . . . and even harder if you're in a new country.

Back home, nine-year-old Anaïs was the best English student in her class, but here in Crazy America it feels like she doesn't know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken fingers?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa.
Anaïs misses home.  She misses their little house under the mango trees, and the family left behind—Papa and grandmother Oma and big brother Olivier.  She worries about the fighting that drove her and Mama and little Jean-Claude to leave.
So she writes letters to Oma and tells her about Halloween, snow, mac 'n' cheese dinners, and princess sleepovers. She tells her all about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself.
Inspired by the author's work with students learning English, this sweet, often funny middle-grade novel explores differences and common ground across cultures.  In contrast to a growing climate of fear and doubt, this story of a refugee child navigating her new life restores hope and reminds us that America is, in fact, a nation of immigrants where we must accept our differences in order to survive—and that's one very good thing.

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