Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Maggie’s Amerikay

Maggie’s Amerikay

Barbara Timberlake Russell
Illustrator:  Jim Burke 
Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006   ISBN: 978-0374347222

Maggie is not at all sure that she and her family did the right thing leaving home, family, and friends in Ireland to come and live in New Orleans. They gave up a lot to come here and was it worth it? Her parents are having to work very hard just to get by and she, Maggie, feels like an outsider.

One day Maggie is following her father’s peddler’s cart when she meets a Negro boy, Nathan, who clearly would love to have the rather battered old cornet that Maggie’s father has on his cart. Nathan’s mother doesn’t approve of her son’s love of “ragtime” saying that “music won’t fill his stomach.” She also warns him not to have anything to do with the Irish, just as Maggie has been told to stay away from the Negroes.

The next day Maggie’s little sister is sick with the fever. Mam won’t be able to work now and Maggie is determined to get a job. Unfortunately she is either too small or too unsuitable for most jobs. Then Nathan, with Da’s cornet in his hand, finds her a job writing down the stories of a sick old Negro man. Together the old former slave and the stubborn red-headed Irish girl find out that they have more in common than they thought.

Day after day in the Negro Storytime district with the sound of drums from Africa and Ragtime from clubs echoing in her ears, Maggie goes to write down Daddy Clements’ stories. As she writes she begins to realize that she is a part of this wonderful kaleidoscope of color and sound that is New Orleans. She understands at last that it is up to her to make what she will of her life in this new country.

In this wonderful, often lyrically written book, the author tells the story of a young girl who finds the courage to find her own path in life. The story is not only a tribute to the courage of America’s newly arrived immigrants, but it is also a celebration of its multicultural tradition and its splendid and unique musical heritage.