Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

One Good Thing About America

One Good Thing About America

Ruth Freeman
For ages 8 to 10
Holiday House, 2017   ISBN: 978-0823436958

Not that long ago Anais had a happy life. She lived in a comfortable home with her parents and siblings, and she beloved grandmother, Oma, lived nearby. Then Anais’ father, who was a soldier in the Congolese army, was injured. The government gave him a job working as a manager in a mine and that was when things started to go wrong. Papa tried to help the men and boys who worked in the mine, which displeased his employers. The company accused Papa of stealing something and now he is on the run, with soldiers and mine officials looking for him. Fearing for the well-being of his daughter, wife, and young son, Papa, with Oma’s help, managed to scrape together enough money to send them to America.

Now Anais, Mama, and little Jean-Claude are living in a shelter for immigrant families in Maine. Oma has asked Anais to write letters to her in English, which the nine-year old does, though she wishes she could convey her news in French instead.

Though Anais did very well in her English class in her school in Africa, in the United States her English doesn’t get her very far. She feels isolated and frustrated at school, and one top of this she is worried about Papa and her big brother Olivier. Anais begs her Oma to let her return to the Congo so that she can live with her. America is such a strange and “crazy” place and she does not like her new life at all.

Mama makes it clear that Anais has to accept that “America is our home now” and she encourages her daughter to improve her English as quickly as possible. Mama wants Anais to get the education she was not able to have, and she wants her daughter to be in a place that is safe, which the Congo is not.

When Anais is sent to a special class for children whose primary language is not English, things get a little better. Her teacher, Ms. Taylor, is a kind and sympathetic lady who goes out of her way to reassure Anais. She also encourages Anais to tell her about her life in Africa, which makes Anais feel a lot better about being in America. Oma told Anais to try to find one good thing about America every day, and Anais finds it easier to do this as the days go by.

When fall arrives Anais experiences her first Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations. Some of the traditions are puzzling, but many of them are enjoyable as well. When Christmas comes around Anais expects her first American Christmas to be like the celebrations that she had with her family in the Congo, but it isn’t. Christmas should be familiar, and finding out that it too is full of things that she does not understand makes Anais feel very upset. The Christmas that she had at home with Oma is “the Christmas I want to have.”

People who have never had to leave their home and country behind to start over again in another place cannot imagine how hard such a process can be. There are language and cultural barriers that need to be overcome; homesickness and a longing for what is familiar is ever present; and often the immigrants miss family members that they left behind.

This wonderful book beautifully captures what it feels like to be a refugee, and we see how hard it is to adjust to a new life in a new country.