Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Journal of Otto Peltonen: A Finnish Immigrant, Hibbing Minnesota 1905

The Journal of Otto Peltonen: A Finnish Immigrant, Hibbing Minnesota 1905

William Durbin
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 12 to and up
Scholastic, 2000   ISBN: 978-0439092548

At long last Otto, his mother, and his sisters are going to join his father in America. It is a time that they have been looking forward to, a time that they had to wait for because Otto’s father had to work for many months before he had saved enough money for the tickets that would bring his family to join him in America. They all hope to find a better kind of life in America, one where they will be free of the rule of oppressive landowners and foreign governments.

When they arrive Otto is shocked to see the life his father has been forced to adopt. They live in a city of ugly, barely weather proof shacks along with hundreds of other families. Worse still they now face a new kind of oppression, one imposed on them by the mining companies who employ men like Otto’s father. Otto’s father is embittered and angry, eager to do something to try to get the mining companies to give their workers better, safer, and more just working conditions.

More than anything Otto and his family want to be able to buy some land and have their own farm and they are willing to do almost anything to attain this dream. Otto even gives up going to school and goes down the dreaded mine, a place he hates and fears. All he has to sustain him is the hope that losing his home in Finland, his family there, and his chance of an education will, in the end, pay off.

The backdrop to this very moving and thought-provoking book is a time of much change, for the new century brought with it an eagerness to achieve a better and more equitable society, at least this is how the working and poorer classes felt. There were also the women who believed it was their right to have the vote and a voice in their own government. Many of the new immigrants had to accept terrible working conditions, intolerance, and much more. It was especially hard for the people from Finland who had a hard time learning the language when they came to America and who were often marginalized and persecuted.