Book reviewed: Hannah’s Way – Linda Glaser and Adam Gustavson, Kar-Ben Publishers, 2012
This week will mark the two hundred and forty second year of independence for the United States. No matter how many times we remind ourselves that we are a nation of immigrants, it can never be enough. With the important exception of Natives Americans and Africans brought here against their will as enslaved people, the rest of us either are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. In the current climate of xenophobia, countered, we hope, by the majority of Americans who respect and defend newcomers and refugees struggling to get here, this Fourth of July would be the perfect time to read Hannah’s Way with your children. (I frequently blog about books about immigrants in kidlit; see here and here and here and here and here.)
Linda Glaser tells the story of Hannah, a child who left Minneapolis with her Jewish family to live in a small Minnesota town in the early twentieth century. A helpful “Author’s Note” explains that many Jews followed the same route, opening small stores in regions with very small Jewish populations. When Hannah’s public school teacher announces a class picnic trip on a Saturday, she feels lonely and alienated, as she will not drive to the event on the Jewish Sabbath. Glaser describes Hannah’s feelings realistically.
She feels resentment that her father, in order to support their family, had moved them to this town where she has lost all the support of the city. She tries to reason with her parents, who respond kindly and with deep conviction that they cannot compromise their religious beliefs, not even “just this once.” Children will easily relate to Hannah’s frustration, when her father reminds her that “Just because there are no other Jews in the community doesn’t mean we forget the ways of our people.” “I don’t want to follow the ways of my people, thought Hannah. I just want to go on my class picnic.”
Adam Gustavson’s dramatic paintings have a cinematic effect. He has a gift for conveying the historical details and the emotional intensity of the era. (I found the content and message of The Yankee at the Seder to be deplorable, but in that book his illustrations had the same effect.) The scene of Hannah attempting to discuss her dilemma with her parents shows her with head bowed, shrinking into her own sense of loss as her parents lean towards her as they communicate their non-negotiable decision.
Her teacher, uninformed about Judaism but kind and sympathetic, puts a comforting hand on Hannah’s shoulder even as Hannah feels unable to admit that a ride in someone’s car will not allow her to participate. Gustavson’s pictures show the tension between an environment which is friendly and non-threatening, and Hannah’s realistic fear that the Christians in her community may close their minds and hearts against her when they finally learn that she cannot attend the picnic on the same terms as everyone else. Ultimately, a solution is found, and, at least in this instance, the people of the town respond to “Hannah’s Way” with the best of American values, helpfulness, solidarity, and validation of Hannah’s identity as an American.
Hannah’s Way offers a tangible narrative to young readers about welcoming people to our country, instead of banning them under dishonest pretenses of protecting our country. Reading it is a moving experience.
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