- Leaving Home:Stories about Immigration, Migration, and the Diaspora
Current discourses about immigrants and refugees tend to characterize those leaving their homelands as criminals, monsters, and not deserving of being in the place to which they have migrated. In his introduction to a special issue of Children's Literature Association Quarterly on migration, refugees, and diaspora, Philip Nel notes that in 2018 "244 million people live outside the country of their birth. Of that number, 65.6 million have been forced to leave their homes. Nearly 22.5 million are refugees" (357). Now more than ever, we need books that depict these experiences and that humanize the children and families who endure difficult situations in search of a better life or in search of a safe(r) place to live. The books under review in this essay depict the difficult experiences of migration propelled by various reasons and circumstances.
In The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story, young protagonist Emma leaves behind her world on the dark side of the Iron Wall and embarks on a journey on her own to a new land where she cannot speak the language and where she confronts the realities of immigration. In Mustafa, the titular young boy has moved to a new country with his family. There, he often has dreams about the dangers his family escaped—smoke, fire, loud noises—and at the same [End Page 297] time feels alone in the new country, where he neither knows anyone nor speaks the language. Dreamers depicts the experiences of a mother and her child who leave their country in search of a better life. In their new country they encounter challenges with language and navigating an unknown place but eventually find comfort and a sense of belonging in the books they read. Islandborn tells the story of Lola, who cannot remember the island she, as just a baby, left when her family emigrated to the US. Through stories from her family, she learns more about her previous country and gains an even stronger sense of belonging in both the new country and the one she had to leave. Ten Cents a Pound offers a conversation between a mother and daughter; the former encourages her daughter to leave their country in pursuit of a better life, while the latter wants to stay home to help her mother.
All five books offer stories that can help facilitate conversations about immigration, migration, diaspora, and refugees. Some of them—especially those authored by what Corinne Duyvis identifies as #OwnVoices1—seem to represent the experiences in stronger and more authentic ways than others. Yet they are successful in creating for readers what Rudine Sims Bishop calls "mirrors and windows" that expand the representation of migrant experiences. By doing so, these books bring a crucial and extremely relevant issue into children's—and adults'—hands in an accessible and understandable way.
The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story, written Veronika Martenova Charles, draws on her own experiences of being born and growing up behind the Iron Curtain, in the Eastern Bloc controlled by the Soviet government.2 Charles tells the story of Emma, a girl who finds herself in a new place full of opportunities but also challenges. Through a third-person narrator, the text begins by describing a world divided by a "BIG wall," where one side was bright, sunny, and free and the other a place where "the sun rarely shone" and people "were afraid of each other." The accompanying illustration depicts this stark contrast between the two worlds divided by the Iron Curtain. On the left, the sky is blue...