Teresa Toten has explored, with poignant wit and humour, her own experience as an immigrant (and an observer) in The Onlyhouse, Me and the Blondes and Better Than Blonde. Here she edits 14 original accounts by Canadian immigrant writers, all dealing with fitting into Canada. Svetlana Chmakova uses a graphic novel format. A teacher’s speech balloon filled with the words ‘English, English, English’ offers a powerful visual image of the difficulty faced by an immigrant student in a Canadian high school classroom. Slam poet Boonaa Mohammed’s rhythms capture the violent spiral of bullying.
There is variety, not only in format, but in content. Contributors come from different countries — for better opportunity, for education, for love, for safety from oppression and war. Synergies emerge as themes are raised and reinforced. And there are ironic contrasts. Rachna Gilmore stands out in Prince Edward Island because of her skin colour. But Richard Poplak, fresh from South Africa in a Toronto arts high school, is bewildered by the “white hands, yellow hands, black hands.” Immigrants must leave behind the geographic and emotional landscape of their home countries. How much of their identity is tied up in their language, their culture, their accent, even their name? Central to all of the accounts are the lengths one needs to go to in order to belong — and the limits one must set.
As Toten points out, all of us, especially teens, need to feel that we belong. Although aimed at a young adult audience, this strong collection could be equally well shared with adults. These honest accounts will inspire empathy in those who have not had to make the painful adjustments to a new country. They can inspire other immigrants to share their stories. This would be an excellent classroom resource. Team it with Paul Yee’s What Happened This Summer or Shaun Tan’s The Arrival — and let the stories begin.
Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Summer 2010. Vol.33 No.3.
This anthology features 14 stories by some of Canada’s finest authors who were born overseas and struggled to fit in with their new homeland. The stories range from joyful to mortifying, humorous to heartwrenching, and young adults will connect with their desire to belong and be accepted. This book was not just written for those “new kids,” but everyone who has ever tried to fit in.
Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2011.