Holiday House, 2017.
When Anaïs comes to America, things are very different from her life back home in Congo. Her family is split up, people don’t speak in French, and the food is very strange. But Anaïs’s grandmother asked her to write letters in English and to include in each letter one good thing about America, and Anaïs is determined to keep her promise.
Starting on the first day of fourth grade, Anaïs writes often to Oma. At first, writing in English is hard, and finding good things to say about America is even harder. Sometimes worries about her Papa, her brother Olivier, and Oma overshadow the good things that are beginning to happen for Anaïs. But over time, Anaïs begins to make friends, build a community, and find many good things about America.
Told in compelling letters from Anaïs to her grandmother, One Good Thing About America is an important book for children to read today. Though Ruth Freeman is not herself an immigrant, her work as a teacher of English Language Learners in Maine has helped her to put her finger on the pulse of child immigrants in America today, and her compassion has allowed her to show the complexity of immigrating to a country in which the language, the customs, and the expectations are all completely unknown. The story includes not only Anaïs’s experiences, but also some insight into immigrants from Iraq, Somalia, and Libya. In my opinion, Freeman soft pedals the frictions and misunderstandings that are likely to occur between children in school, perhaps equally in service to other elements of the story and in order to keep the focus on the many other challenges immigrants must face. For me, this decision works and makes One Good Thing About America a hopeful and heartwarming read.
I’d recommend this novel as a classroom or bedtime read-aloud or for students to read on their own. This debut novel will provoke great discussions between parents and children, teachers and students, and (dare I hope?) politicians and constituents.
I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.