A 21st-century brother and sister travel with two erudite fairy guides back to pre–World War I Ellis Island in the latest installment of an educational fantasy series for young readers.
In Storming Back to Key West (2013), the second book in Collen’s (The Magic Colors of Sparkleshire, 2015, etc.) adventure series, former Tooth Fairy Enjella and her fairy friend, Alicia, took 10-year-old Abigail and her young brother, Bennett, back to 1835 Florida, where they learned about lighthouse history and helped save ships during a hurricane. Other Enjella adventures were in picture-book formats, but here Abigail and Bennett return in a smart, nimble mix of history and fiction for older elementary- and middle-grade readers. The siblings—gifted by fairies with the ability to fly, shrink in size, become invisible, and speak various languages—journey to Ellis Island, where they observe the experiences of immigrants arriving in the United States in the early 1900s. Drawing upon her own family history, interviews, and historical documents, Collen provides a vivid picture of the events experienced by so many people that came to America, relating their hopes and fears, the crowds they encountered, the health inspections they endured, and the challenges they faced regarding language and cultural differences. Soon the focus shifts to individual immigrant children, because this magical journey, unbeknownst to Abigail and Bennett, is deeply related to their own ancestry. Collen admirably balances fact and fiction while also using humor—the fairies, for example, react to circumstances variously with confetti, fireworks, a disembodied congratulatory hand, and historic documents and paraphernalia, among other things. Accomplished illustrator Trumble’s (Twinkle, Twinkle, 2014, etc.) witty, full-page drawings and visual accents are a fine match for the text.
A well-researched, lively volume that leavens the Ellis Island experience with humor, fairy-tale magic, and an appealing plot.