MY NAME IS AMERICA

THE JOURNAL OF OTTO PELTONEN, A FINNISH IMMIGRANT

The latest in this series of historical diaries recounts the story of Otto Peltonen, a Finnish boy who travels with his mother and two sisters to America in 1905 to join his father, who is already working in the iron mines of Minnesota. Unfortunately, Otto’s expectations of America have far exceeded the gritty reality. “We pulled into the train station late in the afternoon. Not only are the streets in Hibbing not paved with gold, but they are rutted with dusty wagon tracks.” Otto and his family are dismayed when they see that their new home is little more than a shack in a squatters’ camp nicknamed “Finn Town.” Even more unsettling, Otto barely recognizes his father in the unkempt, angry man who can’t stop talking about the need to organize the miners into a union. Despite his disappointment, Otto soon adapts to life in Hibbing, a town he describes as “a dull collection of telegraph poles and plain-looking buildings,” with 40 to 50 saloons catering to the miners who come from at least 35 different countries. Otto’s father works ten-hour shifts at the mine, six days a week, under extremely dangerous conditions. Mine accidents are all-too-common and are an ever-present worry for the families of miners. After a year in school, Otto joins his father in the mines, where he sees the dismal working conditions first-hand. After two years in America, Otto’s family has finally saved enough money to buy a farm, on which Otto’s father can fulfill his dream of being his own boss. While the reader learns about the harsh working conditions of the early part of the 20th century and about the difficulties workers had in ameliorating those conditions, the diary reveals much more than Otto’s worries and his sense of disappointment in America. He is playful, intrepid, appealing, and full of life. Because it is replete with gory descriptions of mining accidents, complaints about his annoying younger sister, and accounts of hijinks with his best friend Nikko, readers will vastly enjoy following Otto’s life for the two years the diary covers. A good choice for reluctant readers and an interesting counterpart to Our Only May Amelia (1999), which gives a girl’s perspective of the Finnish immigrant experience. (historical note, photos) (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-09254-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

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THE JOURNAL OF SEAN SULLIVAN

A TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD WORKER

In the My Name Is America series, Durbin (Wintering, 1999, etc.) offers the story of Sean Sullivan, whose first day in Omaha, Nebraska, brings him face to face with a victim of an Indian attack; the man survived, but carries his bloody scalp in a bucket. It’s August 1897, and Sean has just arrived from Chicago, planning to work with his father on the Intercontinental Railroad. Pa, who carries terrible memories of his stint in the Civil War and of the death three years ago of Sean’s mother, is already a foreman for the railroad, but Sean must start at the bottom, as a water carrier, toting barrels of it to the thirsty men who are doing the back-breaking work on the line. At night, everyone is usually too tired to do anything but sleep, but Sundays are free, and Sean discovers the rough and rowdy world of the towns that seem to sprout up from nowhere along the railroad’s path over the prairie. Through Sean’s eyes, the history of this era and the magnitude of his and his fellow workers’ achievements come alive; Durbin has no trouble making Sean’s world palpable, and readers will slog along with Sean every step of the way on his long and arduous journey to building a railroad and becoming a man. (b&w maps, photos, reproductions) (Fiction. 8-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-439-04994-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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DUST FROM OLD BONES

Far more engaging for its history than its story, this novel in the form of a diary never catches fire. The diary is 13-year-old Simone’s, writing from April to July 1838 in New Orleans. Simone and her extended family are “gens de couleur libre”—free people of color—of African and European parentage. Simone is perfecting her English, since French is her usual language; readers glimpse her pampered but insecure existence through her adolescent habits and desires. She loves her beautiful cousin Claire-Marie, as creamy-skinned as her father, a Creole aristocrat who also has a legal wife and children. Simone is fascinated by the slave Azura’s voudou practice, by her father’s stone carving, and most especially by her Tante Madelon, who sweeps in from Paris to visit Simone’s dying grandfather. It may be a weakness of the diary format that too many plot strands are told rather than shown: sibling rivalry among Simone’s mother and aunts; Tante Madelon betraying one niece while assisting another; Claire-Marie’s father abandoning her family with no support; Grandfather’s death bound with some dark family history; Simone’s tentative grasp of the horrors of slavery and her decision to aid Azura’s daughters. The novel is flawed by wispy characterizations and Simone’s whiny voice, but the preface and afterword tell of a fascinating and little-known piece of American history that may draw readers in. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16202-9

Page Count: 155

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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