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MY NAME IS AMERICA by William Durbin


The Journal of Otto Peltonen, a Finnish Immigrant

by William Durbin

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-439-09254-X
Publisher: Scholastic

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)