[Nonfiction Wednesday] The Diaspora of “Anna and Solomon” from Vitebsk to Brooklyn

nfwed

Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

One of the first things we did before we launched our reading theme is to research for stories that highlight the refugee and/or (im)migrant experience, the migratory journeys away from one’s place of birth. The book I am featuring today happens to be in Goodreads’ Popular Immigrant Themed Picture Books Shelf.


Anna & Solomon

Written by: Elaine Snyder Illustrated by: Harry Bliss
Published by: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014
ISBN-10: 0374303622 (ISBN13: 9780374303624)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This story is based on the author’s grandparents who once lived as a young couple in the Jewish quarter in Vitebsk, Russia back in 1897. They lived a peaceful and simple existence up until the time that the Czar started persecuting Jews, destroying their holy books, ransacking their homes, and leaving them homeless.

Since the couple did not have enough money, it was decided that Solomon would travel to the United States first until he earns enough cash to send for his wife, and then they will start a family in a land where they are free to practice their faith without fear of oppression.

While Solomon’s initial days were shown to be fraught with relative hardship, it did show that through hard work and persistence, he was able to send money to his wife after several months – only to find out that his wife sent his younger brother to America instead. This went on for several trips until Anna and Solomon were eventually reunited. The general vibe of the book was light-hearted and depicted that realization of the now-elusive American dream acquired through honest labour and diligence. The Author’s Note also showed how the couple eventually owned several retail store properties in Brooklyn.

It just made me wonder whether such thing is still possible at the present time. At the end of the day, our wishes as human beings are fairly simple – to be given a fair chance to live a peaceful life where we can do what we do best and become productive members of the society we live in. The sad thing is how most people are denied this kind of opportunity that Anna and Solomon were given in the early 1900s.

I can  see educators using this in the classroom and asking students to trace the history of their grandparents through narratives similar to this one. However, given how so many young children in American classrooms are sons and daughters of undocumented workers, this becomes an even more thorny issue. I wonder what they will think of Anna and Solomon’s story, though, and just how different their lives are now from the ones that have been allowed to flouish once in America’s history.

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