Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2013 Contenders: Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices, by Gwenyth Swain

Even though I'm not sure it was the best Newbery contender of its year, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was an excellent book. Its use of fictional monologues and dialogues to bring to life a historical place and time was effective, and gave encouragement to anyone else who wanted to use drama to talk about history.

I don't know if Gwenyth Swain drew specific inspiration from GM!SL!, but her book, Hope and Tears: Ellis Island Voices, uses a nearly identical format to illuminate the story of America's most famous immigration station. The thirty-odd brief dramatic pieces are told by characters that span the whole recorded history of the island, from a 16th-century Lenni Lenape boy gathering oysters, to a National Park Service worker in the present day. There are also periodic sections of a page or two that provide background information about the island and its story.

I found Hope and Tears to be very good at what it does. In the voices of immigrants, station officials, aid workers, doctors, construction workers, students, and more, it provides a well-rounded picture of the complex history of Ellis Island. And, although it's not a criterion for the Newbery, it should be noted that the book is brilliantly illustrated with a wide variety of historical photographs, which add depth and life to the pages. It's a beautiful book to look at; the designers and the publisher should be proud.

I don't see another GM!SL!-style upset sweeping Hope and Tears to the Newbery this year; I know I've said it before, but there are just too many other amazing books that are competing, and that are equally, or even more distinguished. I do wonder if the Sibert committee will find it of interest. Given the fictionalized voices that make up the bulk of the book, it's not textbook nonfiction, but seeing as how the Sibert has already been awarded to, for instance, We Are the Ship, that may not be an issue. Whatever happens, I hope Hope and Tears finds readers, because it certainly deserves them.

Published by Calkins Creek / Boyds Mills Press, and out now.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes the best way to make history feel real is to have a fictional voice. This looks really interesting. Thanks for the recommendation!