All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
Written and Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Dragonfly Books, 2011, 40 pp.
Work hard, but remember to enjoy life. And don’t forget your family. (p. 4)
This intergenerational story of an Italian family begins with their journey to America from Sorrento, Italy, and includes the legacy of a shovel passed down through the generations. Through this family memoir, the author tells the story of his great-grandfather, who, as a young man working the family farm in Italy, yearns for more in life. He ventures to America in hopes of promised opportunities and prosperity. As he leaves, his father hands him a shovel and speaks the words quoted above. This shovel becomes symbolic of the family’s values and their legacy. The shovel is a cultural reminder of what is important to the family, and so becomes a central part of each generation, reflecting their belief in hard work as a pathway to success.
Yaccarino illustrated his narrative with colorful and complementary paintings. The illustrations depict various facets of Italian culture, including clothing, traditional foods, and the lively family gatherings and relationships. The author’s positionality as an insider to the culture provides an authentic depiction of Italian culture both in their Italian homeland and as immigrants to America. For instance, the illustrations depict Italy as it actually appears when traveling through the countryside. He also portrays the people immigrating to America with a somber demeanor but also ready for a new start and this comes through the images in a vibrant way.
All the Way to America is relevant and appropriate for all ages; however, younger students are more likely to appreciate the style of illustrations and the reading level and structure of the text. This book would pair well with other texts thematically related to immigration or family, such as The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2007), a wordless picture book utilizing distinct images with great depth to depict immigration and the strangeness of a foreign culture and land. Pairing this book with The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco (1988) has the potential to spark valuable conversations about cultural artifacts and cultural symbols in readers’ lives. Students will be able to make a number of connections to this text, particularly those related to family, cooking, and intergenerational traditions.
Dan Yaccarino lives in New York with his family. An internationally-acclaimed author and illustrator, he has written and illustrated many children’s books, including Lawn to Lawn (2010), Unlovable (2002), Trashy Town (1999), Birthday Fish (2005), and the informational text, The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau (2009). He has been instrumental in creating two well-known television series, “Oswald” and “The Backyardigans.” All the Way to America has received many honors, including the IRA Teachers’ Choice Award for 2012, Kirkus’ Best Children’s Books of 2011, Irma Black Honor Book for 2012, and Bank Street Best of the Year for 2012 with Outstanding Merit. More information can be found at Dan Yaccrino’s website.
Rebecca Gasiewicz, University of Cincinnati, Ohio