In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries
Written by Christa Holtei
Illustrated by Gerda Raidt
Translated by Susi Woofter
Charlesbridge, USA, 2015, 40 pp.
With accompanying detailed pencil illustrations, this informational text invites readers to experience the journey of German emigrants to America in the 1860s. Robert Peters is a peasant farmer and linen weaver, who lives with his wife and two children in a small village in Germany. Because of the severe economic conditions, they decide to leave for America in search of a better life. They carefully plan for the trip and pack within the restrictions of a single trunk items such as the family photo, an accordion, a pocket watch, Robert’s grandmother’s necklace, seeds, a clock, silverware, and food.
The journey takes six weeks to cross the ocean, and the family lands in post-Civil War New Orleans. They pass through passport control and undergo medical examinations. But their journey is still not over. They do not stay in New Orleans, but are transferred to Omaha, Nebraska via St. Louis, Missouri by a riverboat, train, and covered wagon, which takes them on a journey of over a month. On the way to Omaha, they meet other Germans and people who have migrated from Scandinavia, Switzerland, Ireland, and England, providing support throughout the long journey. When they arrive in Omaha, the family is exhausted, but healthy, and immediately starts preparations for their new life; building their own house and farm, growing plants using the seeds they brought from Germany, making new friends, and mastering the English language. Thanks to the Homeland Act, they are able to cultivate their new life successfully.
Almost 150 years later, a twelve-year-old girl, Olivia Peters, who is a direct descendant of the family, learns about her family history while working on a school project. She lives on a large farm that five generations of the Peters family have built up over the years. Olivia and her parents and brother explore their family roots, carrying out research on the Internet and consulting books. They also investigate their ancestor’s migration experiences by looking at items brought from Germany, such as tickets for a steamship and a pocket watch. Intrigued by the story of their ancestors, they travel to their ancestral home in Germany to find out more about their history.
This fascinating book can be paired with other stories of United States immigrants, such as When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest and P.J. Lynch (2003), the story of a young girl’s journey from Eastern Europe, The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff and Michael Dooling (1999), which relates the experiences of Russian emigrants, and Fiona’s Lace by Patricia Polacco (2014), which is based on the story of an Irish family. The combination of these books will provide readers with an opportunity to better understand, from a variety of perspectives, the ways that people emigrated to America and their reasons for doing so. One noteworthy aspect of this book is that the story is told from a German, not American point of view.
Christa Holtei lives in Germany. She has studied English literature, philosophy, and education and has also worked as an author and translator at the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf. Gerda Raidt is a highly acclaimed illustrator in Germany and has published numerous books. Susi Woofter is a German-English translator who is based in the U.S. She is interested in the German language and culture and lived in Germany for several years.
Junko Sakoi, Tucson Unified School District, Tucson, AZ