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Maggie's Amerikay    by Barbara Timberlake Russell & Jim Burke order for
Maggie's Amerikay
by Barbara Timberlake Russell
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

I love historical novels that transport you back in time, and lately, I've been noticing that trend in children's books too.

The year is 1898 and Maggie is an Irish immigrant to New Orleans. Like many other immigrant families, hers is desperately trying to make ends meet. Maggie's father is determined that she and her baby sister Bessie get an education, even though she is taunted by children who do not go to school but instead, work to help their families. Maggie's father is a generous peddler, often giving away his wares to less fortunate people, despite his family's own poverty. Maggie's father gives a cornet to Nathan, a young black child, since Nathan wants to grow up and be a ragtime musician.

Despite a mistrust between the Irish and black population, Maggie forms a reluctant friendship with Nathan. When her baby sister becomes ill, her mother must give up her own job to take care of her, prompting Maggie to find any job she can. Nathan leads Maggie to a job in the Storyville section of the city, writing the tales of an elderly African-American gentleman, Daddy Clements. Daddy Clements and Maggie exchange stories of the hardship shared by their people. The old, black man and the young, Irish girl eventually come to understand each other.

Later, Maggie hears Nathan playing his cornet with some other musicians and suddenly feels like a free spirit, a world of possibilities ahead of her. This charmingly illustrated historical picture book, written in the first person, is geared toward first-graders and up. It is a story of freedom, of sharing experiences and breaking down barriers, and a valiant attempt to teach that people, at the core, are not all that different. The book also pays homage to the birth of jazz in New Orleans.

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