From the Publisher
"Seasoned picture-book author Glaser offers a compelling historical novel here, which an endnote explains was loosely based on the life of a member of her community." --Booklist Booklist, ALA
"Even reluctant readers will enjoy this riveting account and sensitive portrayal of what it means to be an immigrant." ––School Library Journal School Library Journal
"Glaser's first novel is an inspirational story that's clearly a labor of love and tribute. A fine addition to collections on the immigrant experience."-- Kirkus Kirkus Reviews
Kindness is essential to Fivel Myzel's survival in his Vilkomerski, Poland, shtetl. Age nine in 1920, Fivel misses his father who emigrated to the United States when Fivel was an infant. Fivel eagerly checks the mail wagon for packages his father might have sent containing money to pay for Fivel, his mother, and siblings to travel to America. While he waits, Fivel attends heder lessons with his brother Benyomin, says a special Shabbos prayer for his father, and visits Beryl the baker, who always gives extra food to Fivel for his family. Escaping Cossack raiders who plunder the shtetl and almost capture Benyomin, Fivel relies on his resourcefulness and neighbors' generosity and sacrifices to endure adversity. Fivel's tenacity proves useful when he leaves his familiar surroundings for new experiences aboard the ship taking him to America and adjusts to being labeled an immigrant in his Minnesota community. Details concerning food, holidays, and traditions enhance this novel's cultural and historical authenticity. Glaser's author's note provides information and photographs featuring the real Fivel, Phil Myzel, and describes how she interviewed him and researched his story, transforming it into a novel. An historical note places Fivel's story into context, and an annotated glossary explains Yiddish vocabulary used in the text. Pair with Donald Gallo's anthology, First Crossing: Stories About Teen Immigrants (2004), for social studies discussions. Highly recommended 2005, Houghton Mifflin, Ages 8 to 12.
Elizabeth D. Schafer
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Based on the childhood of a Polish immigrant, this accessible novel reveals the hardships of the shtetl and its striking contrast to life in America. The youngest of five children, Fivel, about eight years old, lives with his mother and siblings in a hut. His father left for America years earlier, and the family has been waiting to hear from him ever since. Barely surviving on watery soup and terrorized by the brutal Cossacks, the family depends upon the kindness of neighbors to get by. Only the mail wagon offers the promise of a brighter future. When the long-awaited package finally arrives, it is a framed photograph of Pa, which the boy's mother angrily throws into the fire. "`We're starving-Are you meshuggeneh? We can't eat a picture!'" Luckily, Fivel spies the green bills carefully hidden in the frame--enough money to get them to Pa in Minnesota. Though a simple rag peddler, he has a house with electricity, flush toilets, and plenty to eat. While Fivel is eager to be an American, he realizes that he will always be "a boy with two worlds inside." An author's note includes photographs of the protagonist, both as a child in Poland and as an adult. Even reluctant readers will enjoy this riveting account and sensitive portrayal of what it means to be an immigrant.-Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Hard as he tries, eight-year-old Fivel can't remember his father's face. Living in a Polish shtetl in 1920, Fivel dreams of escaping poverty, Cossacks and pogroms and reuniting with his father in America. When the chance comes and his family finally arrives at Ellis Island, he sees the Statue of Liberty and thinks, "If they had a statue like this for someone like me, it must be a good place to live." But the early days in a new country are a mixed blessing, especially when Fivel is obsessed with becoming an American and erasing his Polish past. Fortunately, he comes to see that he is a boy with two worlds inside; he didn't have to give up his old life in favor of the new. Based closely on the experiences of a man in her community, Glaser's first novel is an inspirational story that's clearly a labor of love and tribute. A fine addition to collections on the immigrant experience. (author's note, historical afterword, glossary) (Fiction. 8-12)
Read an Excerpt
I’ll never forget that cold afternoon. It’s fixed in my head as clearly as Beryl’s face and the warm sweet smell of his bakery. Such a smell could fill an empty stomach!
I was heading there right after heder —itching to tell him the trick we’d played on our teacher and hoping for a bagel to fill myself up a little. But Lila, a neighbor lady, came rushing up to me on the road.
“Fivel, I heard there’s a man at your house.” She leaned in too close, smelling strongly of garlic. “Do you know who it is?” Lila always wanted the gossip. So even if I had known, I might not have told her. But the only man I could think of was Pa. My heart pounced at the thought. Was it possible? “I’d better go see” was all I said. Then I raced down the road so fast my own breath had to run to catch up with me. Pa. That one word thundered through my whole body. Maybe I’d finally meet him. Maybe he had come for us himself. I ran so hard, the heels of my feet hit me from behind. Maybe, maybe, we’d soon be with him in America. I burst into my house and stopped short. A tall well-dressed man in city clothes was talking to Ma. We’d never had such a rich looking man in our house before. No one had ever stepped on our hard dirt floor with such shiny leather shoes! He was speaking Polish, not Yiddish—our Jewish language. And he did not have the full beard of a Jew. So it wasn’t Pa after all. Disappointment weighed on my chest, heavy as a pile of stones. It took me some time to even care enough to listen or wonder why he was here. When I did, he gave a quick glance in my direction and lowered his voice. “Please understand, Mrs. Myzel. All of us will benefit.” He stroked the side of his nose with his pointer finger. “You, most of all, with one less mouth to feed.” He gave a stiff smile showing mostly teeth. Ma set her lips firmly and shook her head. The man frowned. “Mrs. Myzel, as you well know, life does not look promising for Jews in Poland. So far, 1920 does not bode well.” He drew a folded paper from his coat pocket, snapped it open, and offered it to her—“Here is my name and address” —not knowing that Ma couldn’t read. “You must realize that I can give him a much better life than this.” He shot an ugly look around our one-room house and down at the hard dirt floor. It made me want to kick him. Ma didn’t take the paper. “Thank you for your concern.” She spoke in Polish, clipping each word. “But we’re managing.” Her face was rigid as she held the door open for him.
He thrust the paper into her hand anyway. “If things get worse for you Jews, and mark my words they will, you’ll be grateful you have this. Good day.” He turned and left. Ma quickly shut the door and gave a little shudder.
“Who was that?” I asked.
She didn’t answer. Her mouth was set in a thin tight line.
But my sister Kvola spoke up. “That man . . .” her eyes flashed. “He wanted to take you!” “No!” I threw my arms around Ma. My sister Hannah was bent over our table mending. She hunched into herself even more when Kvola said that. Ma was still glaring at the door. Just then, my brother, Benyomin, rushed in, his face flushed from running. “That man,” he pointed outside. “What was he doing here? Did you see his fancy horse and carriage in front of Tomas and Ana’s house?” A horse and carriage! I hadn’t even noticed. I’d been in such a rush to see Pa. I’d barely glanced next door. He must be very rich. I squeezed Ma’s arm even tighter. Rich people always seemed to get what they wanted.
Kvola narrowed her eyes. “He wants to take Fivel away. His wife wants ‘a good little boy.’ ” She gave a stiff smile like his—full of teeth.
“What?” Benyomin looked at Ma. “He can’t do that!” “Don’t let him!” I clutched Ma around the waist. “Please.” “Of course not,” said Ma impatiently. “I’m already one child poorer.” A shadow of sadness swept behind her eyes. I didn’t know what she’d meant by that. But it wasn’t comforting. She drew her mouth into that tight line again as if she’d said more than she’d meant to. She gave Hannah and Kvola a sharp warning look.
“But Ma, what if he comes back?” I cried. Ma shook her head. “Don’t worry.” But she sounded more tired than reassuring. She set the paper on the table. That troubled me. I badly wanted to crumple it into a tight ball, throw it into our clay oven, and watch it burst into flames. But something about the heaviness in Ma’s shoulders made me uneasy. Now my shoulders sagged, too.
“Pff!” Kvola made a spitting sound. “Don’t even think about him! He’s gone.” She gave a strong kick in his direction as if she, herself, had booted him out of our house. That made me smile. “Don’t you worry, Fivel.” She tugged my shoulders back up. “Everythingg will be fine.” I nodded. “Soon we’ll be safe in America.” I tried to sound just as strong and sure as she did. I looked up at Ma. “Won’t we?” IIIII asked, hoping maybe she’d talk about Pa and America like she used to when I was little. But Ma was in her own thoughts. She wiped her hands on her apron and turned to the pot on the stove. “Soon Pa will send for us.” I tried again, enjoying the sound of it in my mouth, as though saying it aloud would bring it closer.
But Ma just wasn’t in a talking mood. She ladled out our soup for tonight—mostly water with some potatoes and onions, leaving the rest in the pot for tomorrow. “It’s almost Shabbos,” she reminded me, feeding a few more sticks to the fire. “Here.” She handed me the pot. “Quick to Beryl’s. And come straight home before sundown.” I lifted the latch and hurried into the sharp autumn air and down the dirt road. An icy gust swept through my clothes. I shivered, but not only from the cold. That man in city clothes gave me chills. And what about Ma? One child poorer? It made no sense. But why had she looked so sad? I walked as fast as I could without spilling our soup. Meanwhile, I tried to push the man out of my head—like Kvola kicking him out the door. But his parting words taunted. You’ll be grateful you have this. “No!” I shouted into the cold wind. “No we won’t!”
Copyright © 2005 by Linda Glaser. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.