Gr 5–7—Immigration stories are often about new encounters in a strange land, where immigrants are helped by new friends. Frank Cottrell Boyce's modern immigration tale (Candlewick, 2011) changes the formula. Julie, a sixth grader and a life-long resident of Liverpool, becomes infatuated with two new students—Chingis Khan and his younger brother—who have emigrated from Mongolia. Julie becomes the "good guide" for the brothers, helping them navigate through their new world, language, and customs. In the process, she learns not only about their homeland but also about her friends and teachers while gaining a new appreciation for her own home. This immigration story shows how two outsiders can remind you of how special home is and how complicated immigration can be for families. Sarah Coomes does an excellent job of narrating, The story has some funny moments and some sad ones. In the afterword, Boyce shares how he created the story and what inspired him to write it. A great choice for libraries serving new immigrant populations.—Katie Llera, Milltown Public Library, Milltown, NJ
School Library Journal - Audio
Boyce follows Cosmic with a tight, powerful story—brimming with humor, mystery, and pathos—about illegal immigration and the price it exacts on children. Two Mongolian brothers, Chingis and Nergui, arrive at a British school wearing fur coats and refusing to follow the teacher’s instructions that Nergui remove his hat that’s low on his face: “When you need your eagle to be calm,” Chingis says, “you cover its eyes with a hood. When you want the eagle to fly and kill, you take off the hood.” The class is enthralled, and when Chingis singles our sixth-year Julie to be their “Good Guide,” things that had previously fascinated her (makeup, boys) fall away as she bones up on Genghis Khan and helps the boys learn Liverpudlian slang and the rules of football—“learning themselves ordinary,” she terms it. They tell her they are hiding from a demon, punctuating their tall tales with Polaroids, taken by Hunter and Heney (Boyce’s filmmaker collaborators), which deepen the mystery. In an author’s note Boyce explains his inspiration, making an already moving story even more so. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)
Funny, sad, haunting and original...A tricky, magical delight.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A tight, powerful story-brimming with humor, mystery, and pathos.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This story traces the lives of two brothers, Chingis and Nergui, as they travel from the steppe of Mongolia to the streets of Liverpool, England. It is based on the experience of a child that the author encountered during a classroom visit to discuss his novel,
Millions. The boys from Mongolia feel threatened by "the demon that makes things vanish." Can they find a protector from this demon in England? The demon theme continues throughout the story as the boys express ongoing fear, in spite of their efforts to outwit it. Finally, they are placed in Julie's Six-Year Class, where she becomes their "Good Guide." Julie leads them through their adjustment to a new culture and tries to help them to fit in. But can she protect them from the feared "Vanisher"? The fate of their case for immigration shows that this protection is not to be, as was the case with another immigrant the author learned about in his earlier classroom visit. The book, although fiction, provides cultural lessons about Mongolia and immigration. Color photographs throughout the book supplement the text. Reviewer: Annie Laura Smith
Children's Literature - Annie Laura Smith
Gr 5–7—It's the end of sixth grade, and all Julie can think about is makeup and boys. Things change when two oddly dressed brothers show up at school. Even though it's hot outside, they wear identical fur-lined coats and claim to be Mongolian nomads. Chingis is cheeky to the teacher, demanding in no uncertain terms that his younger brother, Nergui, stay in the class with him for protection. The boys single out Julie to be their Good Guide. She takes her title seriously-she shows them how to dress and act and researches Mongolian history to share with the class. She's hoping that all this helpfulness will translate into an invitation to their home-she is sure it is filled with exotic silks and samovars. As Julie gets to know the brothers, she discovers that their life isn't as romantic as she imagined. They are fearful and evasive, believing that a demon is trying to make them vanish. Nergui isn't even the younger boy's real name-it means "no one," and he uses it to confuse the demon. When the boys disappear from school, Julie decides to follow them, using the images in Chingis's photos to guide her to their whereabouts. This story stems from the author's encounter with a young deportee, a Mongolian girl. Although the novel deals with the serious subject of illegal immigration, Boyce's dialogue is warm and humorous, keeping the book engaging. Chingis's mysterious Polaroids, displayed throughout the book, make for an intriguing format. Julie narrates the story as an adult, looking back, but an unusual ending gives it a contemporary, touching twist.—Diane McCabe, Loyola Village Elementary School, Los Angeles
Treading water in her last term of elementary school, Julie figures she's learned all there is to learn, when two Mongolian brothers in fur-lined coats (it's summer) arrive: Chingis and Nergui.
Chingis explains to their teacher that little Nergui's hat must stay on, like a hunting eagle's hood. Such casual references to wonders far from their Liverpool suburb, documented in the text with eerie Polaroid snapshots, enthrall the children, especially Julie. She's elated when Chingis appoints her the brothers' "good guide." Despite her title, Julie can't discover where they live; street-smart Chingis foils her attempts to follow them, taking a different route each day. Thwarted curiosity prompts her to research Mongolia online, succumbing to the mystery and fascination of far-off places and people. As her persistence pays off, she awakens to the fear the brothers carry. Funny, sad, haunting and original, Cottrell Boyce's story leaves important elements unexpressed. As with lace, these holes are part of the design, echoed in the unadorned photos: a path through a dark forest; wagon tracks across a field that meet the lowering sky; shadows on a yurt wall. To complete the narrative, readers must actively participate. They'll find myriad paths to follow—immigration, demons, social networking, the mystery of cultural difference and the nature of enchantment.
A tricky, magical delight. (author's note)