Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When Jessie Came Across The Sea

Author: Amy Hest
Illustrator: P.J.Lynch
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Ages: 6-12

This book was lent to me by a friend when we lived in London. I remember the lump in my throat that the story brought when I read it the first time. As for the watercolour illustrations, there is only one word that can do justice to them - exquisite. You can imagine my delight when I saw it at a book fair in Bangalore last year. I of course got a copy and it was only then that I noticed the long list of awards and mentions in honour lists the book has got, including the Kate Greenaway Medal.

The story revolves around a 13-year old orphan called Jessie who lives with her grandmother in a village somewhere in eastern Europe. Jessie teaches her grandmother to read and write while her grandmother teaches her to sew lace. Life goes on.

One day the rabbi of the village declares that he has a ticket to go to America but would like someone else to go in his place. He chooses Jessie, saying that she would help his brother's widow to sew and make money. Jessie and her grandmother cannot bear the thought of parting with each other but eventually are persuaded.

Jessie boards the ship to New York with a heavy heart. The passengers are all herded together on the cramped open deck. Jessie hates it initially but her cheerful spirit cannot remain subdued for long. She sews lace for the women and comforts others. A young boy called Lou becomes her favourite friend.

After a long stormy journey they reach New York. Upon landing Jessie meets the rabbi's brother's widow who will be her hostess. She joins her dress shop and works hard making lace. She also starts school. She regularly writes to her grandmother telling her about her life in the great city.

Three years pass. One day she meets Lou, her friend from the ship, by sheer chance in a park. They are delighted to see each other and start meeting every Sunday. Lou takes Jessie to meet his family and they all take a great liking to her immediately. Lou proposes but Jessie asks him to wait some more.

All this while, Jessie had been saving whatever she earned. Finally she has enough money to buy a ticket for her grandmother to come to America and be with her forever. When Grandmother finally arrives, she brings Jessie a gift - her mother's wedding ring.

The story touched a chord with me, all the more because I was in a country not my own. Though in no way facing any of the hardships Jessie did, I could relate to her emotions - immigrating to an unknown land is scary and exciting at the same time. Hope and hard work triumph and the new land eventually becomes Home.


Playing by the book said...

What to do if simply reading the review brings a lump to my throat? I've just finished reading an article in today's paper about how "failed" asylum seekers are treated in the UK
and the lack of humanity shown is so depressing. Am even more determined to track down a cop of When Jessie came across the sea now. *Thank you* for finding the time to review it today!

sathish said...

Chox, thanks for pointing to this story.

the two water colour illustrations that you show here are so real like!

sandhya said...

Remember picking it up at the sale with you last year, Chox. I loved it, A loved it. Thanks for reminding us of it. Will take it out again.

Meera Sriram said...

Truly heart warming Chox. Immigration is often something we discuss at home. Will surely keep this title in mind.

Praba Ram said...

Struck a chord thinking of the special relationship I shared with my late grandma. And to think that my kids are so far away from their grandparents...lump in my throat.

Lucky Jessie to have grandma join her later. Nice pick.

Poppy said...

Very heartwarming story but Chox, one q : Isn't this a bit mature for a 4+? I see the label 4+ hence the question. Did the 5 yo in your parts get it?

Choxbox said...

PbtB: Yes that is a whole different angle, isn't it? Have a story - pretty gory about a friend of a friend. Mailing it to you.

Sathish: Let me know if you want to check it out - will get it whenever I (accidentally!) meet Ranjani next.

Sandhya: Lets go again this year :)

Meera: You know, my grandparents moved across the country - from NW India to the South. When I was a kid, they'd refer to our ancestral town as 'des', but for me the city I grew up was home. For our kids its just one level up - India is des for us, for them their current country is home.

Praba: Thanks :)

Poppy: Yes she did. In fact I'd first read it to her last year when I'd bought it. Of course its possible she related (to whatever extent) because we had just r2i-ed.

artnavy said...

This sounds like a beautiful book
I want to read it myself

utbtkids said...

Wil chk it out from our local library.

Choxbox said...

Art: Come over then.

utbt: Do let me know what you think.

Sheela said...

Thanks, Chox! To leave everything dear and familiar and move to a faraway land in search of a better future, not just for oneself, but for the loved ones, takes courage and strength of character - and from your review, Jessie seems to have come out on top, which is heart-warming. Will save it for later for the kids, but, I'd like to read it myself first soon.

Choxbox said...

Sheela: Your comment summarises it neatly :)

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