Monday, August 15, 2022

Debbie--have you seen YOSSEL'S JOURNEY by Kathryn Lasky?

A reader emailed to ask if I've seen Yossel's Journey by Kathryn Lasky. Published by Charlesbridge, it is due out in September of 2022. Here's what I've found so far (I don't have the book but will look for it:) 

Here's the book description from the book's page at Charlesbridge:
When Yossel’s family flees anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia and immigrates to the American Southwest, he worries about making a new home and new friends.

In his family's new store next to the Navajo reservation, Yossel watches their neighbors pass through. He learns lots of words, but he's still too afraid and lonely to try talking to anyone. Making new friends is hard, especially when all your jokes are in a different language. 

A historical picture book about the power of cross-cultural friendships and the joy of finding out the true meaning of home.

The description centers one family but makes no mention of the Navajo child Yossel becomes friends with. His name is Thomas. The story is from Yossel's point of view but I wish the description from Charlesbridge didn't leave out Thomas's name. It is a missed opportunity to nudge readers from the amorphous image of Native people that they likely hold. 

I see reviews from Publishers Weekly and from Kirkus. Both are mostly favorable but these lines stand out. The reviewer at Publisher's Weekly said 
"An author's note and further reading conclude but elide discussion of the government's displacement of Navajo people." 
The reviewer at Kirkus said 
"Given Yossel's history as someone forced to flee his home due to ethnic violence, it's a surprise to see none of the parallel story for Thomas (during roughly the time of the forced deportation of the Navajo by the U.S. government). Instead this is a pleasing, sun-drenched tale of friendship in a new place." 
Over on the Charlesbridge page you can see some interior pages and a review from the Jewish Book Council that tells us the story doesn't have "heavy-handed statements about brotherhood." I'm glad to know it doesn't do that! I've reviewed some of those historical friendship stories and have yet to read one that works. 

One of the interior pages tells us that Yossel and his family are going "near a Navajo Indian Reservation. It is called Two Red Hills." a reservation called "Two Red Hills." Is that a real place? I'm going to talk to Navajo friends and colleagues about that. I know for certain that Jewish people had stores on reservations, so, that part of Lasky's story is based on fact. But is there a Two Red Hills reservation? Editing on August 17 to say that I got a copy of the book and that the author's note states the location is fictional. I added the quote and strike thru at the start of this paragraph today when I got a copy of the book.  

I'm glad to see reviewers noting the omission of Navajo history. As noted, the story is from Yossel's point of view and it likely seems clunky to try to work the Navajo history into the story itself, but I think the reviewers are correct in pointing out the problems of leaving out Navajo history when the entire story is launched due to persecution of a family that ends up on homelands of the Navajo Nation and its people. 

I'll see if I can order the book from a local library and I'll be back with a review.