cover image Maggie's Amerikay

Maggie's Amerikay

Barbara Timberlake Russell. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34722-2

A young Irish immigrant, struggling against hardship and prejudice to find her place in 1898 New Orleans, discovers a world of diverse cultures, music and possibilities in Russell's (The Remembering Stone) atmospheric, lengthy picture book. While Mam sews and Da peddles, dreaming to ""buy land in Amerikay,"" Maggie attends school because Da insists: ""I've not crossed an ocean for my girls to work in factories."" Having been warned by her neighbors to ""stay away from such Negroes"" as young Nathan, Maggie is nonetheless shocked when Nathan's mother says, ""Don't let me catch you fooling with Irish, boy. They're trouble."" But after Da recognizes Nathan's gift for music and gives him a cornet, Nathan helps Maggie find work in African-American Storyville, transcribing the recollections of Daddy Clements, a bedridden former slave and soldier. In earth tones with occasional touches of vibrant pink, Burke's (My Brothers' Flying Machine) street scenes portray the city's rich ethnic mix and signature ironwork, while indoor settings illustrate humble living and working conditions. Burke subtly charts Maggie's transformation from reserved, suspicious newcomer to a smiling, dancing optimist. Ragtime pulses through the story's background: Nathan's cornet, Da's tin whistle and African drums provide ""Old seeds for new songs."" Gritty realities and vibrant possibilities both figure in this moving tale of hope in a quintessential American city. Ages 6-9.