Written by Maxine Trottier, Art by Isabelle Arsenault
The Story: Anna feels like a bird because her family moves north in the spring and south in the fall. Her Mennonite family lives in Mexico during the winter, and travels all the way up to Canada in the summer to work on farms harvesting fruit and vegetables. Anna often wonders what it would be like to stay in one place.
Maxine Trottier explains that people like Anna’s family helped to build Canada and the United States (and continue to), and that they live difficult lives. Often, because their first language is Low German, they cannot understand English or Spanish. The houses that are available for rent are shabby and expensive. There is no union to protect these migrant workers, and they are often not well received by employers or communities. Trottier argues that “We all need to remember just how our country was built,” (npg) and it can only be assumed that Trottier hopes to remind us of this history through the picturebook Migrant.
What Wallace and I Think: Migrant is an ideal example of how important paratext often is with picturebooks. Without the write-up on the hardcover flaps, and the short history lesson on the endpapers, few children or adult readers would know what the book is actually historically addressing. The picturebook’s text and images are filled with Anna comparing her life to various animals: she feels like a jack rabbit who live in abandoned burrows; she feels like a bee during the day; at night she is like a kitten snuggled under a single blanket with her sisters (For any teachers out there, this book could be a perfect tool in teaching simile, metaphor, and/or illustrated metaphor to students). In the main text there is no mention of her family being Mennonite, though they do wear traditional Mennonite clothing. Though Anna briefly explains her family moves from the south to north and back again (through the metaphor of her family being like geese), we are not told the south is Mexico and the north is Canada. The book could have perhaps benefited from more context being worked into the main text, or, the explanation that ends the book may have been better utilized opening the book.
However, taking the paratext into context, Migrant tells a unique story opening readers and listeners to a different way of life, clearly not linked to just specifically Mennonite migrant workers, but migrant or seasonal workers in general. Trottier makes it clear in her explanation that she wanted to write this story to bring issues of social justice to the surface: “Migrants deserve safe working and living conditions. They deserve recognition for an honest day’s labour. They should be treated with the same respect that is extended to citizens and visitors alike” (npg). Hopefully reading this book to children can spark some interesting discussion surrounding social justice, and the life of migrant workers.
As with so many picturebooks Isabelle Arsenault has illustrated, in the case of Migrant, it is Arsenault’s art which both cements the message to the history, as well as allows the text to transcend the historical background. Arsensault’s illustrations are complex and whimsical, making the reading of this book largely appealing to younger children. Patterns and shapes are repeated throughout the book, linking Anna’s dream world to reality. For example, after imagining her family as geese (geese are drawn wearing hats and head scarfs), the silhouette of the geese is repeated on the following page in the shadows of Anna’s actual family. Collaged triangles that decorate the front and back matter are repeated in the quilts Anna’s brothers and sisters sleep under. Such repetitions visually connect the textual metaphors and similes to one another, blurring the boundaries between literary language and reality. And, personally, I find the red, orange and blue color scheme and the combination of paper collage and crayon drawings visually appealing. Whether or not a child can yet grasp the call for social justice, the art will be appealing.
While I feel the art could engage younger readers, I think the book’s message makes Migrant best suited to children 5 and older. I could see the picturebook being a great discussion and teaching tool in any elementary grade. I give the book a 4/5