of a complex nature

30 days of pbDay Four: Migrant

by Maxine Trottier, illus Isabelle Arsenault

Groundwood Books/ House of Anansi Press, 2011.

Hardcover, borrowed from Library.

migrant coverAnna is the child of Mennonites from Mexico, who have come north to harvest fruit and vegetables. Sometimes she feels like a bird, flying north in the spring and south in the fall, sometimes like a jackrabbit in an abandoned burrow, since her family occupies an empty farmhouse near the fields, sometimes like a kitten, as she shares a bed with her sisters…But above all Anna wonders what it would be like to be a tree rooted deeply in the earth, watching the seasons come and go, instead of being like a “feather in the wind.”—publisher’s copy.

The jacket copy begins: “Each spring Anna leaves her home in Mexico and travels north with her family to work on farms harvesting fruit and vegetables.” It isn’t until the next paragraph that Anna is of the Low German-speaking Mennonite migrant workers who had moved to Mexico from Canada in the 1920s. This one is worth owning and sharing based on novelty alone, but fortunately, Trottier and Arsenault have much, much more to offer.

migrant family

“Without a heavy message, this sensitive offering captures a small child’s experience of constant upheaval as she flies like a feather in the wind.”—Booklist  The lesson plans are in the jacket copy and closing end pages. It concerns the hardships migrant workers endure, punctuated with a plea for compassion via respect and safer working and living conditions. After meeting the delightfully sweet Anna, it is a hard message to ignore.

As Anna begins to imagine herself some creature of nature, she appears all the more human to the reader. Her longings, her struggles gain empathy. Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations reflect the child-like wonder of Anna in her playful rendering of the text. The geese traveling north wear head coverings, but even more sweet in detail is how the human shadows are geese silhouettes in flight.

migrant_int3The cuteness that is Anna and her imagination take on serious tones. On one page she has jack rabbit ears in pink and red, the steam from a mug has them in white, “Those rabbits live in abandoned burrows.” The following page shows the ghosts she talks about haunting the house with last year’s workers. “Anna is too young to work. But when on one is watching, she picks a tomato now and again. Just the small ones.” While not working, she is still out in the fields with her parents and siblings, not at the daycare, a school, or playground. “When no one is watching,” reminds us of the supervisor you know is there. “Her parents’ backs are bent under the hot sun, when her older brothers and sisters dip and rise, dip and rise…” For all the whimsy in the bee imagery and illustration, this is hard relentless labor she is observing. This in one page.

The community of migrant workers is a diverse one, “A few people talk the way she does, the good plain German rolling off their tongues as sweetly as sugar. Others chatter together, their words as spicy as the hottest chilis, or as slow and rich as dark molassess.” But then even the workers at the grocery sport pink hair and tattoos. And yet, Anna feels the mark of difference in language and poverty, “when they shop for groceries at the cheap store, Anna is shy because people often stare.”

migrant pages

Between the vibrant color and appealing energy Arsenault brings and the charm of Trottier’s most singular Anna, Migrant sweeps you along in an easy and endearing picture book. Her longing to be the tree instead of the leaves carries across, but that her resignation to being like the feather is reimagined into butterflies and birds reveals her resilience, her aplomb. Migrant is lovely enough to almost dismiss that which makes her life unnecessarily more difficult. In the details of the language, in the effort to move to metaphor in her observations of her experiences—it isn’t just to be lyrical.

Recommendation: for citizens of the US and Canada, and not just the children. Anna is sweet and the pictures are a delight, and if you are moved or learn something, it can’t be helped—and shouldn’t be.


Maxine Trottier is a prolific writer of books for young people. Maxine spent 31 years working as an educator in elementary classrooms, guiding children toward literacy. The students in her class, who of course thought of her only as their teacher, saw each step in the creation of a new work. They heard the unillustrated story, saw the roughs, and were the first to view the finished book. Maxine lives with her husband William and their Yorkies Moon, at Newman’s Cove, Newfoundland.

Isabelle Arsenault is an illustrator who studied Graphic Design at the Université du Québec à Montréal (2001).  After her studies, she quickly contributed to several magazines in Canada and the United-States.  In 2004, Isabelle illustrated her first children’s book, for which she received the prestigious Governor General’s Award for children’s literature in French (illustration).  Her passion for illustrated books has led her more and more to continue pursuing this path.  Since then, she was a finalist on two other occasions for the GG’s (“My Letter to the World”, “Migrant”), finalist for the Marilyn Baillie Award in 2011 (“Spork”) and her book “Migrant” is among the 10 best illustrated books of 2011 according to The New York Times.  In 2012, she received her second Governor General’s Award for the illustrations of “Virginia Wolf” in addition to winning Le Prix jeunesse des libraires du Québec for “Fourchon” (French version of “Spork”). Isabelle Arsenault lives and works in Montreal.–via author’s site “bio.”

{images belong to Isabelle Arsenault}

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

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