Title: Naming Liberty
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Jim Burke
Publisher: Philomel Books
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 4.8
Concepts: immigration, jobs, scarcity
Review: Gitl, a young girl living in the Ukrainian town of Yekaterinoslaf with her three brothers and parents, feels both excited and anxious when she hears Papa’s news that the family will leave the Ukraine in search of a safer life in America. Preparing for the move, which includes selling most of the family’s assets and sending one of the boys ahead to America to find new work, takes two years. The process of moving such a distance with limited means in the care of a gruff agent necessitates nerves of steel in the face of long waits, uncertainty, a frightening stop at a check point, and cramped quarters for twenty days in the boat’s steerage class. Gitl endures it all for the opportunity to find new freedom and a new American name for herself.
As Gitl’s story unfolds, Janet Yolen and Jim Burke provide the reader with a parallel story about the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and his pursuit of the dream to build a monument in honor of America’s independence and the friendship between the two countries. Building what ultimately became the Statue of Liberty took years of lobbying, fundraising, designing, plastering, carpentry, and metalwork. His ingenuity and persistence paid off when the statue was completed in 1884, dismantled the following year and shipped across the ocean in 214 crates, and reassembled upon a grand pedestal for the official unveiling ceremony on October 28, 1886.
These dual stories work well together to give the reader a clear sense of the challenges that immigrants faced in traveling to America and that Bartholdi faced in building Liberty. Also woven into both stories are important economics lessons associated with financial constraints, jobs, and immigration. Burke’s gorgeous oil paintings add another layer of sophistication to this informative and appealing book about seeking prosperity.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children