(published in the News And Observer, August 7, 2018)
Chapel Hill author Camille Andros’ new book “The Dress and the Girl” couldn’t be more timely.
The book — a tale of a young girl separated from her dress upon moving to America — hits book-sellers’ shelves Aug. 7, arriving as parents and teachers seek new ways to help children understand the daily headlines about immigration.
But that wasn’t Andros’ intent when she began the book a decade ago.
“If you write to a trend, it’ll be over by the time your book comes out,” she said in an interview.
“The Dress and the Girl” (Abrams) is the first story that made her want to write professionally. (It’s her second book. Her first is the popular “Charlotte the Scientist is Squished.”)
The book evolved over 10 years as she figured out how to write a children’s book. She had no way of knowing it would come out when immigration is such a hot topic, but she hopes the book, aimed for readers 4-8, will comfort children.
“The Dress and the Girl” is a gentle, lyrical story that takes place “back when time seemed slower and life simpler.” The main characters, an unnamed girl and her dress, spend their days on a small island “picking daffodils, feeling the wind and staring at the stars,” but both of them “long for the extraordinary.”
Neither dreams of the adventures awaiting them when they emigrate to America and are separated for many years.
The book, illustrated by sought-after artist Julie Morstad, was inspired by a family story. Her husband, Nathan Andros, has a great-grandfather who was one of 11 children. Harry Andros left his family in Greece when immigrated to the United States in 1907. He worked on the railroad and sent money back to home the rest of his life. But he never saw his family again.
Andros, who has six children, kept thinking about that young man who left his family as a teen and what it must have been like for him “to travel across the world, not knowing anyone, and start a new life.” She became more haunted by his story when she visited his birthplace, a town “so little when you park, pretty much everyone in the whole town knows you’re there” and a stranger recognized her husband as family.
The dress character was sparked by a personal story as well. Andros admired a vintage 1940s dress at a party and thought, “I’d love to know what that dress has been through, the life it might have had.” Her love of dresses comes from her mother, a seamstress who made her many beautiful dresses that are “treasures I hand down to my girls.”
Andros’ passion for picture books may have come from a childhood of sharing them with her father. He loved the art, and she wanted to know what was going to happen. He pointed things out in the art “so it became this whole experience of combining the art and the words.”
“I love Mac Barnett’s quote: ‘If I have written a text that makes sense without pictures than I have failed,’” she said.
Next year will see two more books from Andros. She will publish “Charlotte the Scientist Finds a Cure,” a companion to the popular “Charlotte the Scientist is Squished.” Andros, who has a degree in health science, loves medicine as much as science, explaining the “medical bent” in these two books.
But, she said, “I didn’t think I looked like what a scientist looked like, which was an old white man until a teacher made me feel smart and that made all the difference.”
In the second Charlotte book, the main character, Andros said, “realizes no matter what anyone says to her, she’s enough, and she can accomplish whatever she wants to accomplish.”
She also will publish “From a Small Seed: The Story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton,” which will be illustrated by Tessa Blackham. Andros’ daughter, also named Eliza, discovered Blackham on one of the family’s frequent library visits. She thought her mother would love the art. Andros did, and her agent reached out to Blackham.
Andros loves and invites children to go to Blackham’s Instagram page at instagram.com/tessablackham and watch the illustrations develop.
The book is set for a Fall 2019 publication with Macmillan Publishers.
Andros wants young readers to feel the love and light in her books and act on those feelings to “do something awesome,” she says, “and make the world a better place.”
More books about immigration
Many authors and illustrators have recently published books to help adults aid their children in understanding the many emotions of immigrants.
For ages 5 and older
▪ “Dreamers,” Yuyi Morales (Holiday House, coming in September). The award-winning, Mexican-born, writer-illustrator describes how she and her young son “crossed a bridge outstretched like the universe” and became immigrants. Her lyrical text and rich illustrations capture their feelings of freedom, confusion, and the comfort provided by a library.
▪ “A Different Pond,” Bao Phi (Capstone). Strong similes and poignant details reveal the warmth shared by a father and son on a cold early morning fishing adventure. The first-person narrative describes the family’s impoverishment, the father’s peaceful fishing in “another pond” and his refugee flight from Vietnam.
▪ “Her Right Foot,” Dave Eggers (Chronicle). This picture book is as long on heart as it is on page-count. It tells the story of the Statue of Liberty and offers a new view of immigration. Dion Graham perfectly reflects the author’s unique tone and take in an audio released from Recorded Books that is, like the book, a perfect family share.
▪ “I’m New Here,” and “Someone New,” Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge). Two books show different perspectives of three students newly emigrated to America from Guatemala, South Korea and Somalia and the challenges they face before making connections. “Someone New” views the same children through the perspective of American students trying to understand how to welcome them.
▪ “Islandborn,” Junot Dias (Dial). The adult author makes a stunning debut in children’s books as he describes Lola’s urban world and “the Island” her family left when she was just a baby. Community members contribute powerful images of an island with “more music than the air, fruit that makes you cry, beach poems and a hurricane like a wolf.”
▪ “Marwan’s Journey,” Patricia de Arias (Miniedition). Evocative art and powerful words tell the story of a small boy who takes giant steps across a desert land, carrying a photograph of his mother and memories of her “flour soft” hands and his garden home swallowed by a darkness that “swallowed up everything.” Sadness is balanced by his dream to return and plant a garden full of “flowers and hope.”
▪ “Me and My Fear,” Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books, coming in September). Strong graphic representation and simple text represent a young narrator’s arrival in a country with her “tiny friend called Fear.” Fear, pictured small at story’s beginning, grows larger, uncomfortably protective and imposes isolation. Friendship and a sense of belonging shrink Fear to a more reasonable size. A wonderful companion to the author’s equally strong book, “The Journey,” which focus refugee flight towards immigration.
▪ “Saffron Ice Cream,” Rashin Kheiriyeh (Scholastic). A young girl remembers her experiences at the Caspian Sea while en route to Coney Island for the first time. She misses her friend and the saffron ice cream until she meets a new friend who suggests there’s fun to be had in the U.S. — and a delicious new ice cream flavor.
Novels (ages 8-12)
▪ “A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket,” Deborah Hopkinson (Yearling). This fast-paced historical tale recounts the story of 11-year-old Rocco who arrives in 19th-century New York where difficult circumstances land him in unfortunate situations until he is able to work for the good of other immigrants.
▪ “Front Desk,” Kelly Yang (Scholastic). Mia Tang moves with her parents from China to California and runs the front desk at a motel they manage. Mia’s optimism overcomes racism, her difficulties with English and wins the hearts of motel guests (and readers).
▪ “Stella Diaz Has Something to Say,” Angela Dominguez (Roaring Brook). Third-grader Stella lives in a single-parent, Mexican-speaking home. She often confuses English and Spanish pronunciations, worries about bullies and wonders citizenship will make her feel less like an “alien.”
▪ “Wishtree,” Katherine Applegate (Feiwel & Friends). What could make Red, a caring oak tree, disregard the strict rules of trees and reach out to humans? The pain of viewing terrible prejudice that arises when Muslims, new to the neighborhood, arrive. Red’s confusion about humans’ behavior is clear: ” Two hundred and sixteen rings, and I still haven’t figured them out.”
For ages 12 and older
▪ ”American Street,” Ibi Zoboi (Balzer and Bray). Fabilola Toussiant, a teen born in the United States but raised in Haiti, returns with her mother. But en route, they are separated by ICE officials. Fabiola must begin life in Detroit with her aunt and cousins amidst the turmoil of drugs, gangs and violence.
▪ ”The Night Diary,” Veera Hiranandani (Dial). Nisha’s diary entries to her late mother record her growing courage and strength during the religious clashes and her emigration to Pakistan in 1947 when India is split into two countries.
▪ ”The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees,” Don Brown (HMH, ages 13 and up). This graphic novel begins in 2011 as young teens protest by writing “Down with the regime.” Bashar al-Assad’s armies arrest and torture them, touching off protests that become violent. Brown relates history and events through emotive panels that illustrate the horrific lives of refugees escaping Syria while emigrating.
▪ ”Watched,” Marina Tamar Budhos (Wendy Lamb Books). Naeem, a Bangladeshi-born teen living in post-9/11 Queens, has increased paranoia then conflicted feelings as police leverage a situation to enroll him in spying on his Muslim neighbors.
▪ “You Bring the Distant Near,” Mitali Perkins (FSG). Three generations of Indian immigrants shift between cultures searching for their identities and acceptance.