Through the award-winning illustrations of Isabelle Arsenault, readers are transported into the whimsical mind of Anna, a young Mennonite girl from Mexico. Arsenault and Trottier do a beautiful job at capturing Anna’s perspective of their yearly migration back to their country of origin, by their use of similes both in words and pictures. Since Anna is a young girl, she does not fully grasp the hardship that comes with the migration such as having to move into, small, run-down houses where landlords extort migrants with high rent and unsuitable living conditions. In Anna’s mind, they are like jackrabbits that live in abandoned burrows. Anna is still too young to work in the fields, so she imagines herself as a honeybee that enjoys the flowers as she watches the worker bees harvest someone else’s garden in the hot sun. Anna longs for a home that they can permanently settle in. She imagines herself as a tree with roots that are sunk deeply into the earth. Anna says “When the fall came and your leaves fell, they would blow away, but you would remain… look up in the sky and see a line of geese winging south yet again… and then you would sleep, wrapped in snow until the sky-high honking of geese woke you up in the spring.” In the end, Anna resigns that the summer is over and just like other migrating creatures, like monarchs and robins, she must also make her migration back home until next time. Migrant beautifully captures the point of view of migrant life through the perspective of a young child.
When evaluating this text, the aesthetics are what jumps out the most to me.
Each illustration creates and sustains interests and gives visuals to the imagination of Anna. Isabelle Arsenault also has a distinct artistic style that uses colored pencils and mixed media to give the artwork a soft and whimsical look that is appealing to both younger and older readers. The literary craft and style are both strong elements of the book. Author Maxine Trottier writes from the point of view of the youngest member of the family. This gives a different perspective to the challenge of migrant life, not having permanent roots in one place. This is illustrated by Anna’s desire to have her own bed and be able to ride her own bicycle. The book also shows the resilience of young children and their ability to adapt and find happiness wherever they are.
Trottier and Arsenault, who are both Canadian natives, take on social representation in Migrant in a way that may be new or unfamiliar to most American audiences. Whereas many Americans may be familiar with the migrant story of Mexican workers migrating to the U.S., fewer Americans may be familiar with Mennonites, who are people that practice a form of Christianity that values simplicity, and many and who speak Low German or Plautdietsch within their community. Even fewer Americans are probably familiar with Canadian Mennonites that immigrated to Mexico in the 1920s that now must make a yearly migration back North to provide cheap farm labor in order to make ends meet. Although the story does not do a deep dive into this history, Trottier adds a short history at the end of the book. It provides a good jumping off point to build interest for further research. The illustrations show her and her family in an interpretation of traditional Mennonite clothing. It is difficult to discern whether some details in the clothing were missed because of the soft, non-detailed illustrations or because of ignorance of the clothing on part of the illustrator. The female characters are featured in long dresses and head coverings that are consistent with Mennonite culture, but there are some details that seem more modern and western than traditional Mennonites would wear. I think that this is one detail in an overall beautifully written and illustrated book.