Immigrant City: Hannah Is My Name

Hold on to your hats, here's a book about an immigrant family that's not set in New York City!

Belle Yang based her book, Hannah is My Name, on her family's experience immigrating to San Francisco from Taiwan. Over the course of two years, Na-Li, who adopts the name "Hannah," becomes accustomed to life in America. But her life is not carefree, as she and her family have moved to America without legal status. Hannah relates many of her anxieties about her new life, including her family's need to find a cheap place to live, the fear that their application for green cards might be denied, the danger of being discovered working illegally, and even the shame over wearing shabby cloths. These realities are not glossed over in the book. Hannah watches as her friend is deported and her father hides during a green card check at his place of employment.

This is a picture book for children 6 and up, and there is a lot of text. I didn't realize that Yang's book was set in the 1960s until one day Hannah's teacher tells the class that Martin Luther King was just killed. There is nothing in the illustrations to date them. In fact the illustrations are quite colorful and help emphasize the story's more cheerful notes.

San Francisco is the closest big city to my hometown and the images of the city in Yang's book are familiar to me: cable cars, a Chinatown full of treats like moon cakes and ducks hanging from the windows, the Golden Gate bridge in the background. Yang, who also illustrated the book, begins the story with a two page illustration of the family in rural Taiwan being transported by ox and cart, but ends the book with the family being transported through the city by a taxi. In both illustrations the family is joyful: at the start because they are on their way to a new life, and at the end, because they have just received their green cards (which are actually blue!).

I think Hannah is My Name is a good book to share with slightly older children. The anxieties that Hannah's family feels are a good talking point for discussions over the difficulties illegal immigrants feel and the importance of being sensitive and empathetic with their situations.

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Read more about the author in an article in UCSC's Currents.


MaryAnne said...

This book sounds excellent, although I think Emma would enjoy (and understand) it closer to 8 or 9 than 6.

Even in Australia said...

Funny - I assumed with the name Hannah the protagonist would be another Russian Jewish immigrant!

Raising a Happy Child said...

Goodness - I can only imagine sharing this book with Tea Party children :)

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