Dan Yaccarino's All the Way to America was one of those insistent titles that kept cropping up in my travels through the kidlitosphere. I read a couple of reviews about the book and saw a book trailer. Then I read an interview Yaccarino did with Publisher's Weekly. Some of my favorite book bloggers started buzzing about the book. And then it kind of dropped off my radar, until I started reading best of the year lists. Lo and behold, that little story of a family that I'd heard about was gently edging its way onto those lists.
And for good reason.
Yaccarino calls this "the story of a big Italian family and a little shovel", and promises that "some parts have been condensed a bit, but it's all true. And all Italian." The story opens with Dan's great-grandfather Michele Iaccarino, growing up in Sorrento, Italy. Michele has a little shovel that he uses to till the earth, and he brings the shovel with him when he travels to America. He uses it at his job as a baker, then as a pushcart peddler. The shovel passes through the generations of the Iaccarino (now Yaccarino) family - Dan's grandfather Aniello, who owns a market and then a restaurant; his father Mike, who opens a barbershop; and on to Dan, who uses it even now to garden with his own children.
The story may be a familiar one but that just means that it resonates all the more with readers. I appreciate the fact that Yaccarino ties the shovel in to the work that each member of the family does, emphasizing not only the diversity of opportunities that was available to each generation of the Yaccarinos, but also the thread of family that ties each member together. The illustrations are vivid and interesting, fleshing out the story of the family with small details like the ever-present bowl of spaghetti with Mama Iaccarino's tomato sauce. Each spread is inviting, with lots of action and depth to the backgrounds that tell a tale all their own.
This is the kind of tale that makes it easy for kids to draw parallels with their own family history and introduce curiosity about how their own families got to the United States. It will also make them think about their own lives, and what pieces of their heritage might have been passed on from previous generations. While not every family has a little shovel (too bad, I think - what a great detail!), there are other inheritances, like red hair and freckles, or an aptitude for music, or a long-held secret recipe.
All the Way to America is one family's story, a variation on a theme that has occurred countless times in many places. And that, in a way, is its greatest strength - the quietly compelling thread of a narrative that makes one family unique. It's a journey you'll truly enjoy taking.
All the Way to America by Dan Yaccarino, published by Alfred A. Knopf
Sample; "Friends from home helped each other in this new country. Michael found work in a bakery owned by a man who had also come from Sorrento. Michael polished his little shovel till it shined and used it to measure out flour and sugar."
Bonus: Dan Yaccarino's post on why picture books are important