A Million Miles from Boston: Karen Day
Growing Bookworms Newsletter: March 22

All the Way to America: Dan Yaccarino

Book: All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
Author/Illustrator: Dan Yaccarino 
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

All-the-way-america-small-cover All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and Little Shovel is the story of Dan Yaccarino's family. He says: "Some parts have been condensed a bit, but it's all true. And all Italian." All the Way to America starts with Yaccarino's great-grandfather, Michele Iaccarino, growing up on a farm in Sorrento, Italy.

"When he was a boy, his father gave him a little shove so he could help tend the zucchini, tomatoes, and strawberries that his family sold in the village."

That little shovel passes from father to son, all the way down to the author's own children. The reader sees the shovel (and Yaccarino's family members) travel to Ellis Island, Little Italy in New York, a family market, the suburbs, an Italian restaurant, a barbershop, and, eventually, an artist's small terrace back in New York City.

All the Way to America is a portrait of an Italian-American immigrant family. The jobs change, from street peddler to, over time, children's author and illustrator. The family's fortunes improve. But the importance of family, and the family spaghetti sauce, remain constant.

The little shovel is a concrete symbol linking the modern-day children all the back to their ancestors in Sorrento. It works as a literary device, and helps the reader to make an emotional connection to the story. I was so happy to see Yaccarino's son playing with that little shovel on the last page that it brought a tiny tear to my eye. Like, this family made it, values intact. And the shovel made it, too.

This book could have self-indulgent - an author sharing his own family history. But it's not. The details make the Yaccarino family real, but the whole tone of the book gives them a universality, too. When I read this book to my half-Armenian Baby Bookworm, it's going to make me want to tell her about her grandparents coming to America from Aleppo. Given that most of us came from somewhere else, if we look back far enough, this book is sure to have broad appeal.

Yaccarino's gouache on watercolor paper illustrations are warm and friendly. There's a family resemblance apparent between the generations, and it's neat to see younger and older versions of some of the family members, as the story progresses. Young Dan is particularly fun to watch - his glasses make him easy to pick out in all of the pictures.

My favorite illustration is of Dan's dad, Mike, using the little shovel to pour rock salt over the sidewalk, looking into the window of his barbershop to smile at his pregnant wife, Elaine. The affection feels real.

Dan Yaccarino also wrote and illustrated The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, which I reviewed here, and liked very much. But All the Way to America: the Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel, this book I love. It's destined to become a classic. Highly recommended, for kids and their parents.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 8, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).