Bridge to America

Lin­da Glaser
  • Review
By – October 17, 2011
Fiv­el and his fam­i­ly sur­vive life in a Pol­ish shtetl, wait­ing for the day Pa will send for them to come to Amer­i­ca. After sev­en years, the mon­ey arrives and the fam­i­ly endures the dif­fi­cult jour­ney, ulti­mate­ly reunit­ing with Pa and mak­ing a new life for them­selves in Min­neso­ta. While some­what fic­tion­al­ized, the char­ac­ters and events are based on the true sto­ry of Phil (Fiv­el) Myzel. The author has cap­tured the per­son­al­i­ties of the fam­i­ly mem­bers, cre­at­ing char­ac­ters both believ­able and live­ly. While the Myzel fam­i­ly expe­ri­ences much that is typ­i­cal of the era, the sto­ry also includes unusu­al inci­dents that make it unique­ly inter­est­ing, such as when Beny­omin escapes death at the hands of Cos­sacks because of his hat. Rather than begin with arrival in Amer­i­ca as so many immi­gra­tion sto­ries do, the first half of Bridge to Amer­i­ca takes place in the old coun­try. This sets the stage and helps read­ers under­stand who the char­ac­ters are and what their life is like before they face enor­mous changes. It also helps read­ers per­ceive the sharp con­trast between the shtetl and the new world. Jew­ish con­tent is expert­ly inte­grat­ed into the nar­ra­tive so that it is an essen­tial but not over­whelm­ing aspect of the tale. The Jew­ish expe­ri­ence of life in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry is accu­rate­ly and sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly explored. In the final chap­ters of the book, Fivel/​Phil strug­gles to embrace both his old and new iden­ti­ties, a poignant and rel­e­vant theme not often addressed in children’s lit­er­a­ture, but dealt with skill­ful­ly here. The book is writ­ten with heart­felt respect and love for the char­ac­ters and for the gen­er­a­tion that braved the hard­ships of immi­gra­tion. This atti­tude gives the sto­ry an inner glow and brings it to life. Glaser loves the peo­ple she writes about, and she makes read­ers love them too. For ages 9 – 12.
Hei­di Estrin is librar­i­an for the Feld­man Chil­dren’s Library at Con­gre­ga­tion B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, FL. She is a past chair of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Com­mit­tee for the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries.

Discussion Questions